Sometimes I feel like an Ang Lee apologist and I’m not really sure why. Sense and Sensibility was a great film, but it was material that was distinctly suited to Lee’s style. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon while beautifully shot and quiet poetic was, let’s face it, overlong and even rather dull at times. His Hulk movie is a spectacular failure, worth re-watching just to try to figure out why it completely fails to engage.
Sorta like Kubrick, I’ve figured that you have to be in the right mood to enjoy a Lee film. I haven’t really been in the mood since Hulk. Can’t say I’ve been in the mood for another Hulk movie, either.
But you sort of instinctively know that a movie directed by Louis Leterrier (of the Transporter series) is going to be a lot more watchable, just as you surely know that some critics are going to review it negatively because Lee is a darling of the critic set.
Rest assured, however, that this new movie is not just a little better, it’s a lot better.
It starts by ignoring the first film completely. The set-up is done in the opening credits, so the movie starts with Bruce Banner on the run in Brazil, trying to find a cure. The first action sequence is actually a foot race with Banner (played by Ed Norton) running from a military squad sent to capture him.
When Banner finally transforms, it takes place in shadows and we never get a clear view of The Hulk. Smart move. The first film’s CGI was a definite weak spot, with the Hulk appearing almost weightless and never really feeling integrated with the live portion of the scene.
Later, we do get clearer views of The Hulk and–well, it’s CGI, so whaddayawant? But major flaws have been corrected: The Hulk looks to have some real mass, he’s not day-glo green, and he’s not cute. This keeps the bottom from dropping out on you while you watch it. Even the final battle, which has two CGI characters battling it out in NYC works fairly well, considering.
The story is brisk and clear: Banner is trying to cure his condition, on the run from evil General Ross (played by William Hurt) who just happens to be the father of his girlfriend (Liv Tyler). Meanwhile, mercenary soldier Blonsky (Tim Roth) covets The Hulk’s incredible powers, and mad scientist-ish Samuel Stearns (Tim Blake Nelson) might be able to cure–or cause–said powers.
Good, solid comic book fun with a good, solid cast. Hurt’s performance doesn’t quite measure up to Bridges’ in Iron Man, though I did have a similar experience of identifying him by his voice rather than appearance. (He doesn’t look so different but it’s out of type.) Similarly I’ve heard some unfavorable comparisons between Tyler and the original film’s Jennifer Connelly. I don’t envy any actress having to follow Connelly but Tyler has a sort of plaintive look that fits pretty well.
Norton’s kind of a sad sack, too, so that works out. Roth is a little scrawny for a super-villain, but they sort of work the fact that he’s playing a guy almost ten years younger into the plot. And he does the ambition-driven villain thing well. Tim Blake Nelson turns in a great performance as the mad-scientist-ish guy (though he’ll forever be Delmar to me), and he’s set up to be a super-villain in a later film.
To top it all off, the action is really pretty good. The Boy approved, and he’s a hard-ass about this stuff. The bullets look like they hurt even if they don’t harm The Hulk. The movie doesn’t gloss over the fact that The Hulk is killing, though it doesn’t dwell on it either.
And it doesn’t get over serious.
Is it perfect? Well, there’s a weird anti-military thing going on, which is just a common ‘50s and ’60s trope. The anti-science thing is a little weirder: Stearns wants to use Banner’s blood to create a disease-free world, and Banner’s so determined to not have it be used as a weapon, he rejects the notion outright. (How is it that super-scientists are so unprepared for the consequences of their actions? )
This touches on a tangential point that is more stylistic than anything else. I’ve never read The Hulk (I was a DC kid) but I sort of thought the point was that Banner had a terrible temper. It’s an intriguing super-hero concept and a great power-fantasy, best epitomized by Ben Stiller’s performance as “Mr. Furious” in Mystery Men. (We all like to think our rage is powerful when mostly we just look goofy.)
The struggle between this flaw and the power it gives him should create a more involving dichotomy. To the film’s credit, it’s central to Banner’s motivations but it doesn’t really resonate. And, in fairness, I’m told the film was cut way down, which I can appreciate, and in the end it’s nit-picking.
We got a good, fun, funny, and fast-paced Hulk flick. That’s something to be grateful for.