Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Running time: 114 mins approx.
Ever since Tobey Maguire donned the red-and-blue leotards to leap from building to building in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002), Marvel Comics has been able to sustain the lead in the transition of their heroes from comic-book to the silver screen, with objectively greater appeal to their audiences than their rivals, DC Comics. They have been able to do this whilst staying very true (albeit not completely) to their original comic-book stories and mythologies. No mean feat considering several total disaster productions to come from Marvel like: Daredevil (2003), Elektra (2005) and more recently the abysmal third chapter in an otherwise good series, X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). At one stage, it looked like Marvel had annihilated any hope DC Comics may have had in a resurgence to the top, after the ridiculous Batman & Robin (1997), Catwoman (2004) and the costly Superman Returns (2007), taking $390 million worldwide, but having cost a hefty $270 million to make. That is, until Christopher Nolan jumped upon the helm and recreated Batman into an avenging, thoroughly possessed vigilante with bucks, in Batman Begins (2005). With Christian Bale playing the complex and haunted Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman, DC Comics was back on par with whatever Marvel Comics could throw at them. And with recent expectations that Nolan’s second attempt at the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight (2008) - titled after the ground-breaking 1986 graphic novel that was too bleak to film at the time, would be a lot more dramatic than anything seen in comic-book films before - the Marvel vs. DC Comics war seems to be back on.
But why does it all matter? Domic Wells of Timesonline states: “Comics hold a unique place in popular culture. They are at the heart of the American Dream, creating new mythologies for a land too young to have inherited its own. And never have they been more in the Zeitgeist. While terrific films about the Iraq War die at the box office, super hero films flourish.” This is better portrayed by Marvel Studios breathing a sigh of relief when Iron Man (2008) smashed through the half-a-billion mark during May. Its then CEO had gambled the company on one audacious wager - that if he borrowed $550 million, Marvel could produce its own movies of its own comic-book characters, rather than receiving small royalties from hit franchises such as X-Men and Spider-Man.
So, as Iron Man (2008) becomes Marvel Studios’ first self-made blockbuster and is the talk of Hollywood, hot on its tail is the second - the new chapter in the super hero franchise that has captivated the world for more than 40 years. The Incredible Hulk (2008) is in essence a sequel to the intensely dark Ang Lee Hulk (2003) - a film that I particularly savoured as original and counter-mainstream for a comic-book adaptation - with a different cast and new director. Louis Leterrier, a French filmmaker, better known for directing The Transporter 2 (2005) takes over the Hulk franchise. To it, he brings two-time Oscar nominee Edward Norton (American History X , The Illusionist  and recently reviewed The Painted Veil ) to replace Eric Bana as Bruce Banner. Accompanying him, is Liv Tyler (Armageddon  and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy [2001-2003]) who takes over from Jennifer Connelly in the role of Betty Rose. Superb Sam Elliot has also been replaced by equally qualified, if somewhat out-of-place William Hurt in the role of Gen. Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross.
Although director Leterrier admittedly liked Lee’s Hulk (2003), he was in agreement with Marvel Studios that to continue the franchise it would be better to deviate from Lee’s cerebral style which seemed to affect much of the fan-base with its over-internalisation. Instead, this time round, it would be more action-filled, moving away from the poetic feel, smooth-looking, green guy, that would jump away when danger beckoned. Instead, he would be grittier, darker and simpler. Perhaps even scarier. Moreover, he would be constantly on the move, looking for a cure. To do this, both Leterrier and Marvel Studios allowed many of Norton’s amendments to the script (something Norton has previously undertaken) and in turn created a film that tied into the Lee version of the Hulk, whilst allowing it to find a new direction as a franchise.
Living in the shadows - cut off from a life he knew and the woman he loves, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) - Banner (Edward Norton) struggles to avoid the obsessive pursuit of his nemesis, General ‘Thunderbold’ Ross (William Hurt), and the military machinery that seeks to capture him and brutally exploit his power. As all three grapple with the secrets that led to the Hulk’s creation, they are confronted with a monstrous new adversary know as the Abomination (Tim Roth), whose destructive strength exceeds even the Hulk’s own. This time round, Banner must make an agonising final choice: accept a peaceful life as Bruce Banner or find heroism in the creature he holds inside - The Incredible Hulk.
Leterrier has been able to do what he does best, create action sequences of awe. What seemed out-of-place in the ridiculous The Transporter 2 (2005) is completely at home in The Incredible Hulk (2008). Personally, I found Eric Bana suited the role fine but one cannot argue with Norton’s performance. He seems to be completely involved in everything he undertakes and this is clearly evident in this production. Absorbed and thorough, Norton is able to balance Banner’s internal conflict. Find a cure and destroy the Hulk, or remain the Hulk and save those he loves? And by the time the Abonination comes around, we are in for a helluva ride, as these two beasts fall upon earth in a shattering battle which mimics something from Greek mythology, as two Titans resolving their conflicts the only way they know how, by sheer violent force. In the climatic 20 plus minute battle scene, these two giants are seen fighting in all places, including on-top of a building in front of what looks like being a classical Greek temple, as if to literally portray the battle of the Titans.
One might question the casting of Liv Tyler and William Hurt who seem out of place. Both are fine actors in their own right. Tyler is great to watch on screen, and Hurt has an abundance of experience allowing him to experiment with the role of General Ross - yet they do not fit in this film. Hurt wears a white-hairdo with a stuck-on moustache that simply looks odd and Tyler’s tears as Betty Rose definitely add to the depth of her pain at being separated from her love, Bruce Banner, but become tiresome quickly as she seems to be crying herself into every other scene. Also, in Lee’s version, the Hulk has the capacity for a physical strength that is potentially limitless due to the fact that the Hulk’s strength increases proportionally with his level of great emotional stress, anger in particular. Whilst Lee made this evident in many of the action scenes, in Leterrier’s version, there seems to be a cap, at which point, the Hulk grows no more. Visually, Lee’s approach looked better and was closer to the original power description of the comic-book. And to be honest, I cannot see why the current production would cancel out that visual aesthetic.
With an all-new action-based orientation, a cameo by Robert Downey Jr. (coming in from the Iron Man set) as Tony Stark and hence tying in the Marvel universe for future opportunities, and extraordinary action-sequences and visual effects, The Incredible Hulk (2008) is a fun piece waiting to be watched over and over.
Mostly though, The Incredible Hulk (2008) is a great action-fantasy, and I must admit, being a devoted fan of the genre, seeing one of my favourite comic-book heroes back on the silver screen and with such action, is totally entertaining and satisfying. At the same time, I find myself wondering why Hollywood is so terrified about venturing into the darker side of our lives, and whilst in my opinion, Lee’s Hulk (2003) was just as good, I cannot help but be content with Leterrier’s approach to bringing new life to an old Avenger; with a fresh style and visually stunning sequences, Leterrier has brought an awesomely-gritty looking Hulk back with a vengeance.
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