Pop Culture Diary: Incredible Hulk

I didn’t walk into Incredible Hulk with an open mind when I saw it in the theatre last week, that much I’ll admit. It wasn’t because of a predilection for the comic book series, which I didn’t read. It wasn’t because I liked Ang Lee’s take in 2005, which I didn’t see. It wasn’t because Marvel Comics new studio’s first movie cast a shadow over me, as I didn’t see Iron Man.

However, there’s no denying that “Iron Man” has had an effect on the reaction to this film. At the point where you have a resounding consensus that The Incredible Hulk isn’t as good as Iron Man, the movie is cast in a negative light. The people that claim that don’t necessarily say The Incredible Hulk isn’t good, but if you get enough people to agree in its inferiority, a bad expectation is in order. Ultimately, I figured it would be a waste of good special effects, something like Superman Returns or Spiderman 2. Of course, the “Superhero/Comicbook Genre” is a changed one, even since those two disappointing entries.

In my mind, Batman Begins changed everything. Maybe it was Sin City, which I also loved, but since it’s not a superhero movie, I’m not going to give Frank Miller that credit. It was Christopher Nolan that took a Bruce Wayne brand that had ventured into hyperbole — selling out to sex (Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone) and misplaced comedy (namely, The Riddler) — and Nolan transformed it. He saw the necessity for darkness in a story about a man standing up against greed, crime and corruption — a realization that should now become a requisite. Nolan also found a lead actor in Christian Bale that fit his lead perfectly. With the right philosophy and the right actor, any movie can be greater than the sum of its CGI.

As we desperately await Nolan’s next effort, it’s refreshing to see Marvel Studios is seeing things from a similar light. I’ve heard Iron Man isn’t as dark as Batman Begins, and that it’s even funny, but that’s okay — no way is Tony Stark as dark as Bruce Wayne. The point is that you come in with a vision of the character, and then you hire a prominent lead actor. Robert Downey Jr. might have just been the perfect person to juxtapose dark action with comedy.

Which brings us to Edward Norton. As far as I can tell, Norton is one of the most, if not the most, prominent actor to take a lead role in a superhero movie. And Bruce Banner is a funny part for the “Fight Club” alum — unassuming scientist who, in a rage, becomes something far greater. Am I talking about Banner or Tyler Durden? I do think “Fight Club” prepared Norton well for this role, and for the most part, he does his job.

I should say that expectations about The Incredible Hulk are probably best if a bit tempered, as we’re not talking about a movie in the Batman Begins, Iron Man class. But, what I like about the Hulk is that we’re seeing that even if Marvel will miss at times, they won’t miss the mark by much, and we’ll be entertained for two hours. Because, trust me, the Hulk is infinitely better than Speed Racer or Hellboy, and probably better than any Spiderman.

As far as Norton gets them, the movie has it’s flaws, starting with Zac Penn’s screenplay. He takes far too many shortcuts to call it a fluid product (the first 5 minutes are a joke, and a cop out), and the comedic breaks really aren’t funny. Finally, a supposed love backdrop is never fully realized, part of which we can blame on Penn, the other blame probably rests on Liv Tyler.

The action in the movie was inconsistent — it was actually better than I expected in smaller scenes, and less than I expected in bigger scenes. The quality really ebbed and flowed, but in the end, it’s not a significant problem. I have to say that William Hurt did a nice job, and I thought Tim Roth did a very nice job as the villain, Emil Blonsky.

In the end, Marvel has opted not to be opaque with the future direction of their films, and while I won’t spoil it, we’re certainly in for a treat. Finally, a studio that understands its genre.

Next: Lost in Translation

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