My review of "The Incredible Hulk"

My friend Dave and I went to see "The Incredible Hulk" yesterday and phone-conferenced in our other buddy John for a post-film geek-o-rama roundtable discussion. After the jump I'll post my review.

When you walk into a super-hero movie, you're expecting to be entertained. The genre's not primarily about drama or sadness or deep navel-gazing introspection regarding the human condition (although you can certainly find examples of those themes), it's about well-toned people in spandex beating the snot out of each other. If you were to compare comics as a medium to movies as a medium, super-hero comics are like summer blockbusters -- they bring in the cash but aren't exactly nuanced.

On that score, "The Incredible Hulk" qualifies as a good super-hero movie. We were entertained in a Hollywood summer blockbuster kind of way, with lots of exploding cars, the enchanting hum of gunfire providing a lovely background musical theme, and a thin plot that involved lots of running and hitting things. It's definitely an improvement over Ang Lee's "Hulk", which was much more a brooding family psycho-drama than a super-hero film (albeit with stuff exploding, which would have helped, say, "Ordinary People" be a much better movie).

No, this version stayed much truer to the basic theme of the character from the comics, which can be boiled down to "Hulk smash". And smash he does, over and over and over again. This is not a Batman-style brooding dark knight, or a shining, Christ-like Superman. Hulk is a primal character -- rage, power, and unthinking brute force. Which is a pretty good way to describe the movie, as well. It's a straight-forward, unabashed muscle-car of an outing, with no apologies made or necessary.

For staying true to the character and for giving us an entertaining two hours or so, Dave and I both gave it a solid "B". Not as good as the very best super-hero movies, but still pretty darn good. If you were to consider it not in terms of how it relates to other genre films but rather against movies in general, I'd probably give it a C or a C+.

I keep it out of the top tier for several reasons. One, the ending is unsatisfying to anyone but a super-hero fan. I don't want to spoil anything here but basically after it's over you are left thinking "Well then what was the point of all that?" It very much comes across as one issue in an ongoing saga rather than a complete and satisfying self-contained story arc.

Two, Liv Tyler just doesn't do it for me. Both Dave and John feel that she is just too over-the-top in her melodramatic performances, all with that breathy asthmatic delivery. I think she and Kevin Costner should do a movie together, since they both always play the same character regardless of the actual project they're appearing in. It would be called "Kevin and Liv, Two Actors in a Movie" and it wouldn't matter what it was about. And since they're like the polar opposites of acting -- Liv as the hyper-dramatic emo queen and Kevin as the black hole where enthusiasm and humanity go to die -- hopefully putting them together would result in a rip in the fabric of space-time and we'd not have to put up with them any more.

In the same way that the presence of Margo Kidder kept me from liking the original Richard Donner "Superman" as much as I could have, or that Liza Minelli kept "Arthur" from being my all-time favorite comedy, I think Liv Tyler's performance is going to keep "The Incredible Hulk" out of my top ten list.

Finally, while the computer generated creature effects are much better here than in the previous film, they're still not great. I never could shake the feeling of "I'm watching CG characters", which is a definite drawback.

Still, it's a movie most comic book fans will enjoy. And a casual movie-goer who doesn't know anything about the characters, but who likes typical summer Hollywood shoot-em-ups, would probably have a good time, too. But this definitely isn't the film to take your "liked Spider-Man because of the kissing scene" significant other to unless you want to be the one getting "Hulk smashed" after it's over.

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