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.

6 Responses to My review of "The Incredible Hulk"

  1. violodion says:

    Have yet to see it myself. With most movies the question is along the lines of “see in a theater” or “wait for the DVD”.

    Notably, was hoping for perspective as to Edward Norton’s contribution to the overall texture of the film.

  2. Jeff Hebert says:

    I’d say if you’re going to see it at all, see it on the big theater screen. There’s not much point to watching something like this at home unless you have a really nice home theater setup.

    As far as Norton goes, there’s not a whole lot for him to work with. His performance is fine, but the role is pretty bland. John pointed out that one of the major differences in this movie versus “Iron Man” is the gap between what Robert Downey Jr. does with Tony Stark versus what Norton does with Banner. And there’s just no comparison.

    That’s not Norton’s fault, really, as I think the role itself is not nearly as meaty as what Downey got to work with. But in any event, he’s just sort of there, not bringing much to it but not letting it down either. Sort of neutral.

  3. Bones says:

    I didn’t like it very much. It just seemed like a movie version of an episode from the show from the 70’s. The whole beginning sequence was direct from the show, they just cut and paste. And when he changed while in Brazil and his face was in shadow and you could only see his green eyes I thought I was looking at Bill Bixby. Jeff is right the role was itself fairly weak.

    I also thought that the way they portrayed the hulk was very wrong. He was done much better in the first movie. (I know I’m crazy for saying it, but I thinks it’s true.) He never got any bigger when even angrier. And why wasn’t he able to jump for miles? He had almost no super healing. That’s not the hulk. That’s just your average super-strong brute.

  4. AJ says:

    (Quote: ‘Hulk’ review/)
    Hulk Smash, or Hulk get in touch with true feelings about father?

  5. Drake says:

    I’d really like to know your actual top 10. You seem like an expert on this sort of stuff and, after seeing the movie, I agree with everything you said. This, plus my love for nearly every movie with action, adventure, and/or comedy (anything but potty humor), will probably prompt me to see any movie you recommend.

  6. Jeff Hebert says:

    Thanks for the comments, Drake. I am definitely NOT an expert, but my buddies John, Dave, and I have been talking about what super-hero movies would be in our top ten overall. I should write a post about that, I’d be curious to hear what other people think about it.

    Off the top of my head, I’d say these films would definitely be in contention, though I don’t know in what order:

    Superman II
    X-Men II
    Spider-Man II
    The Incredibles
    Batman Begins
    Iron Man

    After that I’d have to think about it more. John I know is a big fan of Hellboy, although I don’t know if that qualifies as a “super-hero” movie or not. Definitely a comic-book film, obviously.

    As far as non-super-hero movies, I probably wouldn’t be so audacious as to write a post about that, I’m no critic. But some of my all-time favorites in general are:

    * Airplane (all time great comedy)
    * Arthur (ditto — Dudley Moore is just awesome in this. If it didn’t have Liza Minelli this would be at the very top of my favorites list but she’s just SO bad …)
    * Amadeus (I apparently only like movies that begin with “a” — this movie is probably too long and boring for most of today’s moviegoers, but damn that story of Solieri aching with all of his heart for the gift of music, only to see God give it to the loathsome Mozart really gets to me)
    * Raiders of the Lost Ark — all time great adventure film but points off for not starting with an “a”
    * Hollywood Shuffle — like Airplane, just a great, random, funny movie

    Not sure what use that would be to anyone, but when I think
    “Great films I really enjoyed on multiple levels”, those are the ones that pop up.

    OK, “Airplane” you can really only enjoy on one level — silliness — but it still makes me laugh even though I know all the jokes by heart. And it basically spawned a whole genre of films, which is no mean feat. I bet someone seeing it today for the first time would think it was pretty ho-hum since there have been so many imitators, but at the time it was just so off-the-wall funny…