Everything's Gone Green!
Still no Rick Jones, though.
Sure it wasn't perfect (continuity divergence springs to mind), but it still stands as one of the more intelligent and cerebral of the comic book adaptations that have been made thus far. So it looked like that final scene's set up for a sequel was going to remain a loose end with no second film to be made.
That's why when a new film The Incredible Hulk was announced for 2008 release, it was taken as a big surprise. This is especially because this new film was announced as not being a sequel but as a new beginning, a re-launch in the vein of Batman Begins. Now that the film is here, that statement is still being made. The Incredible Hulk is completely unrelated to The Hulk.
In fact, there are a number of differences that go beyond the mere theme, mood and casting of the picture, but let's analyze this a little more deeply. The 2003 film ended with Bruce Banner (AKA: The Hulk) down in South America and speaking Spanish as he went into hiding. The new film begins with Bruce Banner in hiding... in South America. He's now speaking both Spanish and Portuguese (as best he can). Although the film was made by Marvel Studios (as part of the more unified approach to the Marvel Comics adaptations), The Incredible Hulk, like The Hulk before it was released and distributed by Universal Studios (the working title was even Hulk 2). This new film came out one week shy of Five Years after the 2003 movie. General "Thunderbolt" Ross describes the last incident with The Hulk as having taken place five years prior to the events of this film. Even the Cameo appearances are similar. Lou Ferrigno plays a security guard here, as he did in the other film and Stan Lee's obligatory "Hiya" occurs while his character is at home instead of work. Arguably these could be the same characters. In short, there are enough similar moments to provide some ties to the other film, sequel or not. No She Hulk though... that would have been hot.
However, the recap during the opening credits details a slightly different series of events leading to the birth of The Hulk. While this is still not quite the origin story of the Comic Books, this resembles in equal parts the 2003 film and the 1977 television pilot. This series of Homages continues throughout the film like a round of 101 Bottles of Beer on the wall, though less annoying.
As we are re-introduced to Robert Bruce Banner (now well-played by Edward Norton), we see him eking out a living in Brazil, making ends meet at a bottling plant while performing experiments on his own blood in his ramshackle apartment. He has avoided conflict long enough to have kept his jolly green giant alter-ego down deep inside for months (an occasional ticker at the bottom of the screen tells us how many "days without incident" Bruce has had). His only real companionship is a mysterious scientist called "Mr. Blue" with whom he communicates via laptop and satellite link. In all other ways, Bruce Banner is effectively forgotten.
Unfortunately, the US Army division led by Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) has not forgotten about Bruce and doesn't buy the concept that he's dead. As soon as the slightest trace of evidence of Bruce's whereabouts arises, the Army mobilizes and seeks to "Hulk Bust".
Lucky for them they've got a new Ace-In-The-Hole in the form of Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a Russian-born, English-raised decorated veteran now on loan to the US Army (what a sentence!). Unlucky for them (and for Bruce), their forces wake up the sleeping giant and instead of a clandestine arrest operation they must now actually become "Hulk Busters". Incidentally, that team of Hulk Busters also includes The X Files' Chris Owens, proving that no matter how "in charge" Thunderbolt thinks he is, it's still Cancerman's World!
Soon our lead character (in both his forms) is back on the run and looking for answers. To this end he reluctantly accepts the help of his true love Dr. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), who has now moved on to another man. Along the way, Bruce also links with Doc Samson (Ty Burrell) and Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson), who may hold the key to curing Bruce's Jekyll from his hidden Hyde. In fact, Stearns is so knowledgeable, one might just call him The Leader in his field.
Naturally (so the film is more than 40 minutes long), things aren't all coming up Green Roses and not everybody is on Bruce and Betty's side. General Ross (whom Betty still occasionally calls "Dad") seems to have found a perfect candidate for his super-soldier project (which is, in part, based on Hulk research). Soon the aging Blonsky is running faster, lifting more and even standing up to the RAMPAGING Hulk! Is it totally lost on him what these experiments did to Bruce Banner? Might his hunger for more and more power only serve to turn him into some kind of... Abomination?
While there are a few plot holes here and a few convenient, yet unexplained moments, The Incredible Hulk still satisfies on most every level. The fight sequences are spectacular from the very beginning (in which the Hulk - in Lou Ferrigno's Voice - actually speaks a line) to the super-powered finale that is really a sight for anybody who loves those big, bombastic Superhero battles from Superman II to The Matrix Revolutions.
The CGI Hulk looks (as in the 2003 film) like a bulky, green version of the actor playing Bruce, but most assuredly looks like a very different Hulk from the 2003 version. This one is darker, more sinewy with brown hair and torn jeans (instead of those purple Boxer Briefs, which still worked). While at times The Hulk still looks like CGI, (based on Ed Norton's Motion Capture), the effects artists worked hard to build in both humanity and personality into the character, along with some interesting fighting motifs that show that the beast is more intelligent than he might appear. And, yes, as always his one soft spot in all the rage is Betty Ross. Hey, at least he didn't sing Aerosmith songs to her.
The homages here are tasteful and mesh well with the overall plot, never seeming like Where's Waldo Easter Eggs, more likely to evoke clever laughter than story value. For example, some scenes feel reminiscent of King Kong, while others are more in tune with the 2003 Hulk. One scene shows Banner sadly walking down the side of the road as that familiar "walking away" piano music from the '70s TV Show plays across Craig Armstrong's score.
The Incredible Hulk threatened to become an apology for the 2003 film, erasing all memory of it as if a checklist of "what went wrong" was followed. Instead Zak Penn's script attempts to pull together many of the divergent histories of the emerald goliath into one whole. Surprisingly this actually works well and provides a good mix of action and story without becoming too contrived. Credit is also due to director Louis Leterrier, whose Transporter films showed a similar combination of action and thought. Here, Leterrier dispenses with the comic book framing and plot density that we saw five years ago and gives instead a more straightforward, adventure with a very unpredictable lead.
All in all, as a fan of the Comics, the Cartoons, the TV Show and the 2003 film (but especially the comics), I wasn't sure what this one might turn out to be. I can tell you that this film is still not perfect... and that I love this film. It's still not quite the comic book, but it's a damned good take on a familiar story.
Much has been touted about a Robert Downey, Jr. cameo (as Tony Stark). You won't have to stay through the credits for this one (though the film's excellent ending might have made his cameo better placed after the MPAA globe). I can tell you that if you're a fan of the comics, you're going to like where this new, unified Marvel Movie Universe is headed. John Steed and Emma Peel... may or may not.
The Incredible Hulk might not be quite as smart as the previous shot at the mean green of the green screen hitting the silver screen, but it's still got it where it counts. Action, Thrills, Fun... and, yeah, brains, too. I can only hope that DC can take a hint from Marvel and start unifying their Movie Universe under the proud shield of the Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister).
Four Unified Stars out of Five for The Incredible Hulk, the guy who, for many reasons, will never get Pinched on Saint Paddy's Day! Did we really need two Film Adaptations of The Hulk in the same decade, each purporting to launch their own series? Apparently so, judging from the fact that The Incredible Hulk is, thus far, a Smash. Personally, I can't wait for the next one... yeah, I'll fork out the Green for that one too. See it, and you, in the Next Reel... Yeah... let's Assemble there. But, uh... will Rick Jones be there?
Many of which were written while Angry.
You would like me when I'm angry...
SMASH IT UP!