Universal // 2008 // 113 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 21st, 2008
Following the split-decision Ang Lee-helmed stab at Bruce Banner's inner green turmoil, Marvel, now with a tighter control over the franchise, and obviously forging a long-haul vision for its feature-film properties opted to reboot the Hulk. Incredibly, perhaps?
Moving away from the canon of Hulk, director Louis Leterrier reboots the story, largely dispensing with an origin -- he runs through all that in the opening credits sequence -- and jumping headfirst into the plot: Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, Fight Club) has exiled himself to search for an antidote to quell the monster within.
But a military detachment, headed by Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt, Dark City), aggressively pursues Banner, determined to stop the raging, biological weapon that Ross helped create. To do this, he enlists the help of loose cannon bad-ass Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) and in his zeal to nab Banner, unwisely shoots Blonsky up with his Hulk serum -- with predictable property-destructive results.
I'm not entirely sure this movie was clamored for, and the advance marketing was decidedly minimalist compared to other theatrical superhero heavy-hitters. It's fair to say the overall reaction to Ang Lee's version was mixed. While I considered it interminably slow-paced at times, the action scenes were fantastically mounted (save for the ridiculous finale) and the acting was top-notch. The Incredible Hulk discards the cerebral artfulness of its predecessor and goes for a straight-arrow action film which morphs into an old-school monster movie at the end. That's a good way to look at it: an action-monster-movie.
The Hulk is awesome and all in his car-smashing glory and gum-baring glowering but I never found him or his counterpart Bruce Banner as compelling as, say Iron Man/Stark or Spider-Man/Parker or Batman/Wayne or even Superman/Kent. The anger-management angle can only take you so far (and, before comic fans spam my inbox with the minutiae of Hulk's character arc in the Marvel mythology, let me just say please, for the love of God, don't!). Hulk's appeal (visually at least) comes from the fact that he's a huge, indestructible, ill-tempered monster and thankfully Louis Leterrier and rest of the creative talent behind the rebirth of the franchise have embraced that.
There's big action to be found here, from a Bourne-like foot chase to the introduction of the Hulk in a darkened warehouse to a large-scale military engagement on a college campus and, finally, the highlight of the flick, the one-on-one epic throwdown between Hulk and Abomination, a larger, juiced-up, far more verbose monster. All of the mayhem is cool, well-staged and featuring enough new stuff to keep the action fresh: the (inadvertent) knock-over of the Humvee, the sonic cannons, the Frisbee helicopter takedown, the warehouse ravaging, the steel fists (hat tip: Ultimate Destruction), the savage beatings Hulk and Abomination administer to each other.
It's all entertaining.
It's just not terribly deep or memorable. I was never truly invested in Bruce and Betty Ross's (Liv Tyler) relationship, the piston that drives the emotional engine of the film. And while William Hurt looks awesome and gruff as Thunderbolt, his complicated relationship with Bruce was distilled to "I'm pissed at you because you're going to get huge and green and there's probably a ton of paperwork I'm going to have to fill out." And Roth's Blonsky is just a complete dick who offers up a target for Hulk's fists. Really, the only part of the story that will likely stick with the audience is the last 90 seconds.
How about the CGI? When I caught the film in the theater I was, frankly, not blown away. Some shots failed to deliver on the visual punch, specifically the CGI helicopter and the big fight at the end. Without the resolution that Blu-ray offers, the Hulk vs. Abomination bout often degenerated into an indecipherable ball of visual effects, similar to much of the stuff happening with Transformers. But like that successful high-def treatment, the Blu-ray version of The Incredible Hulk proves to be a huge benefit to that aspect. The enhanced resolution (2.35:1) produces a sharper contrast of the action; basically, it's a lot easier to see what's happening. The flipside is that some of the lower-impact CGI work -- the helicopter for example -- looks pretty fake. Overall, the visual improvements are noticeable but not jawdropping, lacking the pop that you find in other Blu-ray releases. Colors are strong, though the detailing is flat at some times. The technical standout is the sound, a pounding, active DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 that will blast out your windows. The two big action scenes -- the campus army fight and the one-on-one at the end are hugely layered and aggressively push the surrounds.
Extras: a well-implemented, robust U-control picture-in-picture experience featuring "Thunderbolt Files" (character, location and event info), "Comic Book Gallery" (stills from the film rendered in comic form) and behind-the-scenes footage and interviews; deleted scenes and an alternate opening; a making-of documentary (high-def); featurettes on becoming the Hulk, becoming the Abomination, and anatomy of a Hulk-out (all in high-def); and a lively feature commentary with Tim Roth and Louis Leterrier. A digital copy is also included.
The film is a lot of fun in that popcorn blockbuster kind of way, but that's about it. The Blu-ray treatment looks good and sounds awesome.
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Alternate Opening
* Scene Explorer