Tuesday, 10 June 2008

You'll like me when I'm angry..

Seems to me, the films I have low expectations of are doing far more things right than those with high ones. Not to say that this re imagining, for it's no sequel, had nothing to worry about. While Ang Lee's effort certainly wasn't widely loved, it nailed the whole comic book feel, and had some great set pieces, so expectations in many quarter's must have been high, my own for whatever reason simply were not. Stood next to Leterrier's new monster though, Lee's Hulk now looks more like the jolly green giant.

The Incredible Hulk - (Hulk2 in the States?) kicks things off with the famously disastrous gamma experiment, seemingly plucked straight from the TV series. By the time the credit sequence has ended, Norton's Banner is the bright spark in exile, hiding out in a decrepit bottling factory in Brazil, learning anger management techniques while trying to not provoke the locals, ogling supermodel co-workers and secretly working on a cure while teaching himself Portuguese. Good times. A mishap prompts his discovery by the rather cross, and more overtly naughty General (Hurt), who has been pursuing Norton ever since his disappearance during the credit sequence, determined to weaponise his mighty green thighs. Enter Blonsky, Roth's greasy limey royal marine brought in to net the elusive Banner, who is quickly seduced by his close encounter with the Hulk into hastily volunteering for the Generals crunchy spine injections, to make himself strooong, like wood.

Needless to say there ensue breathless foot chases, some bulging fights in the dark, pitch battles on campus and all out downtown brawls set across some beautifully shot backdrops. The favelas of the opening section are mostly stunning, with sweeping aerial shots the order of the day, and later visits to the university campus and New York are similarly pretty. Norton is convincing as the troubled (understatement) Banner, and the supporting cast all turn in great performances. While Liv Tyler's Betty has a few too many whiny lines, she is as always easy on the eye so I can forgive her. Roth and Hurt are typically excellent as the sympathetically drawn villains, and Tim Blake Nelson turns in a nicely manic comic performance with a promising, bulgy headed future.

The Hulk himself is a great creation; looking back at pictures of the old one, you can't help but be struck at how much more grown up this incarnation feels. Infinitely more vulnerable too, this version doesn't just get bigger the more you throw at it, real peril is constantly on the cards as the noose tightens round his bulging throat, he even bleeds at one point. Goodness. He is also sufficiently absent from the proceedings to have real impact when he does show up. The first appearance is particularly awesome, and was reminiscent of Batman's first foray into crimestopping in Batman Begins. He also now refrains from leaping huge distances across the landscape, which while kind of cool, always felt a bit silly. The Abomination, Roth's greasy, limey monstre terrible, is deeply cg (George would be proud) but remains grossly entertaining to the end, and sufficiently nasty that the many Hulk smashes to its ugly mug can't fail to satisfy. If anything, they could have pushed the action even further as after the epic campus based carnage, the New York brawl actually feels a little short.

On the whole though, great stuff. This is a tightly scripted and thoroughly enjoyable retelling that pitches what is after all, an overwhelmingly silly premise, just right, and is a great lesson in what good comic book films should be. There are some lovely comedic moments whenever it appears in danger of taking itself too seriously - Stan Lee's obligatory cameo actually raises a smile for once, as does Ferrigno's, and the "you wouldn't like me when I'm hungry" subtitle is inspired. Leterrier has wisely built on the themes of the tv show, playing on Banner's alienation and loneliness, and crafted around it a solid action romp that is overwhelmingly entertaining, despite the almost complete absence of an actual plot. Just goes to show. The surprise guest at the close inspires great hope for the brave new direction this Marvel comic book insurgence is heading, and indeed Leterrier's future in Hollywood.

Verdict: 4/5
A smash!

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