Marvel had a lot riding on this latest adaptation of the comic book icon. Giving the reigns to action director Louis Leterrier (Transporter, Unleashed) the 2008 edition, properly titled The Incredible Hulk, is undoubtedly a more enjoyable piece than the much maligned Ang Lee dud. As to whether or not there’s a franchise here, well that’s still shaky territory.
Incredible Hulk walks the line between sequel and re-imagining. Without any origin story, Leterrier’s version piggybacks Lee’s film in this manner. Instead, the film opens with the latest Hulk played by unassuming Ed Norton desperately seeking a way out with a cure. Gamma rays are mentioned in brief dialogue exchanges without any direct lines stating that’s how Bruce Banner came to be.
A heart rate monitor has been introduced to keep the audience aware of exactly when he’s about to change, though why it doesn’t simply affect him when he’s excessively ticked off is an odd choice. It’s only used for one scene to show how the radiation can change his personal life and is somewhat irrelevant for the rest of the film. It only serves as a plot hole later during slower scenes when he remains the Hulk and his heart rate is obviously dropped below the critical level.
Action is loaded into three key scenes, two of which open with an elongated chase. The first that takes place inside a bottling factory, hides the appearance of the Hulk through shadows and smoke. This works for some films, though in the age of the internet and heavy hype, it’s hardly a mystery by the time the audience settles in. Stylistically it works, but if you’re already assuming the audience knows how he came to be, why stay secretive and attempt to build a sense of dread as soldiers are tossed clear across the screen?
As the stereotypical cigar chomping military brass continues to search for the location of Banner (and he makes a mysterious, unexplained trip to America by apparently walking from South America to New York), we’re treated to a large scale brawl in broad daylight. This is where the CG effects begin a tailspin, including some of the worst looking helicopters in recent memory. Some impossible physical movements don’t help either.
It’s not that all of the effects are bad. There are some truly spectacular shots, particularly one that is ripped right out of the modern King Kong remake. Hulk sits on a ledge peering out into a valley with his love interest, played with an inconsistent performance by Liv Tyler. Their relationship is never fully explained to the viewer other than a past romantic interest. She seems inserted into the story purely for added drama in certain scenes.
Cameos include a “passing of the torch” of sorts from Lou Ferrigno, and of course Stan Lee in a funny bit early on in the film. Comedic relief tends to fall flat with the performance of the bumbling scientist by Tim Blake Nelson. While he does make some sense out of the usual loose comic book science, he’s almost too goofy to fit into the story. The attempts to bring some morals about government testing into the plot through him also fail.
The finale, loaded with the usual array of CG trickery, works for the most part. Edits are too fast, and the effects come off as clumsy as the viewer tries to follow the fight. When two juggernauts face off, the speed doesn’t seem to click with their hulking (pun intended) bodies.
It’s amazing how a simple concept, that of a massive green guy that breaks things is apparently a tough film concept for Hollywood to tackle. The energy for this update/non-sequel/restart/insert your own term here/re-do is high. Not much of that translates into classic comic book movie, and this is nowhere near what Marvel fans were given with Iron Man earlier in 2008. For a cheap matinee, the loud booming action will probably offer enough to the average movie-goer to keep them satisfied.
In pre-release, it was stated by director Louis Leterrier that the Blu-ray would blow away the theatrical presentation, and that holds true. The movie boasts a new standard for live-action films in HD.
Detail is utterly stunning. Even at a distance, individual hairs and pores can be made out on the actors. The transfer is razor sharp. Combined with a stunningly beautiful contrast and color, every scene is a work of hi-def art. The image never softens, and unless you want to be truly nit-picky (some mild black crush), this is as close to flawless as possible.
Likewise, this DTS-HD Master mix lives up to its name. The surround use here is simply mind-blowing. Hardly a scene goes by where the entire soundfield is used perfectly. Listen to the factory scene early on with bottles clanging into each other. Action scenes are of course more thrilling than bottles, and they don’t disappoint either. Bullets fly everywhere when needed. On top of that, bass is unreal at times, booming with every footstep, explosion, or roar. This is the reason you own a home theater.
A commentary from Louis Leterrier and Tim Roth starts off your extras experience. This is followed by nearly 50 minutes of deleted scenes (26 of them in total) including an alternate opening that was wisely cut, but it’s worth watching now. The Making of Incredible is the key making-of feature, although the menu shamelessly promotes Volkswagen to get to it. It’s decent, with lots of footage from set, but its self-congratulatory style isn’t fun.
Four featurettes focus on specific aspects of filming, including the visual effects of both creatures. Universal’s U-Control is as annoying as ever, offering a pointless dossier feature and some comic book art while you watch. Finally, BD-Live includes the usual downloadable trailers, and also a MyChat feature. However, you can’t simply jump into a room and start chatting. You need to know someone with the disc and set up a time to watch. It’s a nice concept to text chat while you watch, but it’s quite limited in its execution.