That's the INCREDIBLE Hulk, you know. And given the disappointing to bad treatment of this character in the past, that's quite a statement. Fortunately, it was incredible. Seriously. I was hopeful going into this movie that it would be good. I mean, it had actors that I like, a director who has actually directed some action movies (Transporter 2, Danny the Dog - a.k.a. Unleashed), and none of the bitter stink associated with a certain crazy-ass Chinese motion picture maker.
The first thing is the short and simple intro, which was handled absolutely brilliantly. If you're a fast read you'll catch the numerous references made to some other Marvel characters (Nick Fury, Doc Samson, Rick Jones, and Stark Industries just to name a few), but the real brilliance is in the Hulk's origin itself: it seamlessly melds the supporting cast of comic book characters into the fondly-remembered intro to the beloved 1970's series. At first I didn't think it would work, but they recreated the 70's feel almost frame for frame and pulled it off quite nicely; comic book fans will love that the basis for the story was kept intact, while people who have only watched the television show won't feel left out either.
"But Mike, " you say, "I'm a big fan of Ang Lee's Hulk movie from a few years ago. Am I going to be able to catch up on my sleep during this film as well?" Not unless you're narcoleptic, because once the action in this film starts, there's far more of it than you'll see in almost every other superhero movie, and it's handled really well. Sure, it's mostly computer animated, but its animation is top notch. Unlike the jumbled mess (that should have ended Ang Lee's career), someone on the set of this film, whether it was the director, the writer, the production crew, or the star, actually took the time to read some of the comic books. That being said, the hulk is about the size he should be (really big, but not to the point where he dwarfs trees and houses), he actually uses some of his more famous fighting moves (such as the thunderclap), and he speaks. I'm sorry, but when he says "Hulk smash!" it was the coolest made-me-feel-like-I-was-seven-again moment I've had in a long time. It was cheesy, yes, but in a really good way.
I know that some of you were hoping to see some of the television/old movie Hulk's more memorable fights, like when he beats up slum lords and redneck truck drivers, or fights his famous enemies "mutated bulldog 3" and "the noxious cloud that is Nick Nolte," and I'm sorry to disappoint you by revealing that the green machine actually fights a super-villain this time. Yes, the Abomination. I know, I know: "but the Hulk is such a powerhouse, shouldn't the villain be a weak little guy who for some reason can't outsmart America's favorite mentally retarded superhero?" Well, they're saving that for a sequel (trust me), but for now we're just going to have to bite the bullet and watch an impressively filmed action-packed brutal battle between two incredibly super-strong opponents. Really, I think the director should have taken a cue from Superman Returns and just had him fighting normal human bank robbers, facing down human criminal masterminds, and *yawn* catching things for two hours.
I think a lot of it had to do with the casting. It turns out that if you spend the money and get people who don't act in a lot of schlock, they can perform admirably even when the material falters slightly. Edward Norton is superb as always (I know that this is a popcorn flick, but I can't believe he hasn't won an Oscar yet for his other roles). William Hurt is necessarily calculating and cold as General Ross, although I do have to admit that I miss Sam Elliot's drawl in the role. Liv Tyler is mostly silent but very emotional as the love interest Betty Ross, and Tim Roth makes one convincing over-the-hill and willing to do whatever it takes to win bad-ass. Comedy relief comes in the form of Tim Blake Nelson, the over-the-top mad scientist who tries to help Bruce Banner rid himself of the monster inside him, with possible side effects.
I wouldn't recommend this movie to just anyone (it is definitely not something to take your grandmother to). I'm sure that there are people reading this blog who are burned out on bad action movies. THIS IS NOT ONE OF THEM. I liked this film only slightly less than I liked Iron Man, and I was really surprised by how good that one was. If the end of the film doesn't make it clear by now, Marvel is ramping up to do some serious movie business, and it looks like they're finally on the right track, and off whatever track spawned those Blade sequels, the Fantastic Four movies, and the last X-men movie. Thank goodness...