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The Best of All Worlds
on September 9, 2008
The second film to be produced directly by Marvel seems eager to prove why comic book companies should exercise direct control over their films. Rather than being nothing more than a new director's take on an old classic, The Incredible Hulk is both an engaging film and a love letter to every other incarnation of the The Hulk that proceeded it. This film truly endeavors to understand and assimilate the entire history of the character into one new project, and boy does it succeed.
At the center of The Incredible Hulk is an ambitious attempt to marry the two most popular and conflicting visions of the character. The film borrows many elements from the fondly remembered 1970s television series but also incorporates many of the more important elements from the comic book. It's a tough balancing act, but the film makes the disparate elements mix together in a way that makes complete sense and (I believe), leaves fans of both series feeling satisfied. The origin and characterization come largely from the TV series (though, thankfully, it's Dr. BRUCE Banner this time), but the more memorable supporting characters and conflicts from the comic are worked in as well (though Rick Jones was quite fortunately forgotten). Additionally, the enemy is a highly logical choice from the comic book series. Finally, the bad memories of a mutated Nick Nolte are beginning to subside.
The film also incorporates minor elements from the TV movies, the previous film (which is neither acknowledged nor completely contradicted), and even the previous Hulk video game. Of course there are also many wonderful nods to fans of each of the Hulk incarnations. The flashing danger light, the appearance of student reporter "Jack McGee," and Stan Lee's cameo proved to be my personal favorites. Lou Ferrigno also receives a far better cameo than in the previous film.
Most importantly, whether you have any interest in previous Hulk incarnations or not, this film is exceptionally well plotted. It resists the urge to shine the light fully on Hulk or Dr. Banner, instead carefully developing the two in unison. Dr. Banner (masterfully played by Ed Norton, who actually outshines Bill Bixby) gets farther than his television counterpart was ever allowed, and that experience necessarily changes him. The transformation is satisfying, yet still allows the franchise to return to familiar territory by the end.
In parallel, the monster also receives his share of development, though this isn't made clear until the end. His final scene cements this film's brilliant unison of television series and comic book, leaving no doubt that this is the most impressive project ever to come out of the Hulk franchise. I was left so excited, so convinced for the first time that the character had truly come to life, that I almost expected Doctor Strange and the Defenders to show up in the next moment. For only the third time in all my movie going experiences, a beloved comic book character actually seemed real (or at least possible), even in spite of the sometimes questionable computer animation.
Finally, true Marvel fans will be amazed to see just how much continuity this two hour film packs. Clear and meaningful ties are made to Captain America, Iron Man, and S.H.I.E.L.D., and just you wait for the film's final scene! While DC is still trying to decide who should play Superman and Batman for their Justice League movie, you can rest assured that Marvel is getting ready to tie their films together in a meaningful and impressive way. The Marvel Universe has truly made the move into Hollywood and, with The Incredible Hulk as a shining example, it's safe to believe that they've just begun delivering everything a humble fan boy could ever hope for.