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Thursday, August 14, 2008

'The Incredible Hulk' isn't better than Ang Lee 'The Hulk'

THE INCREDIBLE HULK poster directed by Louis Leterrier, starring Edward Norton

Just saw it today.

When I first heard the news of this 'reboot' of the HULK franchise, I had mixed feelings. Firstly, the HULK, being such a well-known Marvel character, might have the potential to become a franchise, so I understood the need to do a more commercial and action-packed HULK film for the masses so they can erase the bad taste from Ang Lee's 2003 film.

Ang Lee's ponderous THE HULK is reviled by many, I remembered my own 'WTF was that?' knee-jerk reaction towards that film after walking out of the cinema with dad (who didn't like the film either). I thought THE HULK was heavily flawed, but still had many things about it that I appreciated, like Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly's performances, the character development, the innovative multiple screen editing that tries to simulate a comic book feel (in fact, I was very much influenced by that, you can see me emulating the technique in some of my earlier short films) etc.

On the other hand, some of the more ridiculous aspects of the film (Nick Nolte's craziness? Mutant dogs?) left me really cold. In the end I could only say that I appreciate Ang Lee for trying to do something different, but its uneven tone and unnecessarily slow pace, and Ang Lee's decision to make it more a pure Shakespearean tragedy without any care about the entertainment quotient made it a very difficult film to like.

So it was obvious this film tries to be everything Ang Lee's film wasn't. They got Louis Leterrier, the director of Transporter 2, to do it. Instead of dwelling on the backstory or the psychology of the character, this film aims for more action and explosions, it's a chase film, where Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, replacing Eric Bana) is being tracked down by the military since the beginning. The entire origin of the Hulk is explained swiftly at the stylized opening credits, what Ang Lee needed half an hour to go, this one took only a minute or two. I think that sequence may be the best part of the film.

... it all went downhill from there.

(Okay, it really went downhill after the film loses its atmospheric Brazilian settings)

Here's the most ironic thing that happened that I felt embarrassed about sharing with you all: I was really struggling to stay awake during the last third of the film. Granted, I didn't sleep much last night, but I slept even less (and had a much more tiring day) before I saw THE DARK KNIGHT last Saturday, and I was totally into the film! (read my review of THE DARK KNIGHT).

Maybe that's the problem. After having seen something like THE DARK KNIGHT, which was both entertaining AND thoughtful, and also challenges the conventions of superhero films, watching THE INCREDIBLE HULK is a little like taking a step backward. THE INCREDIBLE HULK doesn't try to push boundaries nor redefine conventions, Ang Lee tried to do that with THE HULK and people didn't like it, so THE INCREDIBLE HULK aims to be a safe entertainment for the masses.

And by opting for a quicker pace and more explosions, I once again found myself hard to feel any emotional attachment to the protagonists. Without that emotional investment (and also without being challenged to use my mind much), watching the action scenes, as well-crafted as they were (the confrontation at the university with those sonic cannons, and the last fight were both quite good), became a little too mind-numbing for me. Unlike TRANSPORTER 2, which had such over-the-top action scenes that end up feeling comedic (which makes the film fun to watch), THE INCREDIBLE HULK isn't THAT fun.

On the other hand, as much as they intend to make this more of a love story between Bruce Banner and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, replacing Jennifer Connelly), I find the romance subplot too soap opera-ish and cringe-inducing. The way the potential romantic rival is removed from the picture was way too convenient and shallow. At times I felt the plight of the two characters, but because we don't get to know them well enough, it's still doesn't work as much as it should have. (the romance was meant to anchor the film, stabilize the Banner character, sort of like what Rachel Dawes is to Bruce Wayne)

I'm not surprised about the reports of Edward Norton not liking this cut of the film, I think he said something about it not having enough character (development?), which prompted some people to question whether he wants this film to be as ponderous as Ang Lee's. But I do think that the film may have been much more compelling to watch if it's not only about the action and explosions. It's not as if by making the film more intelligent would immediately transform it into a dull arthouse film. Once again, look at THE DARK KNIGHT.

In this interview, Louis Leterrier said that there will be an extra 70-minute worth of footage (including the much-talked about Captain America cameo) included in the DVD, despite what I think about the film, I still want to check out that out because I think they may have sacrificed a lot of the storytelling just for the sake of dumbing the film down.

I find myself preferring Ang Lee's version over this. Edward Norton's a great actor, but somehow I still have a deeper impression of Eric Bana's more tormented interpretation in THE HULK. And I definitely liked Jennifer Connelly's Betty Ross more. I have questioned some of the stylistic and artistic decisions Ang Lee made during the production of THE HULK, even so, I still find that THE HULK is a more compelling watch.

So, how about everyone else? THE HULK (2003) vs THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008). Which one do you like more? Why?

(P.S. Robert Downey Jr's cameo as Tony Stark would've meant more to me if I've seen Iron Man... unfortunately, I have to wait til September for it to come to Tokyo. Slow huh?)