The Incredible Hulk (2008)
In the sixties when many of us were growing up there was basically two brand names for comics. Sure there were some others but our young world revolved around either DC or Marvel. The DC universe had the more traditional superheroes and villains like Superman and Batman. The world of Marvel was much different and in many ways more real. The heroes and villains were plagued by the same problems as most of us; they were flawed and we identified with them. Characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four were sometime seen in the stories as vigilantes and outlaws. One of the most complex characters that Marvel has ever come up with was the Incredible Hulk. Scientist Bruce Banner was bombarded with an excessive amount of gamma rays so that when he became angry he would turn into the huge green monster known as the Hulk. This character has been a bad guy and a hero. He is misunderstood and primal; just perfect for a multi faceted individual. The Hulk has been the main subject of comics, graphic novels, both real action and animated television and movies. The latest incarnation for this classic character is available on DVD and Blu-ray and it is one of the better treatments of the Hulk. Universal Studios has released this film in several variations so there is bound to be one just right for you. This is more than a comic book come too life; it is a dark character study that just happens to have a tom of action.
One of the things that have made this character into one that is reinvented so often is the strong central themes that the stories explore. There is the most obvious one; the duality of the human personality. This theme is ancient; as old as human story telling. The most famous example is Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ published in 1886. It allowed a kindly and dedicated researcher to change into his dark and hedonistic counterpart. Here Banner (Edward Norton) follows much the same path only with anger as the trigger. We all have a dark side but in his case when he becomes the Hulk his usual human restraint is gone. We all have had moments when we just wished that we could let go and allow a more primal personality to take over. The second major theme here is another that is very old. It questions the extents that scientific research will go. Man has a thirst for knowledge that drives him to investigate the mysteries of the universe. Here Banner has good intentions but the power he receives is more than he can handle. There is also a love story between Bruce and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler). Many relationships are challenged by personality conflicts but this story takes things to an extreme. Ladies, if you think your boyfriend or husband has a temper just be thankful that he doesn’t turn big and green and smash everything in sight.
The script was written by Zak Penn. He certainly has more experience in this specific genre than the usual author of comic book driven screenplays. His resume has such notable scripts as a couple of the ‘X-Men’ movies, ‘Elektra’, and the ‘Fantastic Four’ He has also been tapped to write the upcoming Marvel film ‘The Avengers’. Penn captures the essences of the dichotomy between Banner and his alter ego of the Hulk. There is a humanity present here that transcends the older comic movies that makes this story into an interesting film not just an action flick. In some ways this is a story of personal self discovery and redemption. Banner knows that he has been responsible for the carnage inflicted by the Hulk and wants to rid himself of this curse. It has caused him to lose his research, professional standing and the woman he loves. What did hurt this story was the theatrical release date. It was opened too close to another Marvel staple ‘Iron Man’. That film was so perfectly done that nothing released right after it could measure up. Albeit the story here is not as deep or emotionally compelling as shown in ‘Iron Man’ but it holds together far better than the 2003 Ang Lee variation. There is a little tip of the hat to that film with the events taking place after the concluding explosion of the 2003 movie. This is an on the spot re-imagining though with a different focus that Lee had. The story does benefit from not having the necessary baggage of an origins movie. We all now how this Hulk came into being so Penn was able to just get down to the action.
Directing this film is Louis Leterrier. This is his third time in the helming. Previously he has the all out action flick ‘Transporter 2’ and the action oriented crime thriller ‘Danny the Dog’. His style here offers little in the way of surprises. The story lines are presented in a straightforward fashion. He allows for the necessary exposition with includes an opening segment that recants the origins of the creature. This is less psychologically oriented than the Ang Lee version and misses some of the heat of the television series but overall it works. There is plenty of action to be had; enough to keep any fan happy. The CGI is just below cutting edge although it is more advanced than any previous treatment of the Hulk.
Banner starts out working for a soda bottling company in Brazil. This is a man with an MD and PhD but he keeps the job so in his spare time he can perform experiments on the local flora in hopes of minding a cure for his transformations. One of the few connections to his previous life is an online collaborator known to him only as Mister Blue. While searching for the cure he takes proactive measures such as yoga and breathing exercises to curb his anger. Banner is like a man in substance abuse recovery counting the days since his last change into the Hulk. When some of his blood contaminates a soda bottle and infects a person back in the States General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt) gets a clue to where Banner is hiding. He sends a special operations expert Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to retrieve Banner. He transforms and manages to escape talking Banner back to the States. Banner tries to continue his research while Blonsky not only takes the super solider formula but the unpredictable gamma treatment. This turns him into a bigger and more powerful creature. Norton does make an interesting choice for Banner. He brings a different emotional score to the role that is very close to how it was played by Bill Bixby. He instills a pathos to Banner that helps sell the role.
The film is released to DVD and Blu-ray by Universal and once again they do a fantastic job. They have a one disc version in either anamorphic widescreen or Pan & Scan. For a few dollars more you might as well go for the three disc special edition. The Blu-ray version also features a DTS HD audio track. Both the three disc DVD and the Blu-ray have a digital copy disc so you can transfer the film to your PC or Mac. Both also contain the extras listed below. This is certainly one of the more interesting installments of the franchise is sure to entertain.