‘The Incredible Hulk’ Proves to Be a Decent Marvel Reboot

The Incredible Hulk poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2008.

Well, it’s not incredible, but it’s still pretty good. “The Incredible Hulk” is not so much a sequel as it is a reboot. Ang Lee’s “Hulk” was not the movie Marvel Comics fans were waiting for, and the backlash against it was pretty severe. This was a shame because Lee’s movie was not at all bad, but I came of it knowing it would get a lukewarm response from audiences because it was more of a character driven piece which the summer movie season typically relegates to arthouse cinemas. But with this action-packed blockbuster, fans will likely get more of what they were looking for the first time around.

“The Incredible Hulk” thankfully sprints past this particular superhero’s origins by doing a quick recap of Dr. Bruce Banner’s accident which turned him into the ferociously mad and enormous beast who tears through all of his clothing with the exception of his underwear (very convenient for a PG-13 rating). We catch up with Dr. Banner, now played by Edward Norton, in Brazil where he has successfully managed to control his anger for over 130 days. While working a menial job at a bottling plant, he continues to look for a cure which will keep him from turning green and becoming super pissed. As a result, Banner is one of the few people on this planet determined not to go green in order to save the environment. But despite all the breathing exercises he does to control his anger, we all know he will soon find it’s not easy to keep from being green.

This Hulk movie is a lot more action packed than the previous one as it starts up quickly and never lets the pace go slack. Directing this superhero reboot is Louis Leterrier who directed “The Transporter 2” and “Unleashed.” He clearly likes the hyperkinetic style of filmmaking and it shows throughout. The direction is not necessarily outstanding and Leterrier doesn’t seem to quite have a style of his own yet, but he gets the job done and he keeps the film entertaining from start to finish.

The cast is different as well, with nobody but Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno, doing their mandatory cameos, returning from Lee’s film. Norton is in some ways a better fit for Bruce Banner than Eric Bana was, and a lot more animated too. He may not physically look like someone who could become the Hulk, but that’s the point. Norton also did an uncredited rewrite of the script, but the Writer’s Guild of America denied him credit (Zak Penn gets story and screenplay credit). As always, Norton reminds us why he is one of the best actors of his generation, and he comes across as an ordinary joe thrust into circumstances beyond his control.

Liv Tyler takes over the role of Dr. Betty Ross from Jennifer Connelly, and while she doesn’t have much of an acting range, she is always a nice presence to have in any film (not just as eye candy mind you). She holds up well next to Norton as they both work to find a way to stop him from becoming the Hulk again. William Hurt plays her father, Gen. Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross, and he is always an interesting actor to watch. All the same, I have to admit that I liked Sam Elliott better in this role when he played it in Lee’s version. Elliott comes across better as an army general than Hurt does, and he was one of the best things about the previous film.

But the best addition to “The Incredible Hulk” is Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, chief nemesis to Dr. Banner and his angry alter-ego. After playing a wuss of a man in the highly disturbing remake of “Funny Games,” Roth is in bad ass mode as a soldier who wants to take the Hulk down, but soon finds himself wanting his power. In the film, Emil ends up getting injected, by choice mind you, with the same stuff Banner got injected with. It’s enough to give him the power to overcome the most serious of injuries, but he soon finds that he wants more of that power which leads him to become the Abomination. Roth’s character is actually one of the more complex and most realized characters in the movie.

Roth’s performance here is a reminder of what a strong presence he is and watching him here should help ease the memories of the torture he endured in “Funny Games.” How refreshing it would have been to see he Abomination take out those two young cads who tortured that family. Of course, Michael Haneke would just rewind back from Abomination’s victory to intentionally frustrate the audience.

If there is anything lacking in “The Incredible Hulk,” it is not as strong on character development. One of the strengths of “Hulk” was the attention it paid to its characters and how they really drove the movie. I know Marvel Studios didn’t want to get too caught up with this in this reboot, but it would have been nice to see more character work here to keep this from being just an average action movie. In the end, this was a movie made to please the fans who felt let down by what they saw in 2003.

I wish I could say that I loved this incarnation of the Hulk, but it didn’t quite reach the heights I wanted it to. But it still was a lot of fun and kept me entertained from start to finish. It is a flawed film, but we do get to see Hulk smash in a way we didn’t get to see as much of previously. That was probably the best thing about this film, seeing Hulk smash stuff up. Using two halves of a police car to take out stupid humans makes for great action. All the same, it could have been better.

* * * out of * * * *

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Movies My Parents Wanted Me To See: Cache

 

Cache poster

Cache” was written and directed by Michael Haneke who made “Funny Games” (both the original and the remake), “The White Ribbon” and “Amour.” My parents gave me the DVD to this film as a Christmas present, and I went ahead and watched it before going out to see the “Funny Games” remake in theaters. With all the polarizing opinions regarding that film, I felt it was in my best interest to see “Cache” beforehand as I was afraid that if I hated it, then I would never get around to watching the DVD my parents gave me. I have enough trouble as it is watching the other movies they have given me over the years, but this one had a great quote on the DVD cover by Steven Rea of the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Like Hitchcock, only creepier.” I read that quote and was immediately intrigued about what this movie had in store for me.

“Cache” opens up with a long and uninterrupted shot of an exterior of the residence the main characters live in which lasts a good three or four minutes. But suddenly we hear voices and eventually realize we are actually watching a videotape along with two people who rewind it at one point. The couple is made up of TV talk show host Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil) and his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche), and they have received this tape from an anonymous person for reasons unknown. As this couple continues to receive more videos, their lives unravel at an increasing rate as the layers of the movie’s story keep getting peeled away.

Describing a movie like this is difficult because its creator makes it ambiguous to the point where we have no choice but to draw our conclusions as to what we have witnessed. These videos reawaken long and dormant memories for Georges as we come to see events from his childhood which may or may not be real, and it uncovers a guilt he thought he had long since made his peace with. But instead, he discovers that deep emotional scar never really disappeared, and now it is being picked at like a nasty scab more than ever before. In the end, it does not matter who is making these videos as much as it does the effect they have on Georges and those closest to him.

It’s clear to me Haneke really likes to play around with the audiences’ expectations. We are so conditioned by the formulaic movies mainstream cinema churns out with consistent regularity to where anything which challenges the norm seems designed to give us unbearable headaches. Those looking for a resolution which tidies up everything to everyone’s satisfaction will be endlessly frustrated with “Cache.” Haneke is not a director interested in spelling out everything for you as he is in trying to get you to figure out the story for yourself.

What is revealed is that Georges did something to another person he never really forgave himself for. Now the past is coming back to haunt him, and it ends up isolating him in his own guilt and fears and alienates him from his family. Anne, Georges’ wife, is incensed she is not being let in on any guesses her husband has as to who might be putting them through such immense anxiety. Georges is never portrayed as a bad person, but it doesn’t matter if he is a good person. Guilt tears away at him, and while some make peace with the past, he may never have that luxury. What’s worse, this guilt may end up being carried on by his son who only has inklings of what is going on between his parents.

Haneke won the Best Director award at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival for “Cache,” and it was probably well deserved. He keeps you hooked into the story which is like an onion that keeps being peeled away, and he succeeds in generating strong tension without the use of a music score. In fact, there is little to no music played throughout the entire movie. The only other movie I can think of which succeeded in keeping us on the edge of our seats without the aid of a music score is “The China Syndrome.”

All the performances are excellent without ever being flashy. Daniel Auteuil creates a morally ambiguous character who is not always easy to get along with, but we still care about what he goes through from start to finish. The most recognizable actor here is Juliette Binoche, and her performance is another in a long line of brilliant ones she has given. Binoche makes Anne’s panic and anxiety all the more real as she keeps getting shut out in the cold as to what’s really going on. Also, Maurice Bénichou, who plays a very pivotal character, brilliantly shows how a person can be threating while remaining perfectly calm.

“Cache” is a brilliant exercise in suspense, and it shows how much of a master Haneke in generating suspense. There are no easy answers to be found here, and the ending itself leaves a lot of things open, but not all movies are meant to be easily understood. Some are meant to engage you mentally so you can draw your own conclusions. What’s wrong with having a movie like that every once in a while? We need challenging movies which break the typical formulas dominating most of American cinema today. “Cache” engages you with the unblinking eye of the camera, and it traps you in the world of its characters to where it is impossible to look away. Movies don’t get more suspenseful than this one.

* * * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.