Wajahat Ali

** 1/2 [Entertaining but dumb action movie with several geek out moments]

If “Hulk Smash?” was the agonizing, introspective question asked in Ang Lee’s disappointing Hulk, then “Hulk Smash!!!” is the loud, mindless, action packed answer in this summer’s Incredible Hulk reboot.

Lee’s version of the over-sized, raging Id beast was a fascinating commercial failure: an Oedipal, psychological, melodrama posing as a special effects, comic book extravaganza. The film met with resounding admonishment even though it earned over $300 million dollars worldwide.

A comic book store owner recently explained the phenomenon to me: “Listen, Hulk is like the easiest comic book movie to adapt. All you need is “Hulk Smash!” That’s it. Just have Banner hulking out and breaking stuff. Easy.”

The new filmmaker, Louis Letterier of Transporter fame, echoes the sentiment. Gone are the prolonged and ponderous psycho-analytical scenes examining the root of Bruce Banner’s repressed anger. In its place, we have a dumbed down, 2 hour chase movie which occasionally stops for plot exposition and setups for the next CGI action scene.

The entire three-part story arc can be mapped by Hulk’s three lines of dialogue uttered in the movie’s three action sequences. The first line grumbled, “Leave me alone,” occurs after an extremely well choreographed, Brazilian chase which finds the now fugitive, Portuguese speaking Dr. Banner confronting General Thunderbolt Ross’s army at a bottling plant. The first third of the movie, arguably its most effective, finds Banner hiding out in Brazil working as a laborer while practicing Brazilian Ju Jitsu breathing techniques to control his “episodes.” Edward Norton should be commended for bringing his usual level of intensity and commitment to the role of Bruce Banner, a man cursed to isolation and loneliness due to the uncontrollable “beast” hidden within him. Of course, he is found by the government, tracked and about 30 minutes into the movie, they make him “very angry.” Following Batman Begins’‘ playbook, Hulk’s first CGI appearance has him hidden, popping in and out of the dark shadows, aggressively eliminating the elite commandos.

Hulk’s second line of dialogue is “Betty” in reference to Dr. Betty Ross, his unrequited love played well by Liv Tyler, who convinces us of her loyalty to Banner but absolutely fails as a “brilliant” scientist. She brings more warmth and chemistry to the proceedings than Jennifer Connelly, however much of that can be blamed on the first Hulk’s script and awkward pacing. As the army traps him at an idyllic college town, Hulk re-emerges for Round 2 and takes on the military, helicopters, sound waves, tanks and his foil, Emil Blonsky played by Tim Roth.

Although the CGI Hulk has more nuance and complexity this time around, you can’t help but think “Hey, this is a pissed off Shrek. Cool.” Many times his appearance is far too “cartoonish” and rubbery but the fast paced editing and action focusing on his interactions with the environment and people make the aesthetics less jarring and occasionally exciting.

As the movie progresses, any semblance of character exploration or thematic ambitions are completely abandoned. It seems Norton’s original 2 hour 15 min cut, which has now been edited by nearly 20 minutes, contained the “human” elements of drama which made the original TV series beloved by so many. Many times you wish the filmmakers had paused to flesh out Tim Roth’s Blonsky whose intense desire to stengthen his aging soldier body has him becoming a necessary plot tool: a CGI behemoth named Abomination who exists only to fight Hulk in the third act.

And, finally, the last line is “Hulk Smash!” and boy does he smash. The two titans fisticuff in Harlem in an epic 15 minute brawl which isn’t as exciting or visceral as it could have been. In fact, Hulk suffers from the same problems as Iron Man. The mechanical and programmed superhero narrative demands that the superhero, at the end, “fight” an equally powerful nemesis, which usually deflates the originality and wit of the preceding two hours. In Iron Man, the audience guessed that Jeff Bridges was the villain and we were force fed a somewhat mindless and emotionally uninvolved “fight” sequence filmed to satiate the viewer’s predictable expectations. Likewise, Hulk’s buildup to his epic battle with Abominiation feels needlessly rushed as if the filmmakers panicked and decided they had to show some Hulk CGI smash or they’d lose the fanboys. Batman Begins wisely incorporated the necessary superhero “face off” on a wider canvass, using its themes and characters intelligently by intertwining them in the advancement of the story. Here, like in Iron Man, we just sit back, turn off our brains and see two CGI cartoons beat each other up. Was it bad? No. It’s pretty entertaining. But, not much more. One can’t necessarily blame Marvel and the filmmaker’s for this strategic approach, because this action heavy, dumbed down reboot has to completely separate itself from its introspective, lengthy predecessor as to “wash out” the audience’s previous disappointing “Hulk” experience.

The coolest aspects of the film belong to Marvel’s commitment in creating an actual “Marvel Cinematic Universe.” With recent announcements of an Avengers movie, a Thor movie, and Captain America, in addition to the insanely successful Iron Man, one gets a glimpse of Marvel’s ambitious plans to “unite” all the titles. In this movie we hear about the “Super Soldier Serum” [Reference to Captain American], S.H.I.E.L.D., and finally an inspired cameo by Tony Stark, Iron Man himself, who hints of establishing a “team” [The Avengers.] This will geek out even the most cynical and EMO of geeks.

So, is the new Hulk any good? If you want a mindless, summer, popcorn action movie and yearn to unleash your inner fan boy, then yes. If you want something deeper, then I’m sorry to say your teenage son just suckered you into two hours of CGI “Hulk Smash.”


  1. this new Incredible Hulk is a lot more fun than the first one with Eric Bana; as usual Ed Norton has gravitated to a “split personality” role…

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