Tag Archives: The Incredible Hulk

“THE INCREDIBLE HULK” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Universal Studios

Hulk smash puny critic! 

Bruce Banner is not a hero. One would be wrong for mistaking him as one. He is not proud or triumphant, he doesn’t wear a cape, and he doesn’t “save the day” as someone like Superman or Batman would. No, Bruce is a timid, shallow, and fearful young fellow, one that grips with a double-persona in him that’s angry, destructive, and vengeful all at once. His story is not one of happiness or hopefulness. It is in essence a tragedy, not unlike that of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, except in this case Mr. Hyde is a giant, green raging monster that says “Hulk smash!” every time he punches something.

In this second go-around at adapting one of comic book’s most recognizable characters, The Incredible Hulk retells Banner’s transformation into Marvel’s not-so-jolly green giant, with Fight Club actor Edward Norton taking the part over from Erica Bana this time around. In this iteration of the Hulk, Bruce is on the run from General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) and the U.S. military, who wants to take Banner’s gamma-radiated blood and weaponize it for their own uses. Desperate for a cure for his angry, green, muscle-infused transformation, Banner enlists in the help of his lover Betty (Liv Tyler) and Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) to search for a cure, finally freeing himself from the monster within that is the incredible Hulk.

Since this is the second live-action adaptation of the Hulk in less than five years, it’s only fair to assume the comparison’s viewers are going to make from this version to Ang Lee’s Hulk released in 2003. As this is the case, you should know that I wasn’t a fan of that version. I did like a lot of things about it: the nuanced, quietly disturbed performances of Eric Bana and Nick Nolte, the creative comic book panel-esque transitions between shots, and the exploration of disturbed psychology developed from childhood trauma. There were a lot of creative elements in that film, and Lee deserves credit for at least branching out and trying new things in the superhero genre.

The key issue with that film was the pacing. The run time dragged out grudgingly, many shots didn’t pertain to what was going on in its scenes, and the movie just simply wasn’t fun. It was interesting for sure, but it lacked the suspense and excitement needed for a movie like Hulk to work. Observe, for instance, if Spider-Man or X-Men dragged out at the exasperating pace as Hulk did. Those movies would get boring pretty quickly, wouldn’t they?

I start my review by reliving the previous’ strengths and failures because The Incredible Hulk embodies the exact opposite of those. Hulk was an insightful, if meandering drama that had moments of superhero action in it. The Incredible Hulk is a full-blooded gamma-radiated monster-thriller that enthusiastically smashes through as much property damage as it can cause. It isn’t dramatic, insightful, or even significantly moving, and neither is it required to be. Part of a movie’s success is by playing to its strengths and weaknesses, and The Incredible Hulk demonstrates a sound understanding of both.

The crucial element to this is director Louis Leterrier, who helmed the first two Transporter movies before The Incredible Hulk. Framing it as an homage to the Bill Bixby 1978 television series, Leterrier plays the film’s elements to his advantage, pulling out thrills and excitement in the slightest of methods. Take, for instance, an early chase scene involving Banner, Ross, and a squad of military soldiers. Despite how it’s essentially another generic movie chase, the sequence was surprisingly thrilling, and that’s because of all of the elements in play here. The editing from Apocalypto’s John Wright was quick-paced and attentive, cutting briskly between each character’s perspective while at the same time not losing focus on the action. The music by Craig Armstrong is suspenseful and riveting, building up to a thematic opera that evokes the same sensation of those classic 1980’s monster movies. And the cinematography by Peter Menzies Jr. perfectly captures Bruce’s paranoia in this scene, with his biggest concern being not evading the soldiers or getting out unscathed, but rather not becoming so tense to the point where he transforms and causes harm to the people around him.

Leterrier uses these elements to turn seemingly simple moments into extraordinary ones, heightening tension and escalating excitement. Imagine what happens when Bruce breaks out into anger and goes Hulk destructive on everything in his path? While the smaller moments work surprisingly well, the film’s real value comes in its visual spectacle, where Hulk rams into soldiers, lifts and crushes cars, leaps and climbs tall structures, roars like a wild animal, and angrily smashes into as many objects as he can. In most action movies, the protagonist is usually in the more vulnerable position and has to face impossible odds stacked against him. I find it interesting that in this context the role is reversed and that Hulk’s enemies are the ones at a disadvantage against this giant, ruthless behemoth. It develops an interesting catharsis for the character, or at least, as much as it can possess in the midst of mindless superhero monster action violence.

The performances, while serviceable, are nothing spectacular enough to be memorable. The story is uninspired and feels stock compared to other action thrillers (seriously, read the script and tell me how much it reminds you of Jason Bourne). And while the final fight in the movie is climactic and exciting, the movie’s villain is just a mirror match to the Hulk and has no personal investment beyond that.

Still, how much you end up liking The Incredible Hulk depends on what you’re looking for in a Hulk movie to begin with. For me, I’m looking for action, and lots of it. The Incredible Hulk has that in spades. While not narratively impressive, The Incredible Hulk has enough dynamic action, awe-inspiring spectacle, and reckless destruction that makes you root for the big, angry green giant regardless. At the very least, let’s agree that this version of the Hulk is better than Ang Lee’s variation. I reiterate: the catchphrase is “Hulk Smash,” not “Hulk Talk You To Death.”

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“IRON MAN 2” Review (✫✫✫)

Literally, two Iron Men.

Let me stop your expectations right there. Iron Man 2 is not as good as Iron Man. It just isn’t. Granted, making anything better than Iron Man is damn near impossible. I think the only recent movie that can compete is The Dark Knight, albeit for very different reasons.

All the same, just because Iron Man 2 is not as good as Iron Man doesn’t mean it isn’t good at all. It just depends on what you’re looking for when you enter the theater, and what expectations you’re having that would affect your view of the picture.

I myself went in expecting a subpar sequel to Iron Man. I got just that. But just because it is subpar doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, and believe me: Iron Man 2 is all sorts of fun. Whether it’s in the action, the comedy, or in the performances, I was never bored, and I quite enjoyed seeing Robert Downey Jr. suit up a second time in the suit, even if it was less meaningful this time around.

Iron Man 2 picks up right after the events of the first Iron Man, where Tony went into a press conference and stupidly told everyone that he was Iron Man. I banged my head into my seat multiple times when that happened in Iron Man, and I repeated this action when Tony dropped out of a helicopter, flied around next to fireworks, and landed in a convention center, only to unmask himself in front of thousands of fans at the beginning of Iron Man 2.

I have one word for a person that would act like this in real life. The first half of that word rhymes with bass. The other half is hole.

This time around, Tony is pitted up against not one, but TWO bad guys. The first is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian technician who holds a deep resentment against Tony considering his family’s history with the Starks. The other is Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a wickedly genius business man who has all of Tony’s ego, but none of his charm. These two together make a terrible team that Tony needs to take down alongside his friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who suits up next to Tony as the War Machine.

…you get it? Iron Man 2? Two Iron Men? Ha ha ha.

The best thing about Iron Man 2 is also the best thing from the first Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. once again proves how great of an actor he is both inside and outside the Iron Man armor. At this point, he is Tony Stark. It doesn’t even seem like he’s putting on a performance anymore. He’s inhabiting the character so naturally that he feels like he’s reacting more than he is acting. His mannerisms and expressions are on point, his line delivery acute, and his comedic timing perfect. Downey Jr. never falters in the film. Not even once.

And the action scenes are just as strong as they were in the first film. Well, maybe not as well. The first movie, after all, did have Tony fighting terrorists and war mongers, and carried more weight to it as it appealed more to reality than it did to fantasy.

Still, the action is fun and fast-paced. My particular favorite moment was when Tony and Rhodey team up to take on an army of Iron Man armor copycats. This scene was exciting to watch because really, this is the first time we see Tony facing a large-scale threat that aren’t fragile human beings. It was exciting and interesting to see Tony and Rhodey fighting with larger stakes in the midst. It shows that the Marvel universe knows how to grow and build upon its original elements.

So Downey Jr., the comedy, and the action is retained from the first movie. What isn’t? Well, for one thing, the tone is off. Iron Man 2 is more silly and less serious, and while it does make for a fun movie, it also makes for a less meaningful one. The movie has this strange sub-plot involving Tony’s mortality and his complicated history with his father. These are serious subjects that should have a lot of gravitas and weight to it, yet it feels removed and out of place here. We don’t care about Tony personally like we did in Iron Man. We just like watching him suit up and shooting snarky quips at his supporting cast.

I wonder, where exactly did director Jon Favreau go wrong? I think his mistake was focusing more on the plot and less on the character. The first Iron Man was a great character study, as well as an exciting action movie. That was due in part both to Robert Downey Jr.’s personification and Favreau’s understanding of the character. Then Iron Man struck a chord and was suddenly universally praised from both critics and fans alike. How on Earth was Favreau going to top that?

I think that, in the midst of production stress and unrealistic expectations, Favreau panicked and tried to force a story onto the character, rather than allowing the character to create the story himself. This is a movie that knows the notes, but it doesn’t know how to play them. It’s more interested in setup rather than payoff, and you can see that with all of the Easter eggs stuffed in the film, but with all of the underdeveloped characters in there as well.

Overall, I enjoyed Iron Man 2 and I had fun with it, but it was not as worthwhile an experience as Iron Man was. Isn’t that to be expected though? Sequels are a dominant force in today’s industry, and most of them are not only disappointment to their predecessors, but are just bad movies overall. Be grateful that we’ve got a few laughs and thrills and can enjoy Iron Man 2 for what it is.

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“NOW YOU SEE ME” Review (✫✫✫)

And now you don’t.  

We open on a black screen, similar to how a magician opens up his show behind the secrecy of a red curtain.  A deck of cards can be heard flipping through the background with the presence of a calm, cool, and serene voice to accompany them.  “Pick a card”, he says.  “Any card”.  But before his volunteer can pick a card, he is quick to remind her “But look closely.  Because the closer you look, the less you will actually see”.

The words of a true magician, and the fact that he flipped this deck and actually picked the card I choose impressed me even more.  This character is named Atlas, who is played by Jesse Eisenberg, and he is a street magician on such a skill level to where he can make skyscrapers light up in the night.  As he impresses a crowd of ongoing viewers, one stands in the audience with a hood over his head quietly observing Atlas.  We can’t see his face and we don’t know who he is, but he carries a card in his pocket, and leaves it for Mr. Atlas at the end of the performance.

Atlas isn’t the only magician to receive special treatment: three other magicians have also been observed by this strange visitor and have been left cards for each of them.  There is the mentalist Meritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), the pickpocket Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and the escape artist Henly Reeves (Isla Fisher).  All four of these talented magicians have been recruited by a secret cult called “The Eye” to carry out a secret mission for them.  One year later, they come together in their first show as “The Four Horsemen”: and during their show, they rob a bank all the way in Paris while still performing in Las Vegas.

The FBI are called in to investigate, and they bring in Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) to arrest and interrogate the four horsemen.  Pressing as he is, the horsemen are equally as clever and deceptive.  Henly is spinning chairs, McKinney keeps reading his mind, and Atlas ends the interrogation by taking off his handcuffs and snapping them onto Rhodes.  The rest of the film shows Rhodes chasing the four horsemen, trying to figure out their plot, and to stop them before they succeed.

This film is all about style over substance, a movie that is more concerned with tricks and showcase over character depth and dimension.  Do I care about dimension, however, if the film is more than fun enough to take it over?  The success of movies do not just come from how deep or complex they are.  They also come from how well-made the picture is, how sharply the cut is edited, and how cleverly the narrative is structured.

And boy, if Now You See Me is anything, its definitely clever.  Directed by Lois Letterier (Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk) and written by screenwriters Ed Solomon (Men In Black) and Boaz Yakin (Remember The Titans), Now You See Me is a movie driven to the brim with its cleverness, its wit, deceit, and effervescent charm in its characters, in what they do, and how they do it.  In many ways, this movie reminds me of caper films such as Oceans Eleven and The Italian Job: its a movie where characters cleverly trick and deceive their pursuers and expose them to their traps and their decisive plans.  They don’t use muscle, brawn, or big guys with guns to get what they want: they use their wits, their brains, and their thievingly cunning plans to accomplish their goals in the plot.

Of course, these plans weren’t inherently inspired by the four horsemen in themselves: someone from the shadows has helped them with this plan, and is always monitoring these horsemen from shadows of secrecy.  Tonally, the film achieves what it desires, and throughout the conniving plot we’re always wondering a key mystery: who is the fifth horseman?  Why did he enlist in the help of these four?  Who could it possibly be?  Is it one of the FBI or Interpol, pretending to be on one side while coyly playing for the other?  Or is it another mystery card player, one who has hidden behind a long-aged myth and has hidden himself from all cards in the field?

This isn’t just a caper film: it is a complex and fascinating mystery, and the cast of characters is all the rogues gallery in this police questioning.   Mark Ruffallo does well as Dylan Rhodes, and in small moments of intimate revealings he shows a man who was once a boy who will always hate those in higher power oppressing the helpless underdogs.  Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman make great cameos, and each play a role we don’t normally see from them, Caine being an antagonistic money monger and Freeman being an observant expose’ of schemes.  Eisenberg, as always, is a knockout in anything he does.  Here his character combines both the social awkward and invertedness of The Social Network, and the coy, cool, sleek confidence of Brad Pitt from Oceans Eleven.  Don’t ask me how he does it, okay?  He just does.

And this is a film that has been bombasted by critics.  For what?  A few quotes I pulled from Rottentomatoes:  “Overcooked, overcomplicated and underinteresting, this heist caper turns into a mess”, one critic said. “Complicated nonsense”, and “…a flimsy plot whose logic disappears faster than a rabbit in a hat”.

There is some truth here.  Yes, the film is overcomplicated.  Yes, it is elaborate and sometimes distracting.  Yes the characters are one-note and thinly written.  And yes, the twist ending is dangerous enough to make the entire narrative collapse on itself, let alone offering the threat of plot holes.

In other words, I’ll admit I don’t understand everything by the end of the picture.  And that’s precisely the point.  There isn’t any fun with a trick that has been exposed: the fun comes in with those trying to figure it out.

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