This is short until I see it again with Dad tomorrow for Father’s Day, but I’ll expand upon this as the week goes by and I have more time to let it sit and simmer.
It’s the classic TV show with comic-book-sized action mixed with The Bourne Identity.
It’s not as fun as Iron Man but it’s a better film, I think, and every bit as entertaining in an entirely different kind of way.
The one thing I wanted more of was Ed Norton’s Bruce Banner. And given the fact that the version shown in the theaters is missing 70 minutes worth of footage, I’m sure I’ll get my wish in a future extra-special-deluxe DVD release, or preferably a high-definition version on the Blu-ray player I’m going to be able to afford in the year 2017, when Blu-ray will have long ago been replaced by a new system where the movie is scanned into a sandwich that you eat, and then you experience the movie digitally in your brain.
From moment one, I loved Norton’s interpretation of Bruce. The new origin is efficiently told as a montage during the opening credits, and my favorite moment is the little bit where Bruce, strapped into the gamma transponder that was lovingly crafted to look just like the one from the TV show’s opening credits (right down to the font on the “DANGER” sign), gives a quick wink to his research partner and lover, Betty Ross, played by the amaza-crazily amazing Liv Tyler.
(As I’ve said before, the shot in The Fellowship of the Ring where Arwen steps like an angel out of a veil of shimmery cosmic light was not done with special effects; that’s really what happens when you first see Liv Tyler, and the bulk of the trilogy’s $280 million production budget was spent replacing cameras that exploded from this delicious phenomenon.)
The only believable relationship to me in Ang Lee’s 2003 interpretation was the one between that film’s Betty, Jennifer Connelly, and her father, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, played there by Sam Elliott and here by a snarling, driven William Hurt.
But in this film, I felt like all the relationships rang true, especially the chemistry between Norton and Tyler.
Like the looks on their faces when they see each other for the first time after five years of Betty not knowing he’s alive and Bruce spending every day dying inside because he can’t see her or smell her or kiss her or hear her voice.
Or their rain-soaked reunion on the bridge that didn’t need a word and luckily didn’t waste time on any.
But my favorite moment between them is near the end, on the Air Force copter, when they’re surrounded by heavily armed military captors for massive crimes against the United States government but still look at each other like a couple of high school kids holding hands in the back of a cop car after being arrested for breaking into the school gymnasium after hours to make out.
The haircut scene is perfect. Especially the way she runs her hands through his hair for a lot longer than she needs to when she’s done. And the sweet, awkward love scene that Bruce cuts short for fear that he might not be able to control himself and hurt her.
My biggest fear going into the movie was that the human stuff would be great and the Hulk stuff would be too cartoony. And luckily, the computer effects are far more advanced and believable in their finished state than anything you’ve seen in the trailers and TV spots online.
The Hulk looks especially real in darker scenes where there’s not a problem fine-tuning the digital coloring in a way that looks real in broad daylight, and for the most part the Hulk is shot in ways that make him feel real.
And there are so many moments when you can see Ed Norton’s face coming through all of that pixelated green rage, and I really appreciate that. (Norton performed much of the digital Hulk’s actions and faces. I love this guy.) The rainy cave scene, in particular, is brilliant, and when Betty and the Hulk are sitting beside each other on the rock, his skin looks as real and as “there” as hers does.
Also effective were the transformation sequences in Dr. Sterns’s lab. The sounds of tissue shifting, muscles reforming and re-knitting, and all the bones cracking, breaking, growing and snapping into their new locations felt painful and real, but the real magic is in the scene where Betty subsequently calms him down and he turns back into Bruce. Most of the metamorphosis happens with Liv Tyler’s back obscuring the Hulk’s head. You hear it. You feel it. And when the camera finally peaks over her perfectly sculpted shoulder, we see the end of the process via some very subtle digital color work (in skin tones and veins) on Ed Norton’s face. The sequence allows Norton to sell the transformation rather than the special effects themselves, like a magic trick that’s beautiful because of its deceptive simplicity. That’s what movie-making is all about.
I liked Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky. A lot. And I felt like his character had a very clearly defined character arc.
And that brings me back to wishing we’d been given a chance to get to know Bruce Banner a bit more, but again, at least we’ll get to see those scenes on an eventual home video release.
But for what we do see, Mr. Edward Harrison Norton conducts himself in this film in a manner that you’d expect from, well, Mr. Edward Harrison Norton.
He’s all in.
Watch him. The way he fiddles with his glasses when he’s inspecting the faulty control box in the soda-bottling factory. The little moments of despair that he allows himself before pulling it all back together, always presented subtly, beautifully and appropriately.
My friend Kareem said that, in a way, the film reminded him of a sequel to a movie we didn’t get to see. And I like that about it. It hits the ground running and the pacing is really tight.
Loved the Lou Ferrigno cameo.
Got a lump in my throat over the lovely way they sublimely snuck in a cameo of the late, great Bill Bixby.
Loved the piano part from the TV show.
I really liked the Tony Stark scene and I appreciate what Marvel Studios is doing to connect its films these days.
However, a warning to Marvel Studios:
You know just as well as I do, and just a well as Ed Norton knows, and just as well as everyone I’ve discussed this particular aspect of the film knows, that the final shot of the movie should have been Bruce opening his eyes in the cabin to reveal that he’s got a handle on the Hulk. But instead, we get that great scene and then undercut it with the Stark cameo, which, by the way, brought a massive eruption of applause out of the afternoon audience I saw this with. That should have happened before Bruce’s meditation scene. It’s okay, Marvel Studios, to connect your films, but be smart and don’t let your master plan become more important than the individual films before you even know that your master plan is going to work. Make good movies and the rest will work itself out.
Given the way you’ve been treating Jon Favreau and Ed Norton lately, I think it’s time to start remembering to respect the talent first.
Because it’s not every day that you get to make a Hulk movie with a guy like Ed Norton.
Lots more to come, after I see it again tomorrow.
I loved it.
What did you think?