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After the abysmal Ang Lee version of the Hulk that failed both critically and at the box office, it was a little surprising that a second Hulk movie was made only five years later. I actively disliked the Lee version of the character, and while I appreciate that he was trying to elevate the superhero movie genre, it just didn't work. So I was a little hesitant about seeing this sequel/reboot. I needn't have worried. The Incredible Hulk, though not perfect, was a great action-filled romp with just enough angst to make the characters seem believable. The Blu-ray version of the film is excellent too, with a wonderful picture and some very impressive sound. The disc is a great choice for action film fans.
The film starts with an inspired montage that retells the Hulk's origin, introduces the main characters, and explains why Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is on the run, all during the opening credits. The narrative then changes to South America, where brilliant scientist Bruce Banner is working at manual labor in a soda factory, living in abject poverty, while taking classes in martial arts and anger management. He's also chatting via the internet with a scientist code named "Mr. Blue" who is trying to help him come up with a cure for his affliction.
Unfortunately a cut finger leads to a drop of Banner's blood getting into a single soda bottle which ends up killing an old man (Stan Lee in his guest appearance.) The soda's high gamma radiation content is soon brought to the attention of General "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) who manages to trace the contamination to the bottling factory. He then quickly organizes a team of soldiers, lead by Maj. Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to apprehend Banner. Things don't go quite as they planned. Before Banner can be sedated he gets angry and turns into the Hulk, and makes quick work of the soldiers sent to capture him. Blonsky is amazed at the Hulk, his raw energy and incredible power. He volunteers to let General Ross experiment on him with a serum similar to the one that caused Banner to change, except without the radiation component. This makes Blonsky stronger and more virile, but also obsessed with capturing the Hulk.
Meanwhile Bruce makes his way back to the US where with the help of his old girl friend, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) he tracks down Mr. Blue, the only scientist who has a chance of helping him. The army is not far behind him though, and Major Blonsky is hoping that Mr. Blue can make him more powerful, so he can finally destroy the Hulk.
This film was everything that the Ang version should have been: a fun-filled action flick. The script has a good deal of character moments, but these never overtake the main story and serve to enhance the film rather than be the movie's driving force.
The movie is constructed wonderfully and edited with a sure and steady hand. The biggest improvement is the pacing, which is spot-on right from the start. The action scenes, the three Hulk battles, are spread through the film nicely so that every time things start to slow down just a little another fight breaks out. While these are the highlights of the film, the they are supported by the plot which gets just enough time to establish what is going on and why people are acting the way they are without getting long and drawn out.
There were some small problems that made the film less than perfect though. The speed at which the Army continued to track Banner down was a bit hard to believe at times, and there were a couple of scenes where people acted out of character (when Bruce jumps out of the helicopter for example.)
The casting was nearly perfect too. Edward Norton was born to play Bruce Banner. Not only is he physically similar to the comic book character, but he gives the character an understated intelligence. Banner also comes across as being scared of his alter-ego, terrified of what he could do. A great performance that really makes the film.
Tim Roth also is fantastic as the Army Major who covets the Hulk's power. I'm a fan of Roth's work and he gives a top-notch performance which he always does. William Hurt plays the obsessive General Ross to a T, willing to even loose his daughter rather than loose the Hulk.
The special effects were also good, which should come as no surprise. While the CGI Hulk itself is only slightly more realistic in appearance as compared with the 2003 film, the animation is a lot better. This Hulk has more weight to him and moves more realistically. He's not as shiny either and looks more menacing too.
This film didn't quite meet box-office expectations, and I think a lot of that was due to the strong films that were released in the summer of 2008. Iron Man and Dark Knight were both better than the Incredible Hulk and catered to the same audience. If this movie had come out in 2007, it would have been the talk of the season. As it is, this is a very good movie that is much better than you're average comic book film.
The Blu-ray Disc:
This Blu-ray disc comes in a green case that looks cool and is very appropriate for the film. There's also a digital copy of the movie (what's up with calling those things 'digital copies?' The movie on the Blu-ray disc isn't digital??) that comes in a white sleeve.
I was very pleased with the 2.35:1 1080p (VC-1) image, which ranks up there with the best that Blu-ray has to offer. The blacks were solid and inky, the colors were bright and vivid. The jungles of South America were lush and green while the city was dirty and grimy. Both extremes were reproduced wonderfully with a lot of detail and that really brought the film to life. The bright exterior scenes had a lot of eye 'pop' which made this film a joy to watch. On the digital side of things the disc looked great. There wasn't any blocking or aliasing, and even the fire in the big battle in the middle of the movie looked great; textured and almost alive. The only real problem I have isn't with the transfer but with the film itself. A few of the CGI effects didn't mesh as well as they should have when shown in HD; the drop of Banner's blood at the beginning for example. None of these were glaring though and this doesn't detract from the film's appeal.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack (also available in stereo) is everything a summer action film's soundtrack should be. The whole room is filled with multi-layered sound the really brings the film to life, especially during the battle sequences. Yeah, your subwoofer will get a good workout when the helicopter crashes and when the Hulk and Abomination start their slug-fest, but it's not all loud noises. Buried under the sound of Hulk being hit in the face with a car is the noise of the cars hub-cap flying off and landing in the rear. It was quite impressive just listening to the battle, and I spent a short time with my eyes closed just to soak up the audio. The soundtrack is very precise, throwing audio effects to certain parts of the soundstage with pin-point accuracy.
The dialog was likewise clean and clear and even during the more sedate moments the soundtrack helped bring the movie to life. When Bruce is laying on his cot in South America at the beginning, you can hear the noises of the city around him. The only real problem was that the soundtrack had a difficult time keeping up with the dynamic sound effects. In some areas the music wasn't as forceful as I would have liked it and was mixed a little low. This is a minor problem however in an otherwise incredibly impressive audio track.
When this film was released there was a lot of talk about a second cut that star Edward Norton preferred that ran 70 minutes longer. The hope was that the DVD and BR releases would include this alternate version of the film. Alas, this disc doesn't, but it does have over 40 minutes of deleted scenes, more on those later.
There is a commentary track with director Louis Leterrier actor Tim Roth. Stars Edward Norton and Liv Tyler are conspicuously absent. This was a good track, with both contributors giving interesting comments and being generally engaging over the course of the film. Roth was particularly amusing in several parts.
The most exciting bonuses were the deleted scenes. This start out with an alternate opening (HD) which has Bruce Banner traveling to into the arctic in order to kill himself. This doesn't really fit in with the rest of the movie, since he's not suicidal anywhere else, and it doesn't make that much sense since he tries to shoot himself. (Why travel all that way?) I can understand why the scene was deleted. If you freeze frame the last seconds of this 2 ½-minute clip you can briefly see a frozen man-shaped object in the ice covered by a circular shield.
In addition to that there are 23 other deleted or extended scenes (in SD.) I'm really glad they included these because they are fun to watch, but I think they were all deservedly cut. They are mostly either extraneous (Bruce delivering pizzas) or fleshes out a character for a small amount but brings the narrative to a screeching halt (when Bruce and Betty talk after she finds him in the rain.) These run about 43 minutes altogether.
Next up, the fine folks at VW bring us The Making of The Incredible Hulk. Yes, this is bonus feature is sponsored by a car company. That's a first as far as I can tell. This half hour featurette was pretty good. It had your typical on the set interviews (including with Norton who did not promote the film due to disagreements with the powers that be over the editing) and clips from the film. I was surprised that they mentioned the Ang Lee film more than once and generally in a positive light.
Becoming the Hulk and Becoming the Abomination both look at the CGI effects used to make the two monsters of the film. These talk about the texturing that was used, how they made the creatures move, etc. Anatomy of a Hulk-out is a technical, in-depth look at the three major Hulk transformations in the film, how they were achieved, and the stunts involved.
The next featurette is From Comic Book to Screen, a six-minute animated comic book that expands a scene from the movie. It's also available in the U-Control section.
This disc is also Blu-ray Live enabled so you can chat with friends while watching the movie. Other features weren't enabled at the time of this review.
Finally there's the U-Control option. This is an attempt to spice up Blu-ray disc, make them more interactive, and make the movie watching experience more personalized. I wasn't that enthused. There are some interesting things here, but none of it really got me excited. First there's a set of Thunderbolt Files a collection on on-screen information that you can access during the movie. It gives some background on the characters, shows Banner's movements, and has a "mission overview" that can be boiled down to "capture the Hulk." This wasn't scene specific and I can't think of any reason that it was included in this fashion.
Other items that fall under the "U-Control" banner are a P-in-P Comic Book Gallery where comic frames pop up in four chapters... it is very sparse and hardly worth the effort, an Animated Comic of one scene not filmed in the movie is shown in comic format (also available as a stand alone extra), a Scene Explorer which allows viewers to watch a few scenes with their choice of the storyboards, the raw footage before special effects are added, or two levels of preliminary effects, and Picture in Picture information track that does have some interesting background info. Overall I wasn't very impressed with any of these features. Yawn.
There is also a digital copy of the film included on a second disc.
In a summer filled with excellent super-hero movies The Incredible Hulk was lost in the shuffle. A fun movie, there were probably a good number of people, myself included, who avoided it in the theater because of the Ang Lee version. Luckily this movie, a sort of reboot of the franchise, has a quick pace, a lot of action, and enough inside comic references to keep viewers entertained. The Blu-ray disc looks and sounds wonderful too. A surprisingly enjoyable film, this disc comes Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.