I know I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I finally got the chance yesterday to see “The Incredible Hulk.” I’ve been using the holiday weekend as an opportunity to catch up on my moviegoing. It’s also a great way to save some money — go to an 11 a.m. show, pay $5 for one ticket. And the theater is practically empty, because most people have seen the movie by now.
You can’t beat it.
Anyway, I really enjoyed the movie. To be honest, I had not hated the 2003 Ang Lee version as much as most people. I thought it was sort of an interesting failure, but what ruined it for me were the silly hulk-dogs and the confusing ending where Nick Nolte turns into … whatever.
But I thought this one was a lot better. It seemed that they tried to imbue it with a little more of the spirit of the television series, which was basically a superhero saga crossed with “The Fugitive.” The TV series, I think, was what made the character accessible to the greatest number of people. There’s even a brief moment where they play the TV series theme song for a few seconds, as Banner is slumped exhausted on a streetcorner in some South American town.
With this movie, “Iron Man” and the “Spider-Man” films, Marvel seems to have really set the bar high on defining what a good comic book film is. In fact, I almost feel that “Spider-Man” was a sort of prototype that “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” have dramatically improved upon and taken to a new level.
The two releases from this year seem somehow richer, more complex in some ways. Maybe the difference is that Spidey is more about the turmoils of someone going from adolescence to manhood, whereas the protagonists of the other two (I presume) franchises already are fully formed as adults and that their struggles and issues seemed more interesting, to me at least.
But all three seem to be blessed with perfect casting. One reason I hope that they do not continue the Spidey series is that Tobey Maguire has waffled about coming back, and frankly I cannot imagine anyone else in the role at this point. He nailed that role so perfectly, because he somehow conveyed that awkward sense of what it is to be a teenager struggling with so many issues, including pining away for the beautiful girl that, in the real world, he’d have no chance of winning. The fact that Maguire is not necessarily a conventionally handsome movie star makes his performance that much more winning, and effective.
Likewise, Robert Downey Jr. and Edward Norton are perfect choices for their roles. Downey’s well-documented troubles stemming from his hard-partying lifestyle make him an almost serendipitous choice for Tony Stark, and I think part of the reason audiences liked the character so much is that on another level, they want to see Downey get back on his feet and put himself on top.
As for Norton, he strikes me as a much better Bruce Banner than Eric Bana. Bana seemed too athletic and manly to play Banner, who I think is supposed to be the kind of character that alpha male-types will assume is a wimp and a pushover. You need someone who lends themselves more to being underestimated. That’s not meant as a swipe at Norton, only that his strengths and confidence as a performer are more beneath the surface and not as evident from a superficial glance. (I can’t wait to see what he does with his plans to remake “Straw Dogs,” in which he plans to play the Dustin Hoffman role.)
What’s next? Maybe I’ll run out and catch an early showing of “Get Smart.” I was initially inclined to dismiss it as another silly, needless TV remake, but I’m hearing that it actually is pretty funny and enjoyable. “Wall-E” is on my list. But, of course, the main event is still a little less than two weeks away … can’t wait.