I wanted to see the new one, so I revisited the Ang Lee one.
To me, these two movies are best analogized by food. The Incredible Hulk is proud to be nothing other than a Carl's Jr. Six Dollar Burger, it's totally a piece of product, of prepackaged responses, a collection of action sequences justified by a gummy connecting tissue of drama. Meanwhile Ang Lee's film from five years ago intends to be a juicy steak dinner with a little something for everybody, an expensive effects driven movie with a core of human drama. The problem is, Lee's film ended up being crispy on the outside and cold in the middle, overcooked and underdeveloped. For all of Ang Lee's ambition, it's the junky Louis Leterrier movie that more fully succeeds; and when it comes to a comic book movie about a man who turns into a giant green monster when he gets angry and smashes stuff, maybe the more simplistic Leterrier concept was the right approach all along?
Ang Lee's Hulk, his project in-between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain, is the kind of movie that separates the cineastes from the boys. It's Lee's The Terminal, or his Kundun, or his Mission to Mars; a movie that fails with a mainstream audience but is of interest to the dedicated auteurists in the audience, to pick apart the themes and how they fit in alongside The Ice Storm or Lust, Caution. It's a thematically and visually interesting movie with strong performances from a good cast that nonetheless is kind of a drag to watch, thanks to a subpar screenplay. There are too many flashbacks, too much leaden family-based backstory for Eric Bana's Bruce Krenzler, who winds up with virtually nothing to do but react and mope between effects sequences. I see and respect that Ang Lee had a vision of the Hulk that was different from the traditional one, a Bruce Banner consumed by repressed Oedipal rage and inherited sins, but the film simply does a poor job of dramatizing and visualizing these ideas - I mean, maybe it would have been a good idea to actually show Bana get angry at some point in the movie, instead of merely having Jennifer Connelly tell us "I'm attracted to men with emotional problems" early on, right? Ambition is great but it's not enough to make for a good movie.
So after the clumsy exposition of Hulk, it's incredibly refreshing to watch the opening sequence of The Incredible Hulk, which consists of a simple, clean montage of the new, rebooted origin story, heavy with references to the television series of thirty years ago starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. The opening five minutes of this movie are as clean and efficient a piece of moviemaking as you're likely to see all year. From that point on, the movie devolves into something pretty simplistic, a trio of decent action sequences connected by Edward Norton and Liv Tyler demonstrating virtually no chemistry and Tim Roth waiting to turn into a less well-designed CGI monster. The final action scene did give me a visceral thrill: after some 220 minutes of Hulk movies, finally, Hulk Smash! But cars getting thrown through apartment buildings and rubbery CGI will only get you so far under the guise of a director with as limited of an imagination as Louis Leterrier - fortunately he's smart enough to keep it short and simple, with the occasional joke ("You wouldn't like me when I'm hungry") so it goes down smoothly enough and doesn't trigger the gag reflex - at least after one viewing, which is probably all I'll ever give it. But you know you're probably not a good director when the star of another movie wanders in at the last minute and gives a more interesting performance than anything else that you've been laboring on for months and months.
The Incredible Hulk: 6/10