Clobbered by gamma raysPete Van derHaar, over at A Perfectly Cromulent Blog, advised me a few weeks ago that THE INCREDIBLE HULK was as good a movie as IRON MAN.
He was right.
Spoilers after the jump. You have been so advised.
Every actor in this film is better cast for their parts than those preceding them. Tim Roth as a super-soldiered up Emil Blonsky was the biggest stretch for me, but the essence of the Abomination's twisted, unhealthy relationships with both "Thunderbolt" Ross and the Hulk itself came through well, and the big kick of seeing Ross crack open a vial of super-soldier serum with the name "Dr. Reinstein" on it more than made up for any otherwise imperfect adaptations.
Similar efforts to weave this movie into a broader Marvel Universe tapestry were also much appreciated by this aging fanboy, as were all the quick-hit tributes to past bits of HULK arcana... everything from a quick flash of Bill Bixby in his COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER days and Lou Ferrigno as a security guard through passing references to both Jack McGee and Jim Wilson were all warmly welcomed here.
If the movie stutter-stepped even once, it was only in never giving us a clear scene where Banner/Hulk would actually hear the label "Hulk" and begin to identify with it. Without such a scene, or any other character in the movie ever referring to Banner's bitter half as anything but "the monster" or "the creature", it came as quite a surprise to hear the Hulk self identify towards the end of the movie by bellowing his trademark "HULK SMASH!" battle cry.
As with IRON MAN, the real joy of watching this movie comes from witnessing all the various characters interacting with each other. The desperate, doomed yearning between Bruce and Betty, the loathing Betty feels for her father, and the baffled rage "Thunderbolt" Ross feels in response to it, Emil Blonsky's frustration fed bloodlust, and, later on, creepy super scientist Sam Stearn's obsessive near worship of Banner's gamma induced curse... all of these are riveting to see unfold on the screen. Even early, throwaway interactions between Ed Norton's Bruce Banner and some minor supporting characters in Brazil are fun to watch. And Ty Burrell, doing what is little more than a walk on as an unnamed Dr. Leonard Samson, makes the most of his very limited screentime, too.
I'd been very afraid that William Hurt would chew method acting holes in the scenery as "Thunderbolt" Ross, but in fact he showed a great deal more restraint than I'd expected, muting Ross' ferocious, nearly amoral devotion to the American military down until it seethed and churned just underneath every syllable the character spat and ground out. Ed Norton couldn't possibly fail to be a better Banner than prettyboy Eric Bana had been, but in fact, not only did he exceed Bana's lumbering performance, but he was such a spot on incarnation of Robert Bruce that I cannot imagine anyone else ever playing the part. Liv Tyler's Betty Ross was a welcome surprise to me; after Tyler's spectacular miscasting in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies I really wasn't looking for the moving, nuanced performance she provided here.
Perhaps best of all, in the film's entire 114 minute running time, nobody ever once mentions amphibian DNA.
The last minute cameo by Tony Stark, and his talk of 'putting a team together', was another well placed brick in the arch that will, eventually, support the long awaited AVENGERS movie, due out sometime around 2012. Of course, before that we need a CAPTAIN AMERICA movie, a THOR movie, and an ANT-MAN movie... but if Marvel studios can continue this kind of quality as they create the bits and pieces for their A-Team, I have no doubt that I'll be pleased with the resultant Assembly. (Heh.)