Hulk fails, Mongol delivers
The Incredible Hulk
About halfway through The Incredible Hulk, Ed Norton (Bruce Banner) gets his hair cut. Hair is not the only thing that winds up on the cutting room floor.
When Norton signed to play Bruce Banner, The Hulk, he had illusions of acting. He was going to make The Incredible Hulk character-driven.
Norton is a potent, major contemporary actor, with memorable creative performances in Primal Fear (1996), The Rounders (1998) and The 25th Hour (2002). Signing to play The Hulk was a great leap of faith. Robert Downey, Jr. took the same leap in Ironman with a little more luck.
Norton did a rewrite of the draft of The Incredible Hulk written by Zak (rhymes with hack) Penn. Norton, being an actor, obviously developed more character than is in the present film.
Along came Marvel and demanded a shorter movie with more action and less character. The CGI (computer-generated imagery) overwhelmed Norton.
Some of the gaps in character are glaring. General Ross (William Hurt) and the military pursue Bruce at the home of Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), because they have been told by psychiatrist Dr. Samson (Ty Burrell) that Bruce is staying there.
But the meeting between Sampson and Bruce has been cut, because it would just add to the depth of characterization, and who wants that?
Ty Burrell is left truncated. The shrink's part is limited to running a little and delivering a few lines.
According to director Louis Leterrier at least 70 minutes of backstory and action have been cut. It's obvious, since the editing seems cut and paste.
Although derivative, the first half of the film is interesting and has some character development, until Marvel gets bored. It seems some of its readers have very short attention spans.
The first half is strongly influenced by the Bourne movies, especially a frantic chase through narrow streets and over rooftops. The second half is -- bring in the clowns. It becomes a circus of CGI. In an un-marvelous Marvel coup, CGI crushes everything in sight. CGI has made the spectacular so commonplace it's become tiresome
The Incredible Hulk could have become a classic instead of a run-of-the-mill opening-weekend target film. But Marvel wanted the latter. Pow! Blam! Splat!
The Hulk turns into a pea soup can of cinematic botulism. No acting there. At least Lou Ferrigno, who is the voice of The Hulk and has a cameo as a security guard, is not out acted this time. Ferrigno is as good an actor as CGI. The CGI can't act at all.
Liv Tyler sits in front of a blue screen and survives with her glowing humanity intact, which is a real wonder in this unreal world of Marvel.
Tim Roth, like Norton an actor with an edge, plays Emil Blonsky who becomes a blimpish abomination.
Leterrier is an effective action director (The Transformer movies), but he's no judge of character. Leterrier has inanely called crossover, "the future of movies." At the end we have a visit by Robert Downey, Jr. It's shameless manipulation that cheapens the movie. They can't even end one movie before they start selling another.
One of the great ironies is that great actor Edward Norton is present at the demise of acting. The Incredible Hulk could serve as a telling metaphor for the war between human creativity and the CGI marketeers. Norton is the humanity; Marvel is the bank of CGI. Norton loses. Movies had to come to this.
The Incredible Hulk should be called The Incredible Husk.
A movie in which acting still prevails is Mongol. People often say, 'They don't make movies like they used to.' Maybe the Russians make movies like Hollywood used to.
Mongol, photographed beautifully in Kazakhstan and the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, is in English subtitles, not exactly a Hollywood staple. But Mongol has the sweep and scope of an old Hollywood epic, and it takes a figure out of history and makes him mythic.
Mongol transforms the image of Genghis Khan. whom history has portrayed as a consummately brutal figure. Mongol shows his good side, a decent guy, a family man, and warrior. Charlton Heston, where are you?
Mongol, directed by Sergei Bodrov, focuses on the early years, from 1172-2006. The film received an Academy Award nomination as best foreign film and is supposed to be the first part of a trilogy about Genghis Kahn. He has steppe children, a loving wife, and a force of fickle followers.
Mongol opens with the words on screen: "Do not scorn a weak cub. He may become a brutal tiger."
Mongol should be subtitled: The year of the cat, because in the movie Genghis Khan has nine lives. He keeps surviving fates that would destroy less Khan-like men. The battle scenes are not particularly graphic, but there is epic spewing.
Japan's Tadanobu Asano plays Temudgin who will become Genghis Khan. Temudgin is strong but vulnerable. Khulan Chuluun portrays Borte, the beguiling love of his life.
Mongol is a love story in epic trappings. The best part of Mongol is the human quality.
CGI be damned.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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