The second offering from Marvel's film production unit can't really be called a sophomore effort, since it was produced concurrently with its more financially successful sibling, Iron Man. Nor can its lack of box office muscle be attributed to a cliched "sophomore slump" - it was more likely bad timing, released in a summer awash with super-heroics and CGI-drenched adventure stories. Or maybe its target audience was still grumpy about the Ang Lee-directed, perhaps overly character-driven Hulk.
Intended as a "reboot" of the character after Lee's version, The Incredible Hulk nonetheless takes advantage of that high-profile predecessor (and the suprisingly durable TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferreigno) by providing a shorthand version of the Hulk's origin under the opening credits, allowing the movie to spend it's two-hour run time on a very cleanly constructed three act structure, with a fine balance between character and action. Each act climaxes with significant property damage, which (let's face it) is all we want from a Hulk movie.
The movie begins with scientist Bruce Banner in Rio de Janeiro, attempting to find a cure for his condition while still hiding from the Army's General Thunderbolt Ross, who wants Banner's gamma-irradiated blood for his Super Soldier program. As Banner returns to America in hopes of procuring some computer data from his original experiment, one of Ross' subordinates - an aging foot soldier named Emil Blonsky - willingly undergoes treatments hoping to replicate Banner's breakthrough, which has the ultimate outcome of creating The Abomination - an uncontrollable monster bigger and even stronger than The Hulk.
Director Louis Leterrier (Danny the Dog/Unleashed and Transporter 2) "gets" the action genre and puffs it up impressively to comic book proportions. The cast for the reboot is an impressive lot, with Edward Norton a believable everynerd, Liv Tyler a winsome Betty Ross, William Hurt a driven Thunderbolt Ross (I didn't think he'd make me forget Sam Elliot, but he did), and Tim Roth a realistically embittered Blonsky.
I tend to knock Universal for their over-produced menus, but Hulk is a welcome exception - we get our CG Hulk, who then proceeds to get out of the way. The second disc has an additional, unneeded layer, however (see below), so the DVD department got in its complication quota.
Disc One opens with previews for the straight-to-DVD Beethoven's Big Break (God help us), Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, an anti-smoking commercial, Iron Man, and a spot for upcoming Marvel animation releases, like Wolverine and the X-Men, Next Avengers, Hulk vs Wolverine, Hulk vs Thor, The Black Panther, and Iron Man. Then a blurb pimping Universal's Blu-Ray offerings.
There are also five deleted, and one expanded scene, some of which are nice character pieces. The last extra on the first disc is an audio commentary track with director Leterrier and Tim Roth. The two are great friends, who obviously had a lot of fun making the movie and just as much fun reminiscing. A very chatty track - their enjoyment is contagious.
Disc Two opens with a fairly unnecessary menu page, with two small choices: "Bonus Features" and "Languages". Selecting "Bonus" sends you to a menu page with more than enough room for all the Bonus Features and Languages.
The first option is an "Alternate Opening Sequence", much ballyhooed in the TV ads for the disc. Deemed too much of a downer for an opening, Banner travels to the top of a glacier and there attempts suicide, but instead Hulks Out, destroying the glacier. Supposedly, if your screen is big enough, you can spot a certain red, white and blue figure stuck in the ice, paving the way for the eventual Captain America and Avengers movies.
There are 17 more deleted scenes (just as well, in this case), and a fairly standard Making of Incredible (subtitled "brought to you by Volkswagen"). The in-depth stuff tech that FX geeks lust after is in Becoming the Hulk and Becoming the Abomination, both of which detail nicely how new motion capture technologies allowed Norton and Roth to actually have input into the CGI incarnations of their characters, previously solely the province of the animators. Anatomy of a Hulk-Out goes even deeper into the various effects disciplines involved in each of the three big Hulk appearances.
The last extra is entitled From Comic Book to Screen, and anyone expecting a complete history of the comic book character, as essayed in the Iron Man DVD, will be disappointed. This is a scene from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sales' mini-series Gray, which inspired a similar scene in the movie. The animation is limited but the score is lush, and wisely there are no voices used - all is conveyed in word balloons, as it should.
Now, you may be saying, "But wait - that's only two discs? What about the third?" Well, that, my friends, is the thing that's all the rage, a "Digital Copy", which allows you to transfer the movie to devices like iPods, PCs, Mac without being a pirate about it. I'm torn over that. The digital copy is a good idea, but the first wave of products containing one were labeled "Includes Digital Copy", not "Two Disc Special Edition". Including the DCopy in the disc count - and in most cases, it's in a paper envelope, stuck under the clip that used to hold the chapter listings - seems a bit misleading, as if the consumer were getting a third disc full of extra content. It's pure marketing semantics, not untruthful, but... misleading.
But never mind that. The Incredible Hulk, along with its armored sibling, gives one great hope for future Marvel releases... finally!
Dr. Freex, 11/20/2008