2 Stars Movies

You won’t like Edward Norton when he’s angry in The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk is Hollywood’s latest incidence of what has become known as a “reboot.” The term, I believe was originally coined in the comic book world, with further derivations in computer terminology. When a franchise begins to show its age with stalled creative energy and declining sales, its owners may opt to check it into surgery to be refreshed with a new cast, creative team, and updated plot particulars. Warner Bros. and DC Comics kick-started their valuable but stagnant Batman and Superman feature film properties, making them relevant to 21st century audiences, and now it’s Marvel Comics’ turn. Emboldened by recent successes with Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four (and conveniently ignoring the failures Daredevil and Elektra), Marvel has obtained funding to independently produce its own films with greater creative control and, presumably, a larger chunk of the financial return. The massive success of 2008’s Iron Man seemed to prove their instincts correct.

Remarkably, The Incredible Hulk comes only five years after Ang Lee and James Schamus’ Hulk, itself a reboot of the comic book, cartoon, and television series. Even before Marvel announced it was to start over from scratch, the original Hulk film had already been seen as a critical and commercial failure, even though the reviews were not actually terrible (54 on MetaCritic and 61 on Rotten Tomatoes, both about the same as what The Incredible Hulk scored) and it earned $245 million worldwide.

The Incredible Hulk

This Dork Reporter fully realizes his is the minority opinion, but the Lee/Schamus version is a far, far better film, not only in comparison with its successor but also on its own terms. To paraphrase a review I recall reading at the time, “only the director of Eat Drink Man Woman and Sense & Sensibility would look at ‘The Hulk’ and see ‘sprawling family melodrama.'” Lee and Schamus saw the core story as more than a simple Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde retread, and instead chose to tell a deeper tale of fathers and sons. The Hulk himself was created using motion-capture technology using Ang Lee’s own body language, and realized on screen as a giant green petulant baby (which is both absurdly funny and oddly moving, like the original King Kong). I still maintain it is one of the most brilliantly edited films I’ve ever seen, the closest in flow and visual style to a comic book a film has ever come. It’s also just really fucking weird, in a good way.

With Marvel in total charge of its own intellectual property at last, The Incredible Hulk had low artistic ambitions and was unsurprisingly crafted with comic book geeks in mind. In harsh contrast with arthouse mainstays Lee and Schamus, it was directed by action film specialist Louis Leterrier (of Transporter 2 and Danny the Dog) and written by Zak Penn, who has apparently cornered the market on super-hero scripts (including X-Men 2 & 3, Elektra, and the upcoming Avengers and Captain America). The backwards-facing film gives the fanboys a nod with admittedly fun cameos from Lou Ferrigno (who also voiced The Hulk’s few lines, and who also seems not to have aged one bit) and original Hulk co-creator (with Jack Kirby) Stan Lee. But the CG is surprisingly unconvincing for a film that should have been state-of-the-art; the Hulk looks like he’s made of string cheese and quivering gelatin.

The Incredible Hulk
It’s showtime at The Apollo

Truth be told, I was actually rather enjoying the film, until one niggling fault grew to an unignorable degree that ruined the entire experience for me. Key character Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) remains tragically underdeveloped. Any screenwriting student (hell, any film fan) should know the storytelling mantra “show don’t tell,” and yet Blonsky’s motivations are only hinted at in one or two lines of dialogue: he’s a career soldier grumpy about turning forty. Blonsky eventually evolves into the Hulk’s nemesis The Abomination, a hideous beast that lives to destroy. As the two creatures smash Harlem to bits in the final reel, there was no sense that the Abomination was once a man. What drove him to this? Interestingly, Roth plays a not entirely dissimilar character in Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth: a man who uses up his youth in pursuit of an unattainable goal. In each case, the opportunity for a second chance is a mixed blessing.

Rumor has it an alternate, significantly longer cut of the film will eventually be released on DVD, preserving more of Edward Norton’s reported script doctoring, so this Dork Reporter hopes he will be able to revise his opinion at a later date.

Must read: Peter Bradshaw’s review of The Incredible Hulk as told to him by… The Hulk (spotted on

3 Stars Movies

Tim Roth undertakes an old man’s folly in Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth

Youth Without Youth had a shockingly poor reception for the first film in years from a major American filmmaker, garnering a middling 43 on Metacritic and a painful 29 from RottenTomatoes. In January 2008, this blogger found himself in a room with a bunch of journalists from genre publications like Fangoria and (Weird, right? It was a work thing. Anyway…). Several of them had recently reviewed Youth Without Youth, and the buzz was extremely negative. Now having finally seen it myself, it is this blogger’s opinion it received an unfair bad rap.

Youth Without Youth
Recline thy weary head betwixt my thighs, old man

Why would the likes of Fangoria be interested in a prestige period piece? Needless to say, Francis Ford Coppola is one of the most famous living filmmakers. Many young movie lovers first discover an appreciation for film through the canonical The Godfather Parts I & II and Apocalypse Now (and hopefully later graduate to the subtler pleasures of The Conversation). Alas, he went tragically awry with the expensive folly One From the Heart in 1982, and spent decades digging out of the financial hole. People have been waiting for years for him to return to form after many years of work-for-hire (The Rainmaker) and misjudged sequels to past glories (The Godfather Part III). But the main reason for sci-fi & horror fans’ interest in Youth Without Youth is that it is in fact Coppola’s first science fiction. It is, however, more in the contemplative mode of The Man Who Fell to Earth than Fangoria’s usual beat.

Youth Without Youth
Oh, Francis, you know you’re going to catch flak for that beret…

The freeform plot meanders to say the least, which clearly isn’t the point, but will frustrate viewers anticipating a more lucid science fiction conceit. The academic Dominic (Tim Roth) undertakes a project literally too big to finish in a lifetime: a complete history and analysis of linguistics. In a true example of careful-what-you-wish-for, the aged and suicidal intellectual is struck by lightning and mysteriously restored to his youth (Roth is at his best in these scenes, where he carries his younger body with the gait and posture of an old man). As he strives to complete his massive folly (could Coppola identify?), he is aided by a sympathetic Professor Stanciulescu (Bruno Ganz), evades the Nazis, and is haunted by an incarnation of his youthful love Laura (Alexandra Maria Lara). Youth Without Youth is definitely an old man’s film (I mean that as a compliment, Francis), for the themes of rejuvenation, doubles, and transmutation/reincarnation echo throughout Dominic’s extended life.

Please see Jaimie Stuart’s excellent and succinct appreciation (at the bottom of page), suggesting that one possible reason for the film’s poor reviews was that the digital format transferred poorly to large screens but looks ravishing on DVD. It does.

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