First there were the X-men movies, then the Spider Man movies, the new Batman reboot starring Christian Bale and most recently Iron Man. Now The Incredible Hulk carries on the winning streak of well-executed comic book movie adaptations starring A-list actors.
The Incredible Hulk movie begins with Bruce Banner living in the slums of Brazil. (You see the experiment that turned him into The Hulk during the credits.) It’s a daring visual and cultural departure from what you’d expect, and it works. The opening scenes are just a hint of the visuals that are in store for the movie. And by visuals I mean cinematography, not CGI. The CGI ranges from mostly good to occasionally great, especially when it’s combined with other elements as it is in the raining cave scene in the second half of the movie.
Part way through I decided that The Incredible Hulk movie was better than Iron Man. Part of it is that vagabond Bruce Banner is a more sympathetic character than billionaire playboy Tony Stark. It helps that Banner has a mutual love interest, while Stark has a gorgeous woman who adores him and that he neglects. Advantage: Hulk.
Iron Man wins on CGI. Part of the thrill of that movie is how well they brought Iron Man to life on the big screen. Iron Man also has the better love interest. Gwyneth Paltrow is both prettier and a better actress than Liv Tyler, who doesn’t even bother to act in her first scene. Two advantages to Iron Man.
For leading men, Robert Downey, Jr. has more charisma than mopey Edward Norton, but Norton’s mopeyness works for him here, and Tony Stark’s character is ultimately a self-absorbed jerk. Call it a draw.
Mostly, though, it comes down to the villains. Dave Campbell likes to say that superheroes are only as good as their villains. Even in the comic book Iron Man lacked for good villains. In the movie treatment the villain is Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), a traitorous friend who steals the original Iron Man armor and develops a more refined suit, but it’s ultimately less powerful than Stark’s version 2.0 armor. The only reason their fight is even a contest is that in uncostumed life the bad guy sneak attacks Stark and steals his improved power supply. Otherwise Stark’s more-advanced armor would have made the fight last all of two seconds.
And what is Stane’s motivation? He wants to be, like, rich and powerful and stuff.
In The Incredible Hulk the villains are more threatening and their motivations are developed from the very beginning. General Ross (William Hurt) was in charge of the super soldier program that accidentally turned Bruce Banner into The Hulk. Now Ross is trying to fix his mistake without admitting he made it in the first place. All the while he’s battling for the affection of his daughter, who is in love with Banner.
Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) is an aging soldier, past his prime, who wishes he had the vigor of his youth. After his team’s first defeat, Ross approaches Blonsky with the promise of regaining the power of youth and much more. All he has to do is take a dose of Banner’s blood to acquire a fraction of Hulk’s powers. When Ross and Blonsky fail to defeat The Hulk a second time Blonsky forces another scientist to give him even more of Banner’s blood, which turns him into the brutish, Hulk-like Abomination for the film’s final battle.
So for the villains we have, on the Iron Man side, The Dude. On the Hulk side, William Hurt and Tim Roth. Advantage: Hulk.
I’ll have to watch both when they come out on DVD to be sure, but I’m pretty sure “The Incredible Hulk” is a better comic book movie than Iron Man, but mostly because Iron Man didn’t bother to spend much time fighting a supervillian.