2008 – Jon Favreau
PG-13: 126 mins.
Vault Rating: 8
The Incredible Hulk
2008 – Louis Leterrier
PG-13: 114 mins.
Vault Rating: 7.5
Marvel Comics continues to be the wellspring of summer blockbusters as “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” have been more than credible, if not completely incredible, summer fare. But much more is on the way.
“Iron Man” delivers a surprisingly textured character study of a weapons magnate who finally sees the error of his ways when he gets blown up by some of his own ordinance. (If only the CEO of, say, Lockheed Martin would do likewise.) Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is the next great comic character cum movie star.
There is a really good story about greed, politics and world affairs running around here that actually makes a super-hero movie relevant and worth while in a way that, say, “The Transformers” could never approach with its soulless action figures.
Stark is a hard drinking, womanizing bazillionaire who gets abducted on a sales trip to the middle east. Critically injured in an ambush, only his brilliant scientific mind saves his life. It is a beautiful twist that the super-hero who becomes Iron Man is on life support where a powerful electromagnet is all that keeps his heart beating.
And we are tickled by the turn of Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. She serves as a business manager for our hero (She is a hippy updating of Miss Moneypenny with a dash more “Zap!” and “Pow!”) and the sparks do fly even as she keeps Stark at a professional arm’s length.
Iron Man is a very good looking film and a second installment has been green-lighted with a third to follow that develops Asian themes and plunges Stark deeper into the bottle.
“The Incredible Hulk” has also been a pleasant surprise with a much better approach than Ang Lee’s “Hulk” from 2003. This plot bounds forward in a comic bookish way. No time for exposition here. Heck, the Hulk was always Marvel’s best engine of destruction and exposition is not the recipe for an action picture anyway.
Edward Norton as the tortured Dr. Bruce Banner, on the run from his military creators and desperate to find a cure, and Liv Tyler as his love interest, Betsy Ross, are outstanding. And, in the current film, Hulk spin-offs are being giddily generated with alarming ease. It seems the U.S. military is trying to create an army of super-soldiers and monster blood seems to be sloshing all over the place.
Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), in his greed for power, becomes a para-hulk called “The Abomination” even as egghead scientist Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) is splashed with goo in a sort of funny way that, we’re betting, will one day result in the super-scientist-para-hulk freak called “The Leader.” Yet another geek-scientist, psychologist good-guy Leonard Sampson (If you don’t get the implications of the name, you don’t get the cookie.) is running around, but he hasn’t taken his dose of Hulk DNA yet.
So Marvel has finally got the Hulk right and it is clear, even by the snippets at the tail end of the credits, that much more is in store. I’m thinking of a huge, mega-movie cluster-bomb crossover, perhaps next summer and probably beyond where we’ll get sucked deeply into the Marvel Universe.
Importantly, there is a good, relevant story running throughout. Where it winds up is anybody’s guess.
Military plots, such as with S.H.I.E.L.D. (relevant to our current Homeland Security Administration), are running every which way in these two films in ways that are almost certainly going to result in bad tempered crossovers where, say, the Wolverine and The Hulk could conceivably meet somewhere in Canada, or where a group of super heroes might form a team that might be called, for argument’s sake, “The Avengers.”
We’re actually watching the Marvel Universe of thirty or more years ago being played out in big screen serials. It takes a middle aged fan boy back quite a ways. And what makes it all tick is a strong plot. Both “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” are still in theaters and are both well recommended.