Critic’s Choice: Films On TV This Week

December 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Hulk (2003) – ITV 2, Tuesday 2nd Dec, 6:00pm Alert Me

Fresh from the new Marvel film company, The Incredible Hulk hit our screens this summer. He Hulked-Out, Hulk-Smashed, and Hulk-Conformed to the usual superhero movie formula. An entertaining popcorner. What made The Incredible Hulk rather more interesting, though, was the fact that Ang Lee’s (not incredible) Hulk had been released 5 years beforehand – and the Incredible Hulk was not a sequel. In fact, the new Hulk film put its fingers in its ears, went ‘LALALALALA’ and pretended that the old Hulk film had never even existed. Was it that bad that we should remove it from the history books?

As a pure action film (which – to be fair – everyone would have expected from a character whose traditional words of choice are HULK and SMASH), this is far too slow. It’s too talky, there are like, relationships and stuff… why isn’t the Hulk out whacking people, in his logic-defying stretchy pants? Because this is an Ang Lee film, and he is a man with dramatic and romantic senses and sensibilities. Two years after the Hulk, he directed Brokeback Mountain. Let’s face it – it was never going to be the popcorner that the suits, or the audiences, were hoping for.

Bruce Banner (aka. the green fellah), is clearly a character with major issues, but instead of taking the themes of anger and boiling them down into a whack-a-thon, Lee chooses to explore them more fully. This man has turned into a monster, and his mental battle is more important than the physical obstacles that he faces (the military seem to have natural inclinations towards beast-caging). Born into the world kicking and screaming, a repressed child, a slight Oedipal tendency, many issues with his father… Bruce Banner is the complicated, tragic centrepoint for the entire film. It takes 40 minutes for him to even turn green, because we’re so busy with backstory and character development.

But, surprisingly, this is to the film’s credit. It doesn’t compromise. Visually, the comic-book panelling style is love/hate. The pacing is at times funereal, punctuated by sudden, angry bouts of furious action. The tone is dour, serious, tragic. Yes, this is a big blockbuster, and yes, it is a confused, conflicted child – but that fits the Jekyll and Hyde-style story perfectly, all meaning that this Hulk holds up rather well.

And if you don’t like it, you can always make the ‘you won’t like him when he’s Ang Lee’ gag, and bugger off to watch the new one. Choice – a wonderful thing!

Batman – Channel 4, Friday 5th Nov, 9pm Alert Me

Superhero movie reappraisal week? Perhaps – but unlike the Hulk, which benefits from comparisons with its slightly ropey new upstart, Batman has The Dark Knight to deal with. Still fresh in the mind, with Heath Ledger‘s Joker etched in the collective consciousness, this summer’s film showed us how dark and intelligent a superhero film can be. This 1989 version, while nowhere near the fake-tan-campery of the POW, BOFFO spectacle of Adam West’s days, is much lighter than the Dark Knight (apt, given the title).

Tim Burton injects his customary gothic style, and Gotham City is resplendent in its fairytale darkness. Never truly threatening, but still a wonderfully murky creation. And that’s what it is – a creation, not reaching for realism, a fact reflected in Jack Nicholson‘s Joker. He’s flamboyantly over the top, with a smile and cackle rather more suggestive of freaky acid flashbacks from the 60s, than the frightening machinations of a maniacal supervillain. Comparisons with Ledger are impossible to avoid, as Heath managed to turn a comic book villain into a Shakespearean-level character that, even without the Ledger eulogising, would have remained indelible for years to come. But then, back in the day, we all thought that about Nicholson’s Joker.

Maybe it’s a time thing. Made at the tail end of the 80s, when excess manifested itself in everything from the yuppies’ prehistoric mobile phones, down to the overtly-generous shoulderpad design, Batman is the product of its time. The film wallows around in the cliché, the darkness and some of the sillier elements of Batman lore, and turns them in to a highly enjoyable spectacle. Sure, Michael Keaton is a rubbish Batman, and it’s all rather undignified when compared to the superb craftsmanship and storytelling of The Dark Knight. Batman wasn’t meant to be realistic, though, or to make intelligent comments about terrorism and modern society. It was meant to be entertainment (whisper it – fun!) and that’s what it is. Thanks, 1980s!

Bullitt – FilmFour, Monday 8th Dec, 11:25pm Alert Me

As much as some people would like you to believe that this is a classic crime thriller – it isn’t. It’s an average, serviceable tale of a maverick cop (is there such thing as a non-maverick cop out there in movieland?), corruption, organised crime, and so on and so forth. Steve McQueen is detective Frank Bullitt –  a man named, presumably by two zealous NRA members, with an apparent lack of irony. McQueen is cooler than Captain Scott’s frostbite, and Lalo Schrifin’s score is indecently hummable, liable to cause toe-tapping RSI injuries… but… God, look, I’m sorry – it’s all window dressing. There’s no way to evaluate this film with any sense of normality. Talking about anything else is mere bush-beating, because Bullitt is all about one thing – the car chase. One of cinema’s finest ever examples of this rather particular art form, it excels at completing the main aim of many car chases – causing enough stimulation and excitement to get you through the other 110 boring, non-car-chasey, minutes.

By Rob Pearson