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The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988, Nicholas Corea)

The Incredible Hulk Returns is severely lacking. It’s severely lacking pretty much everything. Despite being set in and filmed in Los Angeles, the movie looks generic and constrained–director Corea has a truly exceptional aversion to establishing shots. The interior shots often have a different visual feel. More like video (Returns was shot on film, but edited on video). The video feel makes everything seem more immediate. But the last thing Returns has is immediacy. It lacks an immediacy, even though it’s incredibly dramatic.

No pun.

The movie’s set an indeterminate time since the TV series ended, but two years since Bill Bixby has turned into Lou Ferrigno. He’s in L.A. making a gamma ray to cure himself and romancing fellow scientist Lee Purcell. Despite a not too big thirteen year age difference, Bixby and Purcell lack chemistry. They’re not bad together, they just don’t seem into one another. The script tries too hard to make them cute and they’re not. The dialogue’s real bad on their romance too. There’s a lack of affection, even implied.

It doesn’t really matter because Purcell’s not important. She even gets kidnapped at one point and manages not to be important. The movie willfully ignores her. Because after the first act, it becomes a pilot for a “Thor” TV show and not really a Hulk TV movie.

Bixby’s about to cure himself when annoying rogue nerdy but late eighties nerdy cool doctor (medical doctor… sure, why not) Steve Levitt shows up. Seems Levitt’s gone and found himself an ancient Viking war hammer and become bound to giant, buff, blond Viking warrior god Eric Allan Kramer. Pretty soon Kramer is fighting Ferrigno and they break the lab, causing a big problem for Bixby.

Except not because they just fix up the lab, much to the chagrin of Bixby’s boss’s little brother, Jay Baker. Baker works his ass off in The Incredible Hulk Returns. He takes this movie really, really seriously. More seriously than anyone else, including Charles Napier playing a Cajun mercenary without a Cajun accent but TV Cajun speech patterns. It’s painful. Anyway. Baker. He tries. He’s also a corrupt little shit who hates his older brother John Gabriel. Baker doesn’t like Bixby much either. Or Levitt. They work too hard. Not really a subplot, but it comes up a couple times and it’s a lot of character development for Returns. Baker goes wild with it.

The movie utterly fails him, of course, but he does try. No one else really tries. Tim Thomerson doesn’t try as the villain. He’s also a Cajun but he’s ashamed of it. Or so Napier implies. Because Corea’s script for Returns puts more effort into the back story on the industrial mercenaries than on its lead female actor. Oh, wait. It’s only female actor. Purcell manages to weather Returns with dignity. Maybe having less to do helps.

Bixby’s completely flat throughout. He’s default likable, but never anything more. He’s not bored or condescending to the material or anything. He’s just completely flat. He’s supposed to have figured out some zen thing to control the Hulk but still. A lot of it is probably the script. Or Correa’s direction. Neither succeed at all.

Regarding Baker and his valiant efforts in his role–he’s not auditioning for a series. Levitt and Kramer would be the leads on the “Thor” show and, although Kramer does try, he doesn’t try as hard. And Levitt is exceptionally bland. Again, some of it’s the script. Some isn’t.

Kramer at least has fun. But his character is supposed to enjoy having fun. No one else in the movie enjoys anything. Not even Ferringo enjoys breaking things. Then again Correa kind of gives Ferringo the worst stuff in the movie. Not just the script or how Correa directs him–though I guess Ferrigno does get a couple spotlight action sequences–but also the make-up. When Ferrigno needs to do “Hulk sad,” he can do it. Shame Correa only has him emote twice in the movie.

Jack Colvin (from the “Hulk” TV show) comes back too. He’s barely got a part and spends a lot of his screen time talking on phones. He’s not good but he’s not terrible.

The music from Lance Rubin needs to be heard to be believed. At least for the first thirty or so minutes. Then there’s less or different music, but Rubin’s action sequence music? It’s loud, fast, layed, and terrible. There’s one good bit of music–when not using the show theme–and it’s a shock, because it suggests Rubin can do different approaches. He actually can’t. The good bit was anomalous.

The Chuck Colwell photography is bad. But is it because Colwell’s work is bad or because Correa doesn’t really do the whole shot composition thing. Either way, the result is bad. The movie never looks right. Or good. Unlike some things, the bad photography is quite bad. It isn’t just not good. It’s bad.

I suppose at the very least, The Incredible Hulk Returns is never boring. It’s just never good. And it’s often bad. Correa does a rather poor job, both at the directing and the writing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Corea; teleplay by Corea, based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Chuck Colwell; edited by Janet Ashikaga and Briana London; music by Lance Rubin; executive produced by Bill Bixby and Corea; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Bill Bixby (David Banner), Steve Levitt (Donald Blake), Eric Allan Kramer (Thor), Lee Purcell (Maggie Shaw), Jack Colvin (Jack McGee), Tim Thomerson (Jack LeBeau), Charles Napier (Mike Fouche), John Gabriel (Joshua Lambert), Jay Baker (Zack Lambert), and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk).


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The Return of the Incredible Hulk (1977, Alan J. Levi)

The Return of the Incredible Hulk is the second pilot movie for the subsequent “Incredible Hulk” TV series. It aired three weeks after the first pilot, which featured the origin of the Hulk–scientist Bruce Bixby turns himself into green-skinned musclebound grotesque Lou Ferrigno thanks to gamma rays–and his pursuer, annoying, uninformed tabloid reporter Jack Colvin. Luckily Colvin doesn’t come into Return until over a half hour in so there’s limited Colvin, which is just fine. Return has enough acting… issues without Colvin mucking up too many scenes.

It’s not all Colvin’s fault; the details of his scenes are idiotic television shorthand. But it’s not like he makes the scenes work, which an actor could with some enthusiasm. The cast of Return of the Incredible Hulk is usually at least enthusiastic–all the guest stars act like they’re auditioning for a regular CBS show, which they are–but not Colvin. He’s just an unenthusiastic jackass, which isn’t a good kind of jackass.

And Colvin isn’t the one who drags Return down. The Return of the Incredible Hulk is a perfectly adequate, lower mediocre, late seventies television pilot. The one impressive shot in it doesn’t even involve the Hulk and it’s only technically impressive. Director Levi does show some interest occasionally, but he also shoots some really mediocre scenes. He’s got no interest in the soap opera aspects of the story, which is sort of a Gothic about a troubled young woman (Laurie Prange), who lost her father and her ability to walk, now getting sicker and sicker, in the care of stepmother Dorothy Tristan and special doctor William Daniels. Although an heiress, her true love is Gerald McRaney. He disappears after the first third, which is too bad. He’s rather enthusiastic about the whole thing.

Prange ends up getting the spotlight, befriending both Bixby and Ferrigno–separately. She calms Ferrigno’s beast and Bixby is trying to save her from those conspiring against her. Though there’s not much mystery in who’s conspiring against her. Kenneth Johnson’s teleplay is nothing if not efficient. The moment after Bixby reveals he knows Daniels’s doing something slimy, Daniels’s conspirator confronts Daniels about it. So all of a sudden Return’s got specific villains who have specific henchmen for Ferrigno to fight.

All the action takes place on Prange’s orange orchard in Northern California. At the opening, before it’s been made clear what a low bar Return is going for, it almost seems like there’s going to be a Bill Bixby as Tom Joad thing. There isn’t.

There is a Lou Ferrigno is Boris Karloff with the old man, which would be a lot more amusing if the old man didn’t stick around the rest of the movie. John McLiam plays the old man, a loner who has cut himself off from the world because of tragedy. He’s a veteran. He’s also a drunken Northern California hillbilly living in a surprisingly well-lighted shack. Oh, and his introduction is taunting the chicken he’s cooking about how he’s going to eat it.

And McLiam plays it all straight, which is just the wrong way to play it.

Everyone in Return, with the exception of Colvin and McLiam, tries. Daniels has some good nerdy creep moments. Tristan has some good moments. Some bad ones too, but at least there’s some energy to her performance. Though muted… as it appears in Charles W. Short’s thoroughly competent and boring lighting.

Prange tries. And she is frequently bad. But when the script’s at its best and the melodrama is toned down, Prange has a really good moment or two. There’s a sweetness between she and Ferrigno and it’s entirely from the actors. Johnson makes the time in the movie for it, but–as producer–he doesn’t make Levi enable it. Instead they rely on Joseph Harnell to do a terrible theme for Prange, separate from the “Incredible Hulk” theme, which gets a disco-ish remix early on in Return. And they use that theme for Prange ad nauseam. It ruins scenes, it ruins momentum.

Because Return finally gets some momentum in the second half, when Bixby, Prange, and McLiam are on the run. Through the Northern California orange country swamp, chased by men with dogs and a guy in a helicopter. And there are snakes.

And bears. And Ferrigno fights a bear. It’s not a bad fight. Like, for a TV pilot movie? With the “Hulk”’s demographic target audience? It’s a decent bear fight. Much cooler than the rest of the Ferrigno action. There’s too much slow motion, not enough choreography. When there’s choreography–even a little bit–it works better. There’s also the breaking stuff factor. Ferrigno breaks things (it’s the reason Bixby can’t stay in one place too long, Ferrigno might break something–not kill someone, break something). They’re big things, sure, but the set pieces are often tedious in Return. And sometimes Levi will all of a sudden decent to get serious during a fight scene and totally change the tempo.

But the bear fight is cool.

The snake not so much.

There’s also a quicksand sequence, because it’s a TV pilot movie from the late seventies. The quicksand is a disappointment.

I forgot McRaney (just the like the movie; though maybe he was busy shooting other things). He’s not good, but he’s likable. You can tell he’s got the TV star thing down. And when he’s in the movie, there’s at least a chance for it to go someplace surprising, story-wise.

It’s when he disappears Return becomes a race to the half hour chase scene.

And the half hour chase scene makes up for the rest. Enough for a late seventies TV pilot movie. The whole thing is an audition tape for Bill Bixby and the various things he’ll be able to do on the subsequent series. There’s just enough with Ferrigno to show off the action possibilities. Prange has just the right amount of tragedies to show off the sentimental possibilities. Bixby’s likability, especially opposite Prange, makes up for a lot throughout. Johnson does a fine job advertising a series.

While still adequately plotting out the ninety minutes. Return is well-produced, it’s just unimaginatively executed and rather underacted.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Alan J. Levi; teleplay by Kenneth Johnson Johnson, based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Charles W. Short; edited by Glenn Lawrence and Jack W. Schoengarth; music by Joseph Harnell; produced by Johnson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Bill Bixby (Dr. David Banner), Laurie Prange (Julie Griffith), John McLiam (Michael), William Daniels (Dr. John Bonifant), Dorothy Tristan (Margaret Griffith), Gerald McRaney (Denny Kayle), Jack Colvin (Jack McGee), Victor Mohica (Rafe), Robert Phillips (Phil), Mills Watson (Sheriff), and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk)..


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Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018, Peyton Reed)

Despite being in the first scene in the movie and sharing most of Paul Rudd’s scenes with him, Evangeline Lilly is definitely second in Ant-Man and the Wasp. The film gives her her own action scenes–some truly phenomenal ones–but very little agency. She’s entirely in support of dad Michael Douglas; even after it’s clear Douglas–in the past–was an egomaniac who hurt lots of people, it’s not like Lilly has any reaction to it. Or the film for that matter. During the scene maybe, with Rudd laughing about what a dick Douglas has always been, someone getting very upset remembering how Douglas treated them, Douglas looking bemused, and Lilly looking vacant. There are a few of those scenes and they really define the film’s dramatic qualities.

It doesn’t have many.

It’s got a lot of humorous qualities and a lot of charming ones, but not dramatic. Nothing ever gets as emotionally intense as the first act, in flashback (either straight flashback or dream sequence). Even when there’s all the danger in the world, as Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas race against time to save Lilly’s mother (and Douglas’s wife), Michelle Pfeiffer, from being trapped in the Quantum Zone. Realm. Sorry, Quantum Realm. There’s a lot of quantum things in Ant-Man and the Wasp, it’s hard to keep track.

But the film isn’t about dramatic possibilities so much as good-natured, comedic special effects action ones. There’s this omnipresent theme about parents disappointing children–Douglas and Lilly, Rudd and his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), not to mention the villain (Hannah John-Kamen), who’s got her own father issues. But if the film never acknowledges it’s a theme, is it really a theme? The screenplay (by five screenwriters) never worries about it and director Reed really doesn’t narrative echoes. It’s not his thing. His thing is humor and pacing and the film excels at both of them.

Because, even with those five writers–including Rudd–it’s not like there’s much depth to characterizations. Walton Goggins is one of the villains and he’s basically doing a really broad caricature of Walton Goggins being in a Marvel movie as a Southern tech-gangster. Randall Park plays a goofy FBI agent who Rudd keeps on one-upping and it’s even broader. Michael Peña excels with similiar treatment; he’s always played for obvious laughs and Peña plays through, fully, successfully embracing it. Goggins and Park act obviously to the joke. Not Peña.

None of the leads have much heavy lifting either. Rudd and Lilly are so adorable–and find each other so utterly adorable–it’s hard not to enjoy every minute they spend together. Douglas is one note, but the script doesn’t really ask for much more. Pfeiffer does more in her two scenes than Douglas does in the entire film. And she doesn’t even do a lot.

Meanwhile, Larry Fishburne–as one of the many people Douglas screwed over in the past–is able to bring some gravitas to his part. He takes it seriously, even when no one asks him to do so.

But none of it really matters because everyone’s really likable, including villain John-Kamen (far less Goggins, who’s nowhere near as funny as he needs to be to warrant so much plot import), and Ant-Man and the Wasp is full of delightful special effects action sequences. Whether it’s when Lilly is shrinking down and growing big to kick ass in fight scenes, flying all over the place, throwing people all over, or when it’s Rudd growing big instead of shrinking down and using a flatbed truck as a scooter. Reed and the screenwriters know where to find every laugh, every smile–it doesn’t hurt Rudd and daughter Fortson have such cute scenes. Opening on Lilly, making the movie about her missing mother, her lost childhood, it almost seems like it’s a movie about daughters. Oh, right, John-Kamen too. But it’s not. It’s about being cute and funny. It’s never even heartwarming when it’s not cute. There’s not much depth to it.

And, for a movie without much depth, it’s an awesome time. The special effects sequences alone–it isn’t just the fight scenes with awesome shrinking and growing effects, it’s sight gags and car chases and everything else (not to mention adorable giant ants). The film’s inventive as all hell. Except with John-Kamen’s villain, who’s not just occasionally invisible, but also immaterial. Her powers make narrative sense, Reed doesn’t visualize them as well as the rest.

By the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp, you want another one. It’s a delightful, thoroughly competent amusement. Even if Christophe Beck’s score is never as good as it seems to be.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Peyton Reed; screenplay by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari, based on the comic book by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Dan Lebental and Craig Wood; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Shepherd Frankel; produced by Kevin Feige and Stephen Broussard; released by Walt Disney Pictures

Starring Paul Rudd (Scott), Evangeline Lilly (Hope), Michael Douglas (Hank), Hannah John-Kamen (Ghost), Laurence Fishburne (Bill), Michael Peña (Luis), Abby Ryder Fortson (Cassie), Walton Goggins (Sonny Burch), Randall Park (Jimmy Woo), T.I. (Dave), David Dastmalchian (Kurt), Judy Greer (Maggie), Bobby Cannavale (Paxton), and Michelle Pfeiffer (Janet).


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Black Panther (2018, Ryan Coogler)

Black Panther moves extraordinarily well. It’s got a number of constraints, which director Coogler and co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole agilely and creatively surmount. It’s also got Coogler’s lingering eye. The film can never look away from its setting–the Kingdom of Wakanda–for too long. Rachel Morrison’s photography emphasizes it, the editing emphasizes it, Ludwig Göransson’s likably ostentatious score emphasizes it.

The film opens with a stylized flashback prologue, setting up Wakanda. It’s an isolated African nation. A meteor with a magic metal crashed into it before humans and made magic plants. When humans arrive, they eat magic plants, they use magic metal, they become technologically superior. And they isolate themselves.

Then the film introduces lead Chadwick Boseman. Not protagonist Chadwick Boseman, unfortunately, but lead. And immediately he gets overshadowed. First by Danai Gurira as a general. Then by Lupita Nyong’o as Boseman’s ex-girlfriend and a spy. Everyone in the movie–with the exceptions of Martin Freeman and Daniel Kaluuya–gets to overshadow Boseman at one point or another. Coogler and Cole don’t seem to have an angle on the character, who should be on a self-discovery arc but can’t be because it’s a Marvel movie and he’s a superhero.

There are a few other things Black Panther really wants to do and wants to be, but can’t because of that Marvel movie constraint. Coogler and Cole do some amazing things to counter–especially since the movie opens with Boseman just getting down with his adventure in the third Captain America movie. They immediately work to establish the film on its own ground. Gurira and, especially, Nyong’o make it happen.

Then it’s time for more supporting cast introductions. Letitia Wright as Boseman’s techno-genius little sister. Mom is Angela Bassett. Forest Whitaker has a big part. Winston Duke is one of the tribal leaders. And Kaluuya. Kaluuya is Boseman’s friend who never gets to one-up Boseman. Wright’s whole part is one-upping him. Same with Duke.

Martin Freeman doesn’t get to one-up Boseman either. He’s a returning character from the Captain America movie. He’s narratively pointless. But Coogler keeps him busy and has some fun with the character. Andy Serkis is the other connection to the existing Marvel narrative. But he’s great. Coogler and Cole write this obnoxious jackass of a super-powered arms dealer and Serkis makes it work. I don’t remember Serkis–playing the character for the third or fourth time–ever being anywhere near as impressive as here.

Because Coogler makes it happen. He’s able to balance all the things Black Panther needs to do, wants to do, and can’t do.

Villain Michael B. Jordan is separate from that balance. He’s the bad guy, but he’s got a more traditional protagonist arc. If he weren’t a bad guy. Even the heroic aspects of his arc, there’s something bad about. Jordan plays the hell out of the part. It’s a better performance than part. One of the things Black Panther runs out of time on is Jordan’s villain arc. Because the third act’s got to have the action.

Coogler directs the action well. He directs the high speed fight scenes–Boseman’s nanite-infused outfit does something like superspeed–and he keeps it all moving. The fight choreography is awesome, whether it’s Boseman and Jordan or Boseman and Jordan’s CGI doubles or an actual huge battle scene with Gurira commanding troops.

I mean, Freeman’s Star Wars spaceship fighter chase thing is narratively required but not good. Coogler doesn’t do the starfighter chase thing. It’s fine. It’s not just Freeman playing Last Starfighter, thank goodness; they wisely leverage Wright to pace it better.

The final showdown between Boseman and Jordan is pretty good. The movie runs out of time with it too though. The denouement is too short. The second act is too short. Black Panther could easily support another ten or fifteen minutes over its two and a quarter hour runtime.

Great photography from Morrison. Great editing from Debbie Berman and Michael P. Shawver. Likable but not great score from Göransson. Breathtaking production design by Hannah Beachler. It’s a beautiful film.

Nyong’o, Gurira, Wright, Duke, Sterling K. Brown; all great. Whitaker’s pretty good. The part turns out to be a little wonky. Bassett’s good. Kaluuya’s part is undercooked. And then the lunacy of Serkis.

Black Panther is a darn good superhero movie and a beautifully, lovingly, and expertly produced one.

It’d just have been nice if Coogler and Cole had as strong a handle on Boseman’s character as they do on Jordan’s. It’s a Marvel movie, after all. The bad guys never get to overshadow the heroes.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ryan Coogler; screenplay by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, based on the comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Rachel Morrison; edited by Debbie Berman and Michael P. Shawver; music by Ludwig Göransson; production designer, Hannah Beachler; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa), Michael B. Jordan (Killmonger), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Angela Bassett (Ramonda), Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross), Forest Whitaker (Zuri), Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi), Winston Duke (M’Baku), Sterling K. Brown (N’Jobu), and Andy Serkis (Klaue).


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