Wait a minute. Didn’t they just make The Incredible Hulk into a movie? Why yes, yes they did. The difference with the new version, however, is that it’s actually good.
Ang Lee has directed some incredible movies, but his 2003 version, simply titled Hulk, was not one of them. Director Louis Leterrier wipes the slate clean for his update — and it’s a damn good thing he does.
The first thing that distinguishes Leterrier’s film of Marvel’s popular comic book property is that it assumes you haven’t been living under a rock your entire life and actually know that the Hulk is the angry alter-ego of a scientist who received a high dosage of gamma radiation, causing him to go all green and muscle-y when he’s angry. The set-up is handled during the opening credits, so once the story begins it’s already five years later and the scientist, Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), is living in Brazil trying to suppress the monster inside. It’s a wise move that avoids the pitfall of some other comic book movies that spend so much time on backstory that the film is nearly over before anything exciting happens.
No one makes a better bad guy than the U.S. government, and they’re hot on Banner’s green tail. When Banner is discovered through a fluke accident, he leads the soldiers sent after him on a fantastic chase through a crowded town in Brazil. Commanded by General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), the soldiers don’t know what they’re up against, but there’s nothing like a flying forklift in their faces to give them a clue.
It’s the promise of a potential cure that drives Banner back to his home, where he’s reunited with his love, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler). It’s here that the film starts to break apart at the seams, just as Banner’s shirt does when the Hulk appears. The transition between the action sequences and the reconnection with Betty are about as jarring as going to bed with the Hulk and waking up with Banner.
And wouldn’t you know it, just when Banner thinks he might have found a cure, it’s only the Hulk that can save the day.
So, yes, the plot is a little formulaic. Norton, who is credited as the co-writer along with Zak Penn, tries to move it forward and throws in some great lines to keep the mood light, but the love story between Banner and Betty is unbelievable even in the suspended disbelief world of a comic book. In Norton’s favor is his innocence and mild-manner appearance — it’s about as polar opposite as you can get from the Hulk. He plays it calm and cool and restrained, delivering about as good a performance as one would hope. His delivery of the famous ”Don’t make me angry” line could not have been better played.
As the bad guys, Hurt and Tim Roth, a super soldier who eventually becomes the Abomination, are the deepest of all the characters. Their destructive motivations — hubris, war, revenge — are much more interesting than Banner’s attempts at self-examination, and both actors give strong performances.
The biggest travesty of the movie is Tyler. In the entire film she has about 10 good seconds — and it’s when she’s being a bitchy New Yorker. Her scene opposite the Hulk when she’s trying to sooth him is downright laughable. Director Leterrier creates great moments, but some of them seem a little familiar — and not from the other Hulk film. The Brazilian chase scene is remarkably similar to Matt Damon’s rooftop escape in The Bourne Ultimatum. During the ultimate showdown in New York City I kept expecting the Statue of Liberty’s head to roll down the street as it did in Cloverfield.
Naturally the CGI effects are heavily relied upon and the best thing to say about them is that they’re fine. Nothing is going to match the achievement of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but the Hulk is big, green, and kicks ass. And that’s about enough.
For huge Hulk fans, there are a lot of fun asides –probably more than I was able to catch with my limited Hulkian knowledge. Worthwhile cameos that anyone should be able to spot include Lou Ferrigno, the original TV Hulk, and comic book legend Stan Lee in his by now trademark appearance (though it’s not as funny as his Iron Man bit). Speaking of Iron Man, even Robert Downey Jr. makes an entrance as Tony Stark, which sets things up nicely for the future.
The Incredible Hulk is what you’d expect from a summer blockbuster: big budget special effects that take precedent over plot. There are worse ways to beat the heat. And who knows, the Hulk might be smashing the competition after all.