Unsatisfied with Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk, a meditative tale that didn’t deliver enough action for the average comic book fan, Marvel Studios has ‘rebooted’ the franchise with Louis Leterrier at the helm of The Incredible Hulk.
What we have here isn’t really any better or worse than the previous film, less ambitious, sure, but maybe it ought to be; here’s a Hulk film that delivers what audiences have come to expect from the big green guy, delivering lines like “Hulk, smash!” with a big toothy grin.
Edward Norton stars as Dr. Bruce Banner, currently working in a bottling factory in Brazil, on the run for five years after the genetic accident that mutates him into the Hulk every time he gets angry.
He’s scouring for an antidote, but his latest efforts have proven fruitless; his cover is also compromised when some of his blood drops into one of the bottles at the plant, giving the final recipient a bit more buzz from his soda than he bargained for.
Soon government agents, led by General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) and Soviet import Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) are after Banner, forcing a Hulk incident in Brazil and a trip back to Washington.
Here, Banner reunites with old love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) while her father Thunderbolt’s efforts to capture the Hulk become increasingly futile; this leads to ‘genetic modifications’ on Blonsky in an effort to build a force capable of bringing Hulk down.
Things culminate in New York City, with a destructive showdown on the streets less than fully effective; as Hulk battles the monstrous Abomination, it becomes painfully evident that we’re watching little more than two cartoons bash each other up.
While the animation looks fine, the characters seem to lack real-world weight, bouncing up and down and taking hits without repercussions; by the end, one character has beaten the other into submission, but we’re never sure that he won’t just pop back up again.
Norton is good, and Leterrier’s direction perfectly capable, but the film lacks the wit and raw energy that Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau brought to Iron Man, which opened earlier this summer. Supporting cast is excellent, especially Roth, who gives us the menacing villain Ang Lee’s film sorely lacked. One big plus: Craig Armstrong’s twangy, pulsating original score.
Watch closely for amusing cameos from Stan Lee (creator of the Hulk) and Lou Ferrigno (who portrayed the title character in the late-70’s TV show); and later in the film, there’s an especially satisfying appearance by another character from the Marvel film universe.