Kevin's Review: The Incredible Hulk - A Jolly Time with the Green Giant
by Kevin Powers
June 13, 2008
With the high from Iron Man starting to wane, fans are anxiously awaiting their next fix promised by Marvel's second summer blockbuster in as many months, The Incredible Hulk. Add to that Ang Lee's 2003 attempt to bring the "angry man" to the big screen, widely perceived as half-baked and too mellow, and you have quite a hunger to sate. While Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man is the highest of quality, Ed Norton's Hulk is noticeably less refined, generating a rush that is far more fleeting, yet thrilling where it counts. Directed by Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2), The Incredible Hulk is as enjoyably loud, aggressive and FX-laden as the Hulk himself, but weak and subdued when it comes to the characters and story.
Though it might seem like a continuation of Ang Lee's film, The Incredible Hulk is not a sequel - even though the one ends where the other begins, in South America. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is hiding out in a densely populated neighborhood of Brazil and working at a bottling plant, enjoying "158 days without incident." He wears a pulse monitor watch that lets him moderate his excitability, and he takes martial arts classes to help control his anger. Bruce is managing his condition, but he's also still trying to find a cure. A "Mr. Blue" gives Bruce advice and assistance across encrypted chats, until options run thin. Bruce must venture back to the States for research data, but not before he's located by General Ross' (William Hurt) men, led by the hungry dog of a soldier, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth).
The immediacy of the first encounter is an ode to true fans of the genre. Leterrier nixes any incessant foreplay and build up and in short time gives audiences the Hulk in all his enhanced CGI, destructive glory. Any questioning about the film's special effects are forcibly put to rest very early on in the film. The battles get better from there, both in scale and severity. The frequency of the conflicts, however, is one point where the film starts to feel winded. With the number of vehicles, men and weapons, it seems like Leterrier recruited an entire Army base and all of its contents. General Ross repeatedly sends in fleets, each suffering wild (but fun) decimation.
Blonsky, already superhuman in attitude and competitiveness, wants to step up to this "whole new level of weird," ultimately becoming what is fittingly labeled as an Abomination. The final battle finds Hulk and Abomination destroying city block after city block in one of most explosive CGI-dominated bouts ever to grace the big screen. When was last time you saw a character use a police car as boxing gloves?
The film's over abundance of eye candy is great fun, but it provides little nourishment to the overall story. Consequently, the plot matures into something quite scrawny. With greats on board like William Hurt and Tim Roth, it's especially disappointing that these characters never get a chance to stretch and flex their skills. Norton obviously gets most of the space to show his emotional dexterity, and does so in fine fashion. More fitting than Eric Bana, Norton's turn as Bruce Banner is spot-on, effectively portraying the mousey, pragmatic scientist conflicted with and haunted by the destructive force inside him. Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, on the other hand, is one of the film's weakest elements. Both in her recent role in The Strangers and here, Tyler simply proves unable in dramatic roles and steps below Jennifer Connelly's representation in Ang Lee's film. The scenes between Norton and Tyler, though attempting to generate notes of comedy and affection, come out absolutely flat.
One of the biggest questions surrounding this project was how well the Hulk would be rendered, since the likes of Lou Ferrigno's stature just won't do in this day and age and with this character. Leterrier smashingly answers that question, but as a consequence keeps the film too much at the surface. If not for the immense success of Iron Man, we might not care as much. But even if the Hulk might be green with envy, Marvel is the one that deserves the incredible moniker for scoring its second major hit and quickly becoming one of the most formidable companies in Hollywood.