The Incredible Hulk
Directed by Louis Leterrier
Starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, John Hurt, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson
In a cluttered summer of comic book films, the revamp of Marvel’s Hulk franchise may not be the best idea. However, this reboot has some promising things going for it. Let’s start at the beginning. The Banner/Hulk back story is cleverly covered in the opening credits. This spares the audience a tired rehash of his origins spelled out in the previous Hulk film and TV series and allows the story to hit the ground running.
The movie opens with Bruce Banner (Norton) on the lam in Brazil working to control the beast within him. He must tread carefully, however, because the relentless General Thaddeus Ross (Hurt) is leaving no stone unturned to find him. Ross’ pursuit of Banner is unrelenting. He is determined to get Banner and use his mutant abilities as a weapon. His pursuit becomes all-consuming, causing him to cast aside any relationship with his daughter Betty (Tyler).
Things get heavy when Ross calls in a super soldier named Emil Blonsky (Roth) to track the elusive Banner. Blonsky becomes so obsessed with getting Banner that he allows Ross to inject him with a super soldier serum to give him that special edge. This serum, of course, has dangerous and tragic side effects that evolve into to a dangerous mutant showdown. In true comic book style, the conflict is wrapped around the love-on-the-run back story of Bruce and Betty.
Unfortunately, after hitting the ground running, The Incredible Hulk fails to take the ball and run with it. Instead, it meanders and de-evolves — like the Hulk himself. There is terrific potential for great things in teaming Norton with an uber-intense Roth, but alas, it is a wasted opportunity. But the biggest problem that The Incredible Hulk must overcome is not the military, gamma radiation, or even Hulk’s broken heart, but the amazingly shallow storyline. Once again, we are treated to a comic book film that demeans the intelligence of the audience by throwing together a story with minimal character development. The characters drown here under an avalanche of big booms, CGI gimmickry, and impotent drama.
Poor Tim Roth — he has fallen and can’t get up. Despite being cast as a sort of Eastern-European Rambo-esque super soldier, he is stuck in a U.S. military uniform. To make it worse, he never jettisons his natural accent. His role is reduced to mugging for the camera (going Grr! a lot). The script never really defines who his character is and why he does what he does. His backstory is nonexistent but really necessary to understand his motivation and determination in getting Banner. The sad thing is that there was a great opportunity for Roth to get it all back if he had only played off his trademarked intensity to make something of the role.
Another problem is that the style of the film, suddenly and jarringly, becomes Cloverfield. The style shift is maddening and silly, climaxing with a CGI Roth trashing Harlem, grunting and groaning along the way.
Edward Norton, on the other hand, is better than expected. He plays Banner with an aura of tragedy that works on screen. He also plays Banner as a clever man of science who lives in awe and terror of what he can become. Norton is believable and watchable. Liv Tyler plays Betty Ross without being precocious or annoying. She is a realistically terrified, but compassionate, partner for Banner. The chemistry between her and Norton seems genuine and helps drive the film.
In addition to good performances from Norton and Tyler, most of the special effects work in the film. The mostly CGI transformation from Banner to Hulk comes off well most of the time. There are also some clever cameos by Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno, and even the very dead Bill Bixby. The fact that the crowning moment of the film is Robert Downey Jr.’s “Tony Stark” cameo speaks volumes as to what could have been. Downey gets the highest pop of the entire film and his short scene steals it.
Technical problems aside, the film suffers from being released between two monumentally good comic book flicks, Iron Man and Dark Knight. It is also a film that even the most strident of comic book fans are brushing aside with a sense of malaise not seen since Daredevil.
The Incredible Hulk: incrediblehulk.marvel.com