The re-whatevering of Hulk could have easily been one of the most cynical things done in the history of recent cinema, and believe me, there’s a lot of competition for that title. Ang Lee’s film was an impressive work and I’ve already outlined my reasons why I think so, but I guess in the broader sense, an artistic and introspective examination of the Hulk mythology didn’t fit in with the overall plans of Marvel Studios. Fortunately, The Incredible Hulk offers something new while not reneging on Lee’s film and treating it like some redheaded stepchild like, say, Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four. It’s not a perfect film, but it is most satisfactory.
This time Bruce Banner is played by Edward Norton, who brings a great deal more inner turmoil to the part than last Banner Eric Bana. In South America, Banner works in a factory and keeps his head down while trying to keep his inner peace and trading e-mail Hulk-cures with the mysterious Mr. Blue. But Banner’s past catches up with him as General Ross (William Hurt) sends in the marines to retrieve him. On the run again, Banner turns to ex-girlfriend Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) to help him reach Mr. Blue and his cure. Meanwhile, Gen. Ross recruits Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) for an experiment where he’s given some of the Banner’s DNA in the hopes of creating a way to capture the Hulk.
It’s a pretty simple set-up, but one in keeping with the both the TV and comics origin of mean, old Mr. Green. “Leave me alone,” yells the Hulk to his army pursuers. A frequent repose for the monster in the comics; he’s always being pursued while always trying to find a way to be left in peace. The irony of the thing is that the one is contradictory with the other; he can’t be left alone because they’re always after him, which releases the Hulk in anger. Director Louis Leterrier indicates a strong love and regard for the Hulk in all his forms, taking inspirations from the comics for fight scenes while using “The Lonely Man” theme from the TV series to illustrate Banner’s isolation as a fugitive.
The effects have also improved in this one, Hulk seems much more emotional and complex, in other words: realistic. He’s more of a full-bodied character in this film and not some mindless id in torn purple pants. Unfortunately though Blonsky’s Abomination, I don’t think, is developed that well. One really doesn’t make the connection of Abomination as the evil Hulk and there’s really no adversarial relationship developed between the two characters either. The fight is kind of stagnant – great to look at, but there isn’t really any gravitas. There’s still something kind of hollow about seeing CGI monsters wail on each other.
On the other hand, the human actors are allowed to shine through all the production design. Norton does good Banner, but something tells me that a lot of his best stuff lies on the cutting room floor for later inclusion on the DVD. He gets the job done, and he’s certainly an improvement on Bana, but I think I was just expecting a little bit more. Hurt manages to be an effective replacement for previous General Ross, Sam Elliott. He comes right close to scenery chewing, but manages to rein it in to the right levels. Roth pretty much just snarl and sneers as Blonsky, but then again, he wasn’t given a lot to work with in the first place.
What the film does very well is stand alone as an action/monster movie the re-energizes the franchise and leaves it open to go to other places. A timely appearance from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) implies that there are big plans for the Hulk in keeping with the Avengers movie three years hence. It’s a neat thing the way they’re tying together the Marvel continuity between the various pictures, but while that’s somewhat easy to accomplish with the comics, it remains to be seen how they co-ordinate all this with the literally hundreds of people that have their hands in all of these films.
Still, whatever the future may hold, The Incredible Hulk, despite its faults, is a very satisfactory film where the whole is better than the parts. I’m anxious to see Leterrier and Norton’s preferred extended cut, but I don’t think that anyone will begrudge this film as having lost anything substantial in the editing. Certainly it should be the summer crowd pleaser the money guys are looking for.