The Incredible Hulk

Cast:
Edward Norton as Bruce Banner
Liv Tyler as Betty Ross
Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky
Tim Blake Nelson as Samuel Sterns
Ty Burrell as Dr. Samson
William Hurt as Gen. Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross
Christina Cabot as Major Kathleen ‘Kat’ Sparr
Peter Mensah as General Joe Greller
Lou Ferrigno as Voice of The Incredible Hulk / Security Guard
Paul Soles as Stanley
Débora Nascimento as Martina

Summary:
Come for the big green monster, stay for Edward Norton, the great Marvel Comics cameos, and the “Hulk” TV show references. This is the “Hulk” movie that audiences thought they were getting in 2003. Score 2 for Marvel Studios!

Story:
Bruce Banner is on the run in Brazil and hiding from the U.S. Military. As he attempts to cure himself and keep Gen. Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross from stealing the secret of the Hulk, Banner blends into society and learns new techniques for controlling his anger. He also gets help trying to find a cure from a mysterious online helper named ‘Mr. Blue.’

Soon enough Banner finds himself tracked down by a team of commandos led by a mercenary named Emil Blonsky. But when Blonsky witnesses firsthand the power of the Hulk, he wants that power for himself. And General Ross is more than happy to oblige.

With an enhanced Blonsky on his tail, Banner races home for one last shot at a cure. But he’ll need help from his former love Betty Ross and Mr. Blue to rid himself of the Hulk forever.

“The Incredible Hulk” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content.

What Worked:
After rumors of arguments between Norton and Marvel as well as a general lack of buzz, I wasn’t sure what to expect from “The Incredible Hulk.” Things certainly didn’t look promising. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by the final product. The film is quite entertaining and something Marvel and Co. should be quite proud of. I think this is the movie people thought they were getting with Ang Lee’s version.

One of the most satisfying things about “The Incredible Hulk” is just how tied it is to the original TV show and the Marvel Universe. It’s not so much so that non-comic fans will be distracted, but the comic and TV geeks (like myself) will find it to be a major treat. You’ll find mention of the ‘super soldier serum’, Doc Samson, Mr. McGee, Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D., and more. There are cameos by Tony Stark, Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno, and others. The Hulk does trademark things like a thunderclap hit with his hands and yelling out, “Hulk SMASH!!!” The “Lonely Man” theme from the TV show is even played a couple of times. (Not nearly enough in my opinion.) I could tell from the ooh’s and aah’s in the audience that I wasn’t the only one getting a kick out of the cameos and references.

Another major reason “The Incredible Hulk” works is Edward Norton. His performance as Bruce Banner is flawless. He’s believable as both a geeky scientist on the run and as a man on the verge of exploding with rage. He plays Banner completely straight but does, on occasion, let some humor shine through in his performance. In one scene he asks for ‘stretchy pants’. In another, he butchers “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” in Portuguese. In another scene we see his forbidden love for Betty become even more forbidden as his heart begins racing. It’s all quite fun. And it’s because he’s such a likable character that “The Incredible Hulk” is still interesting even when the Hulk isn’t on the screen. You become emotionally invested in his character so that when he’s being chased through the slums in Brazil, you’re holding your breath as he tries to get away. I don’t know what Norton contributed to the script, but his performance alone makes him an MVP.

I also really like how Louis Leterrier emphasized the ‘fugitive’ aspect of the story. This, too, hearkens back to the TV series. We see Banner trying to blend into society, meeting random people, and becoming friends with ‘the little guy’. Banner takes roles as a maintenance man, a pizza delivery guy, and other small jobs in his quest for a cure. The international setting in Brazil also helped give the movie a unique feel. Leterrier makes the most of his locations shot there.

The CGI was pretty good, too. I think they managed to give this version of the Hulk a lot of personality and a lot more facial expressions than Ang Lee’s Hulk. Sure, he still looks cartoony, but I don’t know how a 10 ft tall green monster doesn’t look cartoony. I think scaling him down in size, making him darker, and generally keeping him in the shadows helped a lot. The Hulk’s final battle with the Abomination is everything you hope it would be. As the monsters tear down the street after each other, their footfalls shake the theater. It’s a feral battle that will satisfy your inner action fan. But an earlier fight with a super soldier serum enhanced Blonsky is equally satisfying as we get a brief hint at what Captain America might be capable of doing.

This does bring up a good point – the commercials and trailers don’t ruin all the best scenes in the movie. Despite what you may have already seen, this film has some very cool stuff still left in its bag of tricks. You’ll be impressed.

What Didn’t Work:
As much as I enjoyed “The Incredible Hulk,” it did have some problems. And these were mainly ‘cheesy’ moments that could have been fixed.

The movie is quite strong for the first hour or so. They do practically everything right in that time span. Things start falling apart when Tim Blake Nelson appears on the screen. It’s at that point that things start getting a bit hokey and a bit ‘comic booky’, if you know what I mean. Nelson does some silly things and it veers from being reality based to being ‘over the top’. The story also seems to hurry up a bit too much as they rush to give Blonsky his final transformation into the Abomination monster. It didn’t feel like a natural progression of the story like everything else before it. The story quickly accelerates to the final battle and you soon forget this bump in the road, but it’s enough to knock the film down from a solid 8 out of 10 to a 7.

The supporting cast also does a pretty good job, but they could have been better. Liv Tyler is a little flat as Betty Ross. I would have liked to see a bit more life in her like in a scene where she flips out on a cab driver. That kind of passion is what Ross needs. (There’s also a bit of a plot hole as its never really discussed why she’s dating Doc Samson.) William Hurt is also rather disappointing as Gen. Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross. His character ranges from being dangerous to being incompetent to being crazy. Hurt seems to take a different approach depending on what day he’s filming. I liked Sam Elliot better.

Finally, a big ‘thanks’ to the lady sitting behind me that wouldn’t shut up during the entire movie. I feel like I already got a commentary with the theatrical viewing. Stay classy!

The Bottom Line:
I think “The Incredible Hulk” will satisfy a lot of moviegoers despite its flaws in the final half hour. Comic fans will love its faithfulness to the source material. TV fans will love the connection to the show. Men will love the action. Women will love the romance. Kids will like the big green monster. (Little kids may be freaked out… it’s a bit intense at times.) It ends up being a fun summer film well worth checking out.

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