Directed by Louis Letterier
“The Incredible Hulk” isn’t as much a sequel as a completely different take on the character which makes it hard to explain the opening credits that feature a jarring flashback recapping the origin story with all of the new cast. It’s doubtful anyone seeing this movie won’t be familiar with the Hulk’s basic premise and origin but if not, good luck explaining that opening sequence to them.
Now, Ed Norton’s Bruce Banner has settled into the favelas of Brazil, trying desperately to control his temper and find a cure so he won’t change back into the Hulk. He’s been doing well, even working at a bottling plant while he tries to find a cure along with a mysterious online confidant known as Mr. Blue–a great nod to Bruce Jones’ run on the book–that is, until he’s found by General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), who has enlisted the aid of Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a mercenary who starts juicing up with serums to make himself powerful enough to fight the rampaging monster with whom he’s become obsessed.
As promised, the film harks back to the television show, sometimes to a fault, because the show was more about Banner’s journey to find a cure and the people he met along the way, rather than being about the action. In this case, the film alternates between Banner reconnecting with his ex-girlfriend, scientist Dr. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), and General Ross’ meeting with Blonsky to enhance his abilities. (Anabolic steroids have nothing on the “super soldier” process Blonsky undertakes.)
Fortunately, Letterier is an experienced action director and the scenes of Hulk taking on the military–the strongest aspects of the previous film–are even more exciting this time around, as is the Bourne-like chase through the favelas early in the movie. The first appearance by the Hulk is in the shadows while facing Blonsky and his men, but we soon get to see him in the daylight so it doesn’t feel like Letterier is cheating in creating a CG Hulk. The Hulk looks far more realistic here, especially in scenes where he interacts with other human characters, due to the facial performance capture techniques used which allows the monster to be far more expressive and emotional. One particularly moving scene involves Betty and the Hulk that’s reminiscent of “Frankenstein” (the original inspiration for The Hulk) or a similar scene in Peter Jackson’s “King Kong.”
Much like with previous superhero movies (at least the better ones) what works in “The Incredible Hulk” can often be attributed to the exemplary casting of Edward Norton as Banner, who is like night and day to Eric Bana, his obvious experience as an actor producing a more convincing portrait of a man on the run trying to regain control over his inner demons. Likewise, William Hurt looks and acts the part of Thunderbolt Ross, burying himself in the role to the point of being unrecognizable, and Roth gives a solid performance as Blonsky, even though the character has little to do with the comic book version.
Liv Tyler doesn’t quite stack up to the confidence-exuding Betty Ross played by Jennifer Connelly in Ang Lee’s movie, even though there’s some fine chemistry between her and Norton that allows for a few funny moments. Roughly two-thirds of the way through the film, they travel to New York to consult with genetics professor Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) who is more excited about using Bruce as a guinea pig for his own experiments than to help cure him, and he plays a bigger role in the realization of one of the Hulk’s primary bad guys.
Except for his scale and reptilian exterior, the Abomination is almost unrecognizable from his comic book counterpart and his foreshadowed battle against the Hulk is sadly anti-climactic, because watching two CG creatures battling on the rooftops of New York makes it far too obvious you’re watching CG. That part of the movie is more like the weaker CG moments of the “Spider-Man” movies or “Ghost Rider,” not abysmal but definitely less believable than earlier scenes, and the typical awkwardness of super-powered opponents kibbitzing mid-battle is exacerbated by the monstrous appearance of the combatants.
Not feeling quite as natural as “Iron Man,” Zak Penn’s script (with an uncredited rewrite by Norton himself) is more in line with other fully-scripted superhero movies. It tries to be more cinematic, but other than a few scattered gags, this is a far more serious movie filled with lots of drama, pathos and brooding, much of which slows the movie down. In essence, there are only three big action sequences, all involving the Hulk fighting Blonsky or his alter ego in some fashion or form, and then a lot of patient waiting until the next one.
The score by Craig Armstrong is musically competent but often overbearing, filled with sweeping strings to stir up emotion. Most of the people seeing this movie, especially comic book and action fans, will probably be seeing this more for the “Hulk Smash!” stuff and less for the romance between Banner and Ross.
Staying in line with Marvel’s new hands-on approach to filmmaking, there are a few fun Easter eggs for the Marvel Zombies, as well as the groundwork being lain for another key Hulk villain, one that shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. Otherwise, it’s hard not to feel like the best parts of the movie were in the trailer and the clips already unveiled, making the plot predictable with very few real surprises. Even the cameo by Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark to build on the “secret scene” in “Iron Man” to set up “The Avengers” isn’t nearly as fun once you know it’s coming, though it does guarantee that everyone will leave the movie on a positive note despite the earlier problems.
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