Saturday, June 14, 2008


Following an opening credits sequence that quickly and firmly establishes this as reboot more than straight-up continuation of Ang Lee’s flawed Hulk, Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk finds the on-the-run Bruce Banner (this time played by Edward Norton) hiding out in Brazil.
Doing his darnedest to learn the language and keep his head down, he works at a bottling factory while simultaneously learning to control his anger and exploring avenues to purge himself of the not-very-jolly green giant that lurks inside him.
It’s an interesting way to kick-start this pseudo-sequel, with a very conscious nod to the character’s 70’s TV incarnation (likewise titled The Incredible Hulk), which followed the episodic template of Banner in a new town, hiding out, working some odd job or other, till some occurrence would trigger the Hulk’s emergence, and the poor man would need to uproot himself once more, till he found a new place to hang his hat 7 days later.
Acknowledging the contribution the TV show has had on the public’s awareness of the character is one of the things The Incredible Hulk gets right. In fact, the script by Zak Penn (subsequently re-tooled by Norton) seems designed to have something for everyone: that opening act for the TV fans; the romantic angle—with Liv Tyler taking over for Jennifer Connelly—for the drama enthusiasts; the repeated clashes with Emil Blonsky/the Abomination—played by Tim Roth—for the comic book fanboys.
In this, and some other aspects, The Incredible Hulk plays much better than Lee’s effort. That, however, doesn’t make it a complete success.

To its credit, the film’s main players are very nearly a solid bunch.
To begin with, Norton makes a more credible Banner than Eric Bana. Bana’s an excellent actor, don’t get me wrong, but his more conventional silver screen good looks made his take on the character seem less tortured somehow, less the character from the comic books rather than a Hollywood version of that character.
Norton’s Banner, on the other hand, seems to hearken back, not just to the comic book scientist dealt a cruel hand by fate, but again, also to the Bill Bixby TV version of the character, the eternal wanderer both out of his depth and out of place, trying to regain the peace of mind and heart that the gamma poisoning has taken away from him.
And while William Hurt makes for a passably effective—if not overwhelmingly memorable—General Ross, Tim Roth manages to make a practically one-dimensional antagonist something worth watching.

But even as Roth (and Norton, for that matter) can usually be depended upon to bring the thespic goods to the screen, Liv Tyler can sometimes be one of a film’s weak cast links; see Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Thankfully, here, she delivers just enough of what the script and role demand of her to make her Betty credible as Banner’s long-suffering true love.
Most valuable supporting player though, goes without a doubt, to Tim Blake Nelson, whose Samuel Sterns is cut from the excitable, unstable genius cloth, and who we can only hope will—should The Incredible Hulk make some green at the box office—be seen more of in a sequel (or in that seemingly impending Avengers movie).
Ty Burrell (from the Dawn of the Dead remake and the recently cancelled Back To You) though, just seems like an odd choice for Doc Samson, who we see only enough of to establish him as the man with the thankless task of having kept Betty’s heart warm while she waited for her true love to come back into her life. (And trying to imagine how Burrell will essay Samson if and when his hair should turn green somewhere down the road seems even odder…)

Now, while Lee’s Hulk took one step forward by couching the established four-colour mythos in the emotional complexity he always brings to his films, he also took it two steps backward by choosing to shoot and edit the film as if it were, in fact, a comic book movie.
What I ended up seeing was a schizophrenic film that strove to make the characters real and three-dimensional, while constantly reminding me of the source material’s two-dimensional pulp origins. It seemed to yearn to transcend the material, but at the same time displayed a superficial—and ultimately distracting—fascination with the comic medium’s narrative conventions.
Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk though, clearly embraces its comic book (and television) origins, while striving to bring to the fore the romantic relationship that has always been part and parcel of Bruce Banner’s story. It also wisely curbs any over-reaching ambitions, steering clear of the cluttered narrative landscapes of Marvel entries like Spider-Man 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand.

So, despite the film’s rhythm being less than ideal (some sequences—yes, even some of the action pieces—drag a bit), and its CGI still not quite achieving entirely realistic and convincing levels, this arguably makes for better viewing than Lee’s Hulk.
It’s also most definitely better than some of the other past Marvel cinematic fare, like Ghost Rider and Elektra, so if only for that, Marvel should be commended.
Now if only they learn to be circumspect, and not jump the gun while in the heady wake of Iron Man’s box office success (that terribly premature announcement of a 2010-2011 schedule is most definitely not being circumspect), then they stand a better chance of keeping this winning streak going.

Parting shot: Reviews of some other Marvel comic book films—including Ghost Rider, Elektra, and the Fantastic Four movies—can be found in the Archive, where reviews of Leterrier’s Danny the Dog and the Zak Penn-written Suspect Zero are also ensconced.

(The Incredible Hulk OS [design by Crew Creative Advertising] courtesy of

No comments: