Director: Louis Leterrier
Writer: Zak Penn
Release Date: June 13, 2008 (USA)
Riding the wave of success created by Iron Man, Marvel has just released their second summer superhero movie of 2008, The Incredible Hulk. After the disaster known as Hulk from 2003, Marvel went back to the drawing board for this ďsequel,Ē overhauling the franchise and planning for better results the second time around. Thankfully for the comic book faithful, or anyone looking for a fun popcorn flick, The Incredible Hulk is far superior to its predecessor.
Perhaps the most notable change from the first Hulk film is the casting of Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner, the scientist who transforms into the Hulk. Itís no secret that Norton is a talented and respected A-lister in Hollywood, and he brings sincerity to his role as a hunted man only looking for a way out. Physically, his slight build and unassuming features fit the comic book image of Banner, but if there's one aspect of the character that's missing on-screen, itís Bannerís extreme intellect. Bruce Banner is a certifiable genius, and it would have been ideal to have some glimpses of that character feature; think of technological genius Tony Stark in Iron Man casually assembling a hotrod or running through the process of building a high-tech suit of armor and youíll understand what I'm referring to. One aspect of Banner's mind that's surprising to find are the Hulk flashbacks the character receives soon after his transformations; from the beginning we realize the man wants to rid himself of the monster inside, but fearful flashbacks, yet another consequence, give a depth to Banner that help us sympathize with him further.
Liv Tyler plays Bannerís close friend and romantic interest Betty Ross. Though Tyler does fit the mold of a comic book heroine, her interactions with Norton are not so engaging. Iím not sure whether to point the finger at the writers or the actress, but I doubt most people are going to highly value the love story found here. William Hurt as General Thunderbolt Ross fits the look and attitude of his comic book counterpart, but the character is as flat as I remember him in the comic book Ė hereís another virile military leader who doesnít realize heís being a fool until well after the audience has already jumped to the same conclusion. Like I said, I like the casting of Norton as the Hulk, but itís Tim Roth I was looking forward to watching. Roth has been a personal favorite of mine since first finding him in Reservoir Dogs, and his role as agent Emil Blonsky is one of the strongest aspects of The Incredible Hulk. Looking back, Iíd much rather have seen more Banner/Blonsky interactions than Banner/Betty.
Continuing the casting commentary, the big green star of the movie looks considerably different than audiences remember him on-screen. Heís smaller in frame than in Hulk (though still massive compared to humans), and he is given more realistic and detailed physical features; this time around he doesnít look as much a cartoon set against real-life backgrounds. Heís also more vulnerable to physical harm, which is a smart way to curb the blandness that an unstoppable hero comes along with. If only Hulk didnít maintain those hyper-colored green eyes. Yes Marvel, we realize green is his color Ė no need to beat us over the heads with it.
As far as the story, Iíve covered most of what works and what doesnít. If youíve seen the trailer (or, of course, the movie) you already know what to expect; there arenít any big curve balls here. But, I will say that the start and the end of the movie, the bookends, are the most entertaining. The introduction is perhaps not what you would expect in that it finds Banner out of his element and under control, a good choice in initial development for his character. And if you were disappointed in the lackluster final battle in Iron Man, youíll be pleasantly surprised with the final showdown in The Incredible Hulk. The battle is given ample screen time, and hollering out while the Hulk and his adversary pummel each other is to be expected. The movie also scores major points for showing off some of Hulkís trademark moves, the same youíd find in a Hulk comic book.
The Incredible Hulk is a fine starting point for a new franchise. Though at times I was taken out of the experience by glimpses into other movies (namely King Kong and later Cloverfield), this is solid groundwork to begin building on Ė the references to future franchise heroes and villains are more than welcome. It looks like Marvel is finally getting its house in order.