The Incredible Hulk (2008)
"The Incredible Hulk" is the second of recent superhero movies starring the big green smashing giant. The first reintroduction was 2003's "The Hulk," which was directed by Ang Lee. Now, I liked Ang Lee's stylistically daring and narrative approach to retelling the story of the Hulk. Too bad nobody else did, hence it's reason for tanking at the box office. So, now we have "The Incredible Hulk" that's not so much a sequel as it is yet another reintroduction to satisfy those who didn't get enough of the Hulk smashing stuff last time around. For them, this is the ideal superhero movie starring the Hulk. For everybody else, it's passable entertainment.
Remember how "Iron Man" didn't feel like a superhero movie? Well, "The Incredible Hulk" sure does. But then again, maybe it was intentional to go the more traditional route because unlike its partner and predecessor, this one's definitely a straightforward superhero movie. There's not much of an intriguingly complex plot here because it basically boils down to the Hulk facing off against a clear-cut nemesis on three different occasions. The movie opens with introductory credits showing a series of images to quickly explain how Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) got infected by gamma radiation. This brushing over of the entire Hulk back story allows Lee's 2003 version to be simply erased from memory. The new version skips over all the interesting stuff, and we first join Banner in South America as he's still running from the military.
Banner is trying to keep a low profile, but a mishap at a factory alerts General Ross (William Hurt) of Banner's location. A tactical team led by a man by the name of Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) goes into capture Banner, and after so many days without incident, they see the Hulk for the first time. Banner breaks away, though, and the chase leads them all back to the United States where Banner reunites with his former love, Betty Rose (Liv Tyler). In the 2003 version, Betty Rose was appalled at her father, the general, for trying to use Banner for his power to create an army of super Hulk creatures. Here, she's still upset with him, but much less time is devoted to any emotional resonance. In both movies, too, Banner and Rose are in love but are unable to show it. Here, though, the relationship feels so much less sincere, and we feel no attachment or connection to these two people.
I'm still stuck on the issue that maybe Edward Norton wasn't the best choice to play the man who transforms into the big, hulking beast. Eric Bana perfectly played the tortured soul, while Norton seems to only skim the surface. I know that he's a good actor, so it just feels like here he wasn't even trying. Jennifer Connelly played a much better Betty Rose than Liv Tyler who is surprisingly awkward throughout. It makes the sense of affection between the two of them entirely lifeless. Tim Roth plays a fine villain even if that really only involves a lot of sneering. William Hurt, though, is oddly bland for a man hunting down the Hulk. It's funny that Robert Downey Jr. appears for a 30 second cameo and steals the whole show.
Louis Leterrier, director of the "Transporter" movies, decided to take the action-packed route, so it's a good thing these action sequences are persistently thrilling. The sequences involve a lot of military men unloading rounds of automatic weapons into the raging giant. It all builds up to a final encounter between the Hulk and Blonsky, who gets injected with the same Hulk juices and becomes even more of a monstrosity. The two of them duke it out in the streets of New York, and this final climactic brawl certainly delivers. But there's no real motive for the brawl because we still aren't even sure if that's really Bruce Banner behind those glaring green eyes. There's a disconnection between Bruce Banner and the Hulk even apart from the fact of them having zero resemblance to each another. The movie lacks that psychological drama of a man opposite his superhero counterpart, and the continuities between Banner and the green giant are distractingly minuscule.
The special effects are, well, good. Obviously a lot of time and care went into making the Hulk look as realistic as a giant green man possibly can. He's no longer the same bright green and is substituted this time with a grayer green tinge. It feels like this Marvel outing is more for the fans than anything. There are cameos made by both Lou Ferrigno and Stan Lee. Ferrigno's voice is even used for the Hulk himself, and during one point he shouts out, "Hulk smash!" The movie's ending and surprise cameo suggests there's some sort of Marvel superhero collaboration in the making. More so, though, it suggests what a resounding success "Iron Man 2" will be. This reinvention of the Hulk offers, like its lurking protagonist, big, dumb, violent excitement. It probably wasn't the best idea to end with that clever cameo by Tony Stark, though, because then viewers sit there realizing how less fun, less sophisticated, and less witty "The Incredible Hulk" is and how much better "Iron Man" was.