Though some moviegoers still admire Ang Lee’s cinematic treatment of “The Hulk” in his 2003 film, it turned out to be a relative bust for fans and nonfans alike. It was too brooding, too cerebral and annoyingly top-heavy.
Lee is the perfect director for a movie like his subsequent “Brokeback Mountain,” but one might also conclude that comic book stories deserve comic book treatments from artists not wedded to philosophical or psychological notions and meanderings.
If you agree with that formula and especially if you are a fan of “The Hulk” and Marvel Comics in general, shout out one big “Hooray” for “The Incredible Hulk,” which is not, I must emphasize, a sequel to the Lee film. As directed by Louis Leterrier, who was at the helm of both “Transporters,” this is the film adventure that should have been made in the first place.
It is bold, streamlined, and except for a few poetic sequences, it is action-packed. It is also relatively short, coming in at less than two hours. Nostalgic Marvel fans, who take these things seriously, will go bonkers, while kids will have a good time, especially when Bruce Banner’s heart rate rises to the point where he just cannot control his gamma-induced explosion into a fierce, furious, and humongous force of green destruction.
’The Incredible Hulk’
DIRECTED BY Louis Leterrier
SCREENPLAY BY Zak Penn
STARRING Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth and Tim Blake Nelson
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
Once activated, the Hulk roars with the thoracic gusto of a Lou Ferrigno, the original TV Hulk, who not only supplies the Hulk’s voice but appears in a cameo. So do Bill Bixby and Marvel creator Stan Lee. It culminates in a titanic battle between a reconstituted Hulk and his new enemy, another aberration morphed from the body of a military officer played by Tim Roth.
If there is a villain here, it is the military, as personified by Gen. “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt). His sole, insatiable desire is to capture Dr. Bruce Banner, whose mutated genes contain the force no military machine can tear asunder. No matter that he has alienated his own daughter, cellular biologist Dr. Betsy Ross (Liv Tyler), in love with Bruce and searching for a cure to restore her true love into a regular fellow.
Alas, perhaps thinking of a showdown in the Middle East, the Strangelovian general will not quell his monstrous quest; things will get out of hand, and even at the movie’s end, there is still work to be done — a promise of a certain sequel, this one sure to combine the forces of the Hulk and Iron Man. (Yes, in the epilogue, you will meet a surprise guest.)
Bruce Banner is played nicely by Edward Norton, who has that requisite cool composure functioning as a perfect contrast to the boiling biliousness that erupts when his rebellious genes are cruelly provoked. This despite lessons in Brazilian jujitsu and meditation, for it is in Brazil where we first meet the fugitive from the U.S. Army working in a soda factory.
Before the movie ends, we are transported to Chiapas; Arlington, Va.; and to Manhattan. It is in Harlem in front of the famed Apollo Theater where the climactic battle takes place. From there, it’s a gentle fade to the serenity of British Columbia. But by this time, much has been unleashed, including some scientific experiments conducted by Dr. Samuel Sterns, played by Tim Blake Nelson. One suspects that in the inevitable sequel, we will see more of Dr. Sterns, whose cellular structure just might have been compromised.
This “Hulk” is not riddled with psychobabble or pretense. It is, thanks to the swift direction, Zak Penn’s economical screenplay and Norton’s performance, an efficient piece of filmmaking enhanced by a nifty musical score by Craig Armstrong. Along the way, there are brief pauses for humor (“Where does she meet these guys?” the general muses after his daughter takes home a nerdy psychologist).
We are also treated to some visual poetry. The most arresting scene of beauty arrives in a rear-angle shot in which the Hulk and Betsy sit together in a cave, staring out at the mountains.
The only time the adventure comes close to challenging its bona fide PG-13 rating occurs when Bruce and Betsy begin to make love, an action compromised by fear of Bruce’s rising heart rate. The rest is left to our imaginations.
Perhaps fittingly, “The Incredible Hulk” is not interested in exploring characters or ideas with any kind of dramatic depth. We are, after all, in the presence of stock characters; and, by the way and hello, this is based on a comic. As a movie, it is not in the same exalted class as either “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
There are, however, some neat, unobtrusive cinematic allusions reminding us in no special order of “Spider-Man,” “The Bourne Identity.” “King Kong,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “Transformers,” and in one romantic shot, “Gone With the Wind.”
Even before the climactic scene, things begin to get a bit dull (for an adult at least), but by this time, the movie is almost over. I think it is more than fair to say that this is way more enjoyable and lots more fun than the last “Hulk.” As I mentioned, this will be close to ecstasy for Hulk fans, all of whom will supply more esoteric detail than can I.
Because “The Incredible Hulk” has decent, intelligent dialogue and because it is not intent on slugging us (thank the gods) with incessant, reverberating action, I would think twice about taking kids who have trouble sitting still. On the other hand, I am looking forward to taking my 6-year-old grandson to it, along with his brothers, 8 and 10.
It’s a refreshing antidote to the terribly boring and indulgent “Transformers.”