Once upon a time, Ang Lee directed a film about a giant green man who had anger management problems and liked so smash things up. The powers that be, along with a large number of fans didn’t think the movie was up to scratch. They complained and complained and the large green man’s opus disappeared into obscurity and the cast and crew who brought the green man to life were dropped from any subsequent film about the character. Five years later, a new director, and a new cast came along and the green man was resurrected in an attempt to reboot the ailing franchise. And thus, in 2008, The Incredible Hulk was unleashed.
The Incredible Hulk pretty much picks up where the last film left off, without making any reference to it’s predecessor. In the credits sequence, we’re given a very light version of how Bruce Banner’s gamma ray experiment went horribly wrong and turned him into the mutating green Hulk. We see how he went on the run and General Ross, the father of Banner’s love began the odyssey to find Banner. We’re then transported to Brazil where Banner is working for a bottling plant while in his spare time he searches for a cure for his Hulk infection. After a freak accident, General Ross learns of Banner’s location and sends a squad of soldiers led by somewhat mad soldier Emil Blonsky to bring Banner in. After it all goes horribly wrong, Ross attempts to create a super-soldier using all-too-willing Blonsky as a guinea pig. But Blonsky becomes addicted to the serum and eventually turns into Abomination, whom only the Hulk has the power to stop.
I have to admit, I’m one of the few who really enjoyed Ang Lee’s version of the Hulk story. I will admit, it did have it’s problems. Eric Banna was a little too dashing to play Bruce Banner. The Hulk’s nemesis in that film was a little far out in terms of the usual super-hero villain. But aside from those minor quibbles, I thought Hulk was a massive and quite refreshing departure from the usual comic-book fare. So when I heard of Louis Leterrier’s reboot of the franchise, I was a little surprised. And having watched the film, it’s clear that Marvel pretty much wanted to ‘make up’ to the fans of the Hulk for the lack of action in the first film. So what we get in The Incredible Hulk is a film that is basically a bunch of action sequences tied tenuously together with a very thin story. In terms of story, the most interesting moment for me lies in the last few moments. A character from a recently released Marvel adaptation steps into this film and begins to tie a number of franchises together. While, for me it’s no Batman and Superman teaming up, it’s still a moment you can’t help grinning at. Especially if you know exactly where all these little moments are going.
What makes Bruce Banner/Hulk such an interesting character is his relationship to anger. His attempt to control this rage inside him and how it overcomes him and unleashes this Hyde-like character. The unfortunate thing with The Incredible Hulk is that this side of the story is only lightly touched upon. We have some interesting moments at the beginning of the film where we see Banner learning techniques to control his anger through breathing. We see him use... a watch to monitor his heart rate. Not exactly Shakespeare, but it carries the idea across. But once the first confrontation happens, everything else takes back seat to getting to the action sequences. In fact, you wouldn’t find yourself lost if you fast forwarded through the moments in between the set pieces to get to the next fight.
As for the fights themselves. Well, they’re quite impressive. There’s plenty of smashing, destroying and demolishing to keep the audience entertained. The fight in campus is more amusing than exciting as the military start with pistols and as things keep failing to bring the Hulk down, Ross just orders in bigger and bigger guns. The most interesting moment in this confrontation is between Hulk and Blonsky who’s been injected with the serum giving him super speed and agility, but keeping him human. Seeing more of this would have been great. Where the action does fall down, however, is in terms of special effects. Here, the film does seem to suffer. When the action with the Hulk kicks in, the film starts to look way too much like a cut-scene from a computer game. It’s not just that the Hulk looks way too CGI. It’s that everything, the Hulk, his environment, it all just looks too out of place within the rest of the film. One scene, featuring the Hulk and Betty Ross is more impressive than the others, but you still feel like every time the camera focuses on the Hulk, you’re looking at a cartoon. The design in Lee’s Hulk was just that bit better. It seemed less cartooney, more real and looked a helluva lot more like the Banner of that film than this Hulk does of Edward Norton. Once Norton changes into the Hulk, there is nothing of a resemblance between the two sides of the same character.
The cast is perfectly adequate for their roles. The stand out performances are from William Hurt as General Ross and Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky. Maybe it’s because villains get the juiciest roles that these actors seem to be streets ahead of everyone else. But Hurt and Roth are both excellent actors and are certainly relishing playing the bad guys. Edward Norton does a good enough job as Bruce Banner. Unfortunately, due to the script, written by Zak Penn who wrote the excellent X-Men 2 and the truly awful X-Men: The Last Stand, Fantastic Four and Elektra, Norton isn’t given much to do. He looks melancholy when secretly watching Betty Ross. And he looks fearful in the moment before Hulking out. But other than this, he’s not got much else to do other than furrow his brow in concentration when on a computer. Having seen Norton excel in a role that could be seen as similar to the Hulk in Fight Club, it’s a missed opportunity not to give Norton more to do. But then, the script is very flimsy.
Leterrier’s direction is adequate. During some of the action sequences, everything moves so fast and frenetically, that you wish things would just be a little clearer. But this is a minor quibble. It’s no Transformers, believe me. The Incredible Hulk is something of a quandary. For many people, it will be a vastly superior film to Ang Lee’s Hulk due to the injection of plenty of fight sequences. And for others, the lack of substance to the script will be a major flaw. If you could combine Lee’s depth of story to Leterrier’s action, you’d have something really special. But for now, The Incredible Hulk is entertaining, but nothing to get particularly excited about.