Movie Review: The Incredible Hulk
By Matthew Huntley
June 19, 2008
In the indomitable (and seemingly endless) slew of Hollywood superhero movies, The Incredible Hulk is about as good as Iron Man, and for many, that's saying a lot. Both fall under the newly independent Marvel Studios banner, which obviously cares deeply about preserving its comic book franchises with quality films. They're perhaps not as grand and memorable as Superman: The Movie or Spider-Man 2 (not yet anyway), but they yearn to be.
For most Hulk fans, this 2008 version will be the first theatrical movie to do the titular hero justice. It baffles me why Ang Lee's Hulk (2003) wasn't so well-received. I actually consider it the better of the two films, but as far as stories go, the two are, in many ways, incomparable. Lee's Hulk was darker, more layered, and told a bleak story of two wounded adults coming to grips with their distant fathers - not exactly an expected plot for a comic book adaptation. The fact that Bruce Banner even turned into the Hulk seemed beside the point. It was heavy, compelling and emotional.
Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk, on the other hand, is more about action. The human story within it, while palpable, takes a back seat to the fight scenes and special effects. Bruce Banner and his alter ego spend most of the movie being chased, running away, throwing forklifts, smashing cars and fighting other mutated beings. The good thing is it's all very well done. Leterrier, whose credits include the silly but well-staged Transporter movies, is a born action director, and if The Incredible Hulk was to be about action, Leterrier is a fine choice to make it happen.
The movie's best quality is its pacing. Leterrier and editors Rick Shaine and John Wright unfold the story and action with a confident rhythm that never stalls. It flows better than the 2003 version and we leave the theater wanting more because we're so entertained instead of fatigued.
Unlike most superhero movies, the origin story this time is told during a quick montage over the opening credits. The filmmakers seem to believe audiences will already know the general Hulk story going in and don't bother with a traditional setup. It recalls classic shots from the 1970s TV series that starred Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno (both of whom make cameos).
During the opening, we see scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) experiment on himself with gamma radiation in order to test its effects on human biology enhancement. Under the jurisdiction of General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), nicknamed Thunderbolt, who wants to cultivate a team of "super soldiers," the experiment goes terribly wrong and Bruce overdoses. From here on out, whenever he gets angry, a chemical reaction transforms him into the green, monstrous (and monosyllabic) hulk. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) is Bruce's lover and the general's daughter. She's injured during the experiment that forces Bruce to leave the country.
All this is relayed, more or less, in flashback. When the present story begins, Banner is a fugitive from the U.S. government now living in Brazil. He has gone months "without an incident" and works for a soda pop factory. Desperate to find a cure for his condition, he chats online with a "Mr. Blue" for ideas on how to get the radiation out of him. To keep his cool, he practices martial arts and breathing exercises. He also wears a heart rate monitor to let him know if there's a chance "he" could break out.