(c) 2008 Ray Wong
Ang Lee’s Hulk did okay business but enraged the die-hard fan boys for deviating too much from the comic book in terms of style and story. That may have deterred Marvel, but no one can stop the Hulk. The studio reboots the franchise by completely recast and refocus on what makes the Hulk tick.
Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is in a self-imposed exile in Brazil trying to find a cure to his problem. He tries everything from anger management to martial arts to corresponding with an anonymous man, Mr. Blue, who may be able to help him. Meanwhile, he’s trying to lay low and avoid the US military, led by General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt). When Ross comes for him, Banner can’t control the Hulk within him anymore. After he escapes, he knows he has to go home to find the data to get his cure.
He meets Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) again since he needs her help to locate the data he needs. Betty is now dating Dr. Samson (Ty Burrell). Ross, on the other hand, agrees to inject one of his star fighters, Blonsky (Tim Roth) with a secret gamma-poison they harvested/developed from Banner’s experiments. Blonsky begins to gain superhuman strengths. They catch up with Banner but the Hulk remains too strong for them.
Banner sets out with Betty to New York City to find Mr. Blue, who turns out to be Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson). Sterns discovers an antidote for Banner but they have no idea what kind of effects it has. Meanwhile, Blonsky’s obsession with his super power makes him do the unthinkable.
Edward Norton (The Painted Veil) is one of the best dramatic actors of our generation, and it’s great to see him in a popcorn movie such as The Incredible Hulk. What Norton brings to the role is respectability. The actor’s portrayal is more in tune with Dr. Banner in the 70s TV show. He’s lonely, sad, vulnerable, scared, but determined to finding a “fix.” He loves Betty but he’s resigned to the idea that he can never be with her again, for her own protection. Norton’s tremendous talent adds to the characterization of one of the most beloved characters. I really enjoy his Bruce Banner.
Liv Tyler (The Strangers) is sweet and soft and tender as Betty Ross. One can hardly believe she’s a cellular biologist, but her role is mainly a romantic one. Her scenes with Norton are tender and sad. They look and feel good together as a tormented couple. William Hurt (Vantage Point) is very good as General Ross – he has that hard edge and cynicism to pull it off. His character is driven by ambition but at the same time, you do feel that he’s genuinely protective with his daughter. Tim Roth (Virgin Territory) plays Blonsky with a lot grunts and veins. His character is the least developed, I think, and his aggression is someone superficial. That makes his villain a bit bland (although the superhuman stuff is really cool).
Supporting roles include Tim Blake Nelson (The Astronaut Farmer) as Samuel Sterns, who gives a credible performance as the geeked-out biologist, and Ty Burrell (National Treasure) as Dr. Samson. Several amusing cameos include Lou Ferrigno (Hulk) as a security guard and Stan Lee as an unfortunate man who gets in contact with Banner’s tainted blood. Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) also makes a well-publicized appearance as Tony Stark.
Written by Zak Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand), the script is straightforward, picking up where Ang Lee’s left off (starting with Banner in exile) and continue the self-discovery arc, culminating in a crowd-pleasing finale and a teaser before the credits roll. Don’t expect Shakespeare here, but the story has enough pathos and cynicism to make it work. The plot is very straightforward as well, and should please the fan boys. While the actions are fast and loud, the quieter moments, especially between Banner and Betty, are very good and they make us care about the character. The script is tight without too many plot holes, which is a pleasure considering the genre.
Director Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2) keeps the pace fast and tight. The film can be described as Bourne Identity meets The Fugitive meets Beauty and the Beast. There’s great energy in the camera movements and composition but without the shaky cam that is the staple of the Bourne series. The special effects are general excellent. While the Hulk remains similar to Ang Lee’s vision, they’ve done some good work on him – he looks less CGI and waxy, with more realistic facial expressions. They’ve also altered the Hulk’s face slightly to better resemble Edward Norton. In comparison, the design of “Abomination” is a bit cheesy. The climactic fight is a bit drawn-out, but well executed.
Overall, it is a satisfying “reboot” that will please fans. The general public may get the kick out of a familiar character. The film is very entertaining and at times even poignant. I still like Ang Lee’s version (except the last act), but this one is very good in its own right. It’s by no means incredible, but certainly it’s worth the ticket cost.
Stars: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writer: Zak Penn
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content
Running Time: 114 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound - 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.6 out of 10