12 June 2008
The Incredible Hulk
Banish all thoughts of Hulk, Ang Lee's somber, laborious 2003 feature. The Incredible Hulk, which comes from an unlikely source (Transporter 2 director Louis Leterrier), follows Iron Man as this year's second great comic book movie.
An opening montage—depicting the experiment gone wrong that causes Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) to transform into the massive, green-skinned Hulk when angered and the U.S. military's dogged pursuit of him—makes watching the earlier film unnecessary.
The action picks up several years later, with Banner in hiding in Brazil. Back home, Gen. Ross (William Hurt), the father of Banner's true love, Betty (Liv Tyler), has never given up the hunt. He wants to turn what happened to Banner into a weapon. An accident in a warehouse helps the general trace Banner to South America, to which he travels with a band of goons led by the over-eager Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth).
The movie essentially is an extended chase, as Banner finds his way back to Betty in America to continue his search for a cure and the military always nipping at his heels. Leterrier nails the tone—dark and serious when it needs to be, but unafraid to slide in a few laughs from time to time. Banner's butchering of a signature line when he tries it in Portuguese is a hoot. It's a fun movie, which you cannot say for Ang Lee's interpretation even if you are fan of it.
The director also wisely keeps the Hulk shrouded in shadow initially. In fact, most of the first action sequence is a Bourne-like chase through a Brazilian city and features Banner rather than the Hulk. Later, when Leterrier unleashes the Hulk's full fury, we see the effects have improved dramatically since 2003. The Hulk has a texture unlike anything we saw in the first movie. It often feels like you're looking at something that's really there instead of a computer creation.
Norton's dark, brooding take on Banner differs little from Eric Bana's five years ago. The key is that the script, credited to Norton and Zak Penn, who had a hand in the latter two X-Men movies, does not dwell on it. It provides enough character material to give the movie substance, then focuses primarily on the action. Rumor has it that Norton edited a longer, more character-driven version of the film. Leterrier's cut, though, works just fine, propelled by a momentum that keeps building, even in the final scene when a certain actor verily steals the movie with a cameo.
Marvel Comics, which started financing its own movies with Iron Man, is now two-for-two, with a gargantuan stable of characters and a slew of projects in development. Bring 'em on.
(Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images and brief suggestive content. 114 minutes.)