The Incredible Hulk - **1/2
A few years ago, Ang Lee directed what may possibly be the world’s first Sam Shepard-esque superhero movie, “The Hulk,” starring Eric Bana as Bruce Banner/The Hulk and Nick Nolte as his father/enemy. It was filled with lots of angst and turmoil (and a not-so-convincing computer-generated Hulk), and not surprisingly, it tanked.
But Marvel insisted on re-booting the potential franchise, and here comes “The Incredible Hulk,” starring angst-ridden Edward Norton. From the get-go, you can tell that this time, Marvel wants to get it right.
The film is a lean (sometimes too lean), mean fighting machine. The credit sequence gives us a brief recap of how Bruce Banner became the Hulk in a gamma-ray experiment gone wrong. It also sets up the premise of the 70’s-era TV version of the story – how Bruce must wander the planet, staying one step ahead of the bad guys while he searches desperately for a cure to the malady that turns him into a huge green monster every time his heart rate gets too high. (Be sure to look quickly for the shout-out to Bill Bixby, who played Banner in the show, and for Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk.)
The story begins in Brazil, where Banner has been hiding out, working in a soda-bottling factory and practicing breathing techniques that will allow him to calm himself before he gets out of control. He’s helped out by wearing a heart-rate monitor on his wrist that alerts him any time he gets too worked-up. After an incident involving a drop of his blood infecting a bottle of soda and the aftermath, the US Army (led by the ham-tastic William Hurt) is alerted to Banner’s whereabouts and, with a top-notch assassin (Tim Roth) in tow, they’re off to catch him.
What follows is the first of many loud and spectacular chase scenes, usually culminating in Norton undergoing his transformation into the rampaging Hulk. The Hulk is, again, computer generated, but the technology has advanced enough to give him a “bit” more believability. I say a “bit” because this is the central problem with the movie. It’s hard to care about what you know is computer character (it’s going to be difficult to ever top Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” films in that department).
Before long, Banner makes his way back to the states and into the arms of his old scientist girlfriend, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, who has little more to do than fret while the menfolk take care of business), who just happens to be William Hurt’s daughter.
Along the way, Tim Roth gets his own blast of gamma-rays in an effort to meet the Hulk on his own terms, and the film culminates in a face-off between the two of them.
I don’t know about you, but the second I start seeing two computer generated characters start fighting against each other in a live-action film, I start to check-out. The absence of real live actors defuses any sense of danger or emotion and the stakes are pulled out from under the situation.
The film moves quickly and has a really good B-movie sense about it. It cuts right to the chases and explosions, often to the detriment of the plot and character development. I know there are plenty of scenes on the cutting room floor. Based on some of the dialogue that made the cut, we’re probably not missing much. Word on the street is that Edward Norton insisted on re-writing much of the script. Stick to acting, Ed. You’re much better at that.
“The Hulk” is a perfectly acceptable time-waster for a hot summer day, but with all the choices out there right now, I’d probably choose something else if I were you.
The Incredible Hulk – Dir: Louis Letterier; Scr: Zak Penn; Stars: Edward Norton, William Hurt, Tim Roth, Liv Tyler. Rated PG-13