Combustible Celluloid
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With: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt, Christina Cabot, Peter Mensah, Lou Ferrigno, Paul Soles, Débora Nascimento, Stan Lee
Written by: Zak Penn, based upon comic books by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Directed by: Louis Leterrier
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content
Running Time: 114
Date: 06/06/2008

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Usually it takes four movies for superhero franchises to burn out, but apparently Ang Lee's Hulk (2003) did that in only one movie. Lee's film was resoundingly average, uneven, a bit dull, too long and a tad pompous, but it wasn't an all-out disaster. Nevertheless, an entirely new team of filmmakers and actors has re-booted ol' greenskin with The Incredible Hulk; even the title is designed to ignore the first film. I have to report that I liked this new film better than Hulk, but not as much as last month's Iron Man. The accomplished B-movie director Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2, Unleashed) speeds things up and lightens the tone, and actor Edward Norton brings more depth and range to the role than did brooding, one-note Eric Bana. But the bland screenwriter Zak Penn -- who has written some of the least interesting superhero films of recent years, including Elektra -- brings out most of the same old tricks. (Norton reportedly also worked on the screenplay, but finally wound up without a credit.) And too much CGI eclipses the humans in the third act.

The new film skips the long "origin" sequence, and instead gives us a mini-movie recap during the opening credits. Now Bruce Banner (Norton) has gone into hiding in Brazil, trying to keep a low profile, working a no-brainer job in a bottling plant and studying techniques to control his emotions. He wears a pulse monitor on his wrist and pauses for deep-breathing exercises when it reaches 150. (200 turns him into the Hulk.) He also tries to learn Portuguese, and one of the movie's funniest moments is when he tries to translate Bill Bixby's signature line from the 1978 TV series: "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." Eventually General Ross (William Hurt, a sorry replacement for Sam Elliott) finds him and sends a heavily-armed team, led by Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth). They spoil Bruce's record 180-something days without incident, although the Hulk's first onscreen rampage takes place mostly in the dark, so as to prolong our anticipation. Bruce makes his way back to the United States and finds his old girlfriend, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, taking over for Jennifer Connelly in an even trade), still carrying a torch for him. They become fugitives together, tracking down scientist Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) for help in finding a cure for Bruce's Hulk-ness. Meanwhile, the General begins injecting Emil with various experimental chemicals so that he can better face the Hulk. Emil's final injection turns him into the Abomination, and we get the big CGI showdown.

I liked the film's first two-thirds a great deal. The Brazil sequences have a life of their own, and it makes sense that Bruce would go such a warm, open-air place to find a new kind of peace. Norton creates an emotional through-line between himself and the Hulk; it seems like the same character, rather than a human and a special effect switching places. The effects are much better this time, and the Hulk is more expressive in long shots (in the first film, his face only moved in close-up). This Bruce has a wounded quality, needing help but not sure how to ask for it, and Tyler clues into this, switching into a nurturing mode; there's almost a sex scene, but Bruce's heart rate shoots up too quickly! The film's last third flags a bit; the Abomination is almost beside the point, since Bruce's main battle is with himself. I suppose you can't make a superhero movie without a supervillian, but I'd like to see someone try (or at least make the supervillains more interesting, more damaged and human, rather than just mad for power).

Otherwise, we get the expected in-jokes (one about purple pants) and cameos -- TV star Lou Ferrigno plays the voice of the Hulk and appears as a security guard -- as well as one unexpected cameo that had the audience hooting and cheering (for good reason).

DVD Details: Universal released The Incredible Hulk on a three-disc special edition DVD as well as a single disc edition; I received the single-disc for review. It comes with 14 minutes of deleted scenes and a commentary track by director Leterrier and star Tim Roth. The movie is mastered in 2.0 or 5.1 English, plus optional French and Spanish tracks (and optional subtitles).

Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise.

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