Louis Leterrier’s ‘The Incredible Hulk’ was going to inevitably draw comparisons to Ang Lee’s 2003 ‘Hulk.’ Only 5 years have passed since we had our first major outing with the character. For me, this was an interesting opportunity to have another look at Marvel Comics’ big green monster. These two films are almost like two separate theses on the character. Ang Lee’s explored anger and parental abandoning, letting the subtext and layers that were hidden beneath the glossy pages of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s texts flourish on the big screen. It also left a bad taste in the mouths of many (or possibly most) viewers. Marvel Productions stepped up and decided to do a “reboot” of the franchise that, thanks to the advertising blitz that fell before the release of the film, became clear that they wanted to let Lee’s take on Hulk stand as a one off and appease fans more with Hulk smashing.
‘The Incredible Hulk’ is clearly rooted and somewhat of an homage to the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferigno television series. Edward Norton stars as Bruce Banner, who is hiding from the authorities and somewhat from himself in Brazil. The film does a quick recap of the accident that gave Bruce his burden during the opening credits, probably assuming that if you don’t know the story of the Hulk, you’re probably not sitting in the theater anyways. Bruce is working in a bottling plant and is trying various means to keep his anger in check and his blood pressure down. It turns out that if Banner’s blood pressure passes 200 (measured by a sports-watch monitor), well, game over man. Banner’s whereabouts are discovered by General Ross, a military man who wants to replicate Banner’s condition to create super-soldiers (which leads to an interesting hint at an upcoming ‘Captain America’ film) and uses one of the military’s special ops men, Emil Blonsky to take on Banner’s alter-ego after injecting him with a preliminary super-soldier serum. Things are set in motion and the film unfolds as a run-and-hide plot that leads to various Hulk-outs.
And what about those Hulk-outs? Well, Hulk smash. When the big green dude shows up, its to take down whoever and whatever is pissing him off/standing in his way. I’m glad Leterrier noted the fact that Hulk just wanted to take down whatever was in his way. Not in the sense that he was just out breaking stuff, but more that Hulk was a cornered animal who decided that gnashing his teeth and tearing through whatever threatened him was the only way to safety. And action lovers who were disappointed with Hulk’s outing a few years back will be pleased. While there are really only three Hulk scenes (four if you count the opening credits montage), they’re there and they deliver. But here’s where I was a little disappointed: the transition from Banner to Hulk. Banner’s heart-rate went up and it was clear that Hulk was inevitable, but we never got the sense that Banner was angry. He was usually just in a frantic situation and suddenly his eyes were green. And lost in that was the fact that, while Bruce tries to deny it for most of the movie, Banner and Hulk are the same person. ‘The Incredible Hulk’ almost sets these two up to be different characters and we lose the idea that, ultimately, Hulk is that anger inside each of us that, in Banner’s case, has a magnificent boil-over.
But in terms of a fun action flick, Marvel has scored another winner. This isn’t the out of the park home-run that was ‘Iron Man’ (although I did get a slight tingle when Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark had a cameo at the end of ‘The Incredible Hulk’) but ‘The Incredible Hulk’ is a solid triple in its popcorn flick performance. People who thought Lee’s 2003 interpretation was a little too cerebral will be pleased that most of that is left behind and replaced with smash. But for me, it would have been nice to show that comic book and their films can be more than summer fare. ‘The Incredible Hulk’ had potential to be great but ultimately was just good. Not a condemnation by any stretch of the imagination, but I know there’s a better Hulk film lying on the editing room floor right now. Hopefully the DVD release will fully show the anger that dwells within.