Movie review by Greg Carlson
Significantly better than Ang Lee’s tortured and torturous 2003 “Hulk,” the current re-do fixes many of its predecessor’s problems. In the end, though, the computer-generated green giant lacks the heart and soul that only a human being can provide. Sure, one could argue that the central character, when transformed into a raging, destructive behemoth, is not exactly human. Even so, the presence of a pixel-constructed monster has the drawback of never effectively interfacing with the flesh and blood actors who struggle to touch something that isn’t there or make eye contact with empty space. The newest Hulk looks better than the last one, but not by much.
While Lee’s mournful take on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s riff on “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Frankenstein,” and “King Kong” labored over the origin story, director Louis Letterier’s “The Incredible Hulk” covers that turf during the opening credits, which pay tribute to the popular 1970s television series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno (who makes yet another cameo as a security guard and provides the Hulk’s vocals). Other inside references for fan geeks pop up here and there, but Letterier mostly sticks to the basics of the summer superhero playbook, which means little introspection and lots of smashing and bashing.
Edward Norton, who reportedly clashed with powerful, suit-wearing types over the final shape of the movie, is serviceable as Dr. Bruce Banner, but Zak Penn’s script leeches any potential thrill from the Freudian fever dream of unleashing fury and losing control (until the final close-up that alludes to future installments). Banner makes it clear that he sees his condition as a disease-like burden, and emphatically exclaims that he doesn’t want to control it, he wants to get rid of it. That sentiment precludes the opportunity to explore some of the more fascinating dimensions of Banner’s unique ability.
The depiction of Banner’s relationship with Dr. Betty Ross, now played by Liv Tyler, is another place where “The Incredible Hulk” tops the Ang Lee version. While Tyler might not be considered as accomplished as Jennifer Connelly, she is thankfully not called upon to spend the majority of her screen time weeping over the traumatic events that unfold whenever her old flame’s heart rate passes a particular threshold. Tyler’s more imaginative Betty initiates some romance despite the dangers that come with Banner’s quickened pulse. Betty and Bruce spend a chunk of time with one another and the simplicity of the movie’s structure as an extended chase is one of its chief pleasures. Betty’s eagerness to be on the run with Bruce propels the movie until it reaches the inevitable climactic battle.
While “The Incredible Hulk” relies on images of goliath versus military machinery in many of its action sequences, the movie deserves points for several of its cleverly used sets and locations. The parkour-style pursuit through the Brazilian favela where Banner has hidden himself from government pursuers has plenty of energy. Additionally, the first sequence in which Banner goes bonkers in full-on Hulk mode is done mostly in shadow; it generates a fair amount of suspense and postpones some of the disappointment that comes with seeing the emerald colossus in broad daylight.
This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 6/16/08.