A big green blast.
There has been a lot of confusion surrounding TheIncredible Hulk. First off is the question of where it stands in relationto the Ang Lee 2003 Hulk movie. Aside from being produced byUniversal and based on the same character, there is no connection whatsoever. So is it an origin story like 2005's Batman Begins? Nope, this one picks upafter the origin and offers a very well-plotted origin refresher during the opening credits.
The second issue involves the rumors of problems on the set: Edward Norton's not happy; The project is a mess and being reshot; etc., etc., etc. Whether any or all of this is or was true, it's completely irrelevant because the end result is an excellent Incredible Hulk movie thatcompletely erases the bad taste left from the 2003 Hulk.
Directed by Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, Unleashed), The Incredible Hulk is a chase movie based largely off of the man-on-the-run scenario Hulk fans know so well from the classic Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV show.
Edward Norton is Dr. Bruce Banner (a.k.a. "The Hulk") and is estranged from love of his life Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and on the run from her father, General "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt). As I mentioned, the opening credits fill you in on the basics of Hulk's origin story: There was a gamma ray experiment. It went bad. Banner now transforms into Hulk whenever he gets excited or angry. And that's basically all you need to know.
We meet up with Banner in Brazil. He's keeping a low profile, living in a small village and working in a bottling factory. He has been Hulk-free for a record 158 days. Everything is going well until General Ross and his newest associate, Emile Blonsky, track Banner down from a sample of his blood that has been traced to the bottling factory. Once Blonsky gets an eyeful of what The Hulk is capable of, he wants a taste of his own. He soon talks Ross into testing some of the Hulk juice, if you will, on him resulting in the creation of Hulk's greatest adversary, The Abomination.
If there is one thing director Louis Leterrier knows, it is how to pace a quick-moving chase movie, which is exactly what an Incredible Hulk should be. There is nary a quiet pause in the action for the Betty/Bruce romance or even to give the audience a breather. Then it's right back to another bombastic, all-out action set piece.
Where Lee's movie stumbled a bit with the overuse of computer-generated graphics, the new movie is head and shoulders above that work. Now whether that simply has to do with the advance in technology or the highly impressive work of the effects teambehind this new film is hard to say. Either way, this is some of the most seamless CG work I've ever seen in a blockbuster. While last summer's Transformers was a step in the right direction, this takes it to a whole new level. Where Michael Bay used camera trickery and those omnipresent shaky cameras to hide the flaws, The Incredible Hulk gives you a very up-close-and-personal look at the beast and dares you to find the flaws.
Many fans noticed some issues with the Hulk Vs. Abomination battle from the early trailers, but this has all been cleaned up considerably. Additionally, the decision to give The Hulk some of Norton's facial features works better than you'd think. In a scene where Banner is strapped to a table in a lab and undergoes the transformation, the facial expansion is explored in detail and appears as realistic as, well, as realistic as anyone could expect a man transforming into a green monster to look. It very much reminded me of John Landis's work on An American Werewolf in Londonand the Thriller video and I mean this in the best way possible.
The addition of a classy actor like Edward Norton ads some legitimacy to the project, although I'm not sure his presence has much to do with why I liked the movie. Norton is good as always, but he never wowed me. And to be honest, at least in my mind, he'll never replace Bill Bixby just as Brandon Routh never had a chance filling the shoes of Christopher Reeve.
A mustached William Hurt is nearly unrecognizable as General Ross. He looks almost identical to the comic character and plays the part with a nice dose of humor that was missing from Sam Elliot's take in the 2003 movie. Liv Tyler is "the girl" for better or worse, but she does manage to punch up the characterization a tad with her overall likeability and a nice chemistry with Norton. Tim Roth plays the heartless villain he played before in Rob Roy and Planet of the Apes and that isn't a bad thing. Roth's snarling, red-faced take on Blonsky is right in line with the comic character, especially the more recent incarnations of the character in the comics.
As a die-hard fan of the TV show and a more recent fan of the comics, I didn't expect The Incredible Hulk to live up to my expectations. But Leterrier and writer Zak Penn (and possibly Norton as well) did a bang up job pleasing all types of Hulk lovers. Fans of the show will notice almost endless nods to the show. Likewise, comic fans (particularly of the more recent Bruce Jones/Mike Deodato Jr. stuff) should find a lot to like here. I won't spoil all the surprises here (although you can read about most of them in my Guide to The Incredible Hulk).
I went in as an extreme skeptic and left wholeheartedly impressed. The ending battle between The Hulk and Abomination is one of the most spectacular and exciting things I've ever seen on screen. If the downtown Los Angeles robot battles of Transformers impressed you, this puts those to shame. I don't geek out too much at the movies these days (call it the film critic's cynicism from seeing too many movies) but The Incredible Hulk had me entertained and smiling from start to finish and I look forward to seeing it again.