Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson, Christina Cabot, Lou Ferrigno, Martin Starr, Ty Burrell

2008, 112 Minutes, Directed by: Louis Leterrier

The new Incredible Hulk movie couldn’t be more different to its 2003 predecessor . . .

Few movies had as drastic a change in box office fortunes as Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk movie. In its first weekend in the USA, Hulk earned a promising $62 million. The weekend after that it fell sharply to $18 million, and then to $8 million the weekend following that! Bad word-of-mouth sunk the film: it simply wasn’t what audiences expected. Walking out of cinemas screening it, the sheer disappointment amongst ten-year-old boys was palpable. Nothing had prepared them for the rather oddball art house flick meets superhero comic book that was 2003’s Hulk. All they wanted was to see was Hulk smash puny humans . . .

But if you don’t succeed at first, then try again. And it is with this philosophy in mind that Marvel decided to give their potentially lucrative Hulk comic book franchise another shot. The new movie is simply titled The Incredible Hulk, hinting that this time around the movie has more in common with the popular late-1970s TV series than with the comic books – or heavens forbid! - the first movie. And that, dang it, this time round the Hulk will be truly incredible!

Incredible Hulk thus boasts an entirely brand-new cast and creative team.

An excellent Edward Norton replaces Eric Bana as Hulk / Bruce Banner and Liv Tyler replaces Jennifer Connelly (not a good move actually – Tyler is rather bland) as Banner’s ex-girlfriend, Betty Ross. A stoic William Hurt replaces the gruff-voiced Sam Elliott as Betty’s father, General Ross. Transporter 2 director Louis Leterrier takes over at the director’s chair from Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee, bringing his action movie sensibilities with him in the process. The screenplay is by X-Men: The Last Stand and Fantastic Four scribe Zak Penn along with actor Edward Norton (writing under a nom de plume). Penn is a busy guy by the way: he has already been signed to script 2011’s upcoming Avengers and Captain America movies for Marvel . . .

"Much more action-packed and entertaining than the previous Hulk movie. . ."

Judging from the credentials involved you may think that The Incredible Hulk has dumbed down – and you’d be right. But it in actual fact suits the material at hand much better. After all, this is a movie about a big green giant dude in purple pants who smashes stuff when he gets angry – which is about all the time! The Hulk has never exactly been Marvel’s deepest superhero and is pretty, well, one-dimensional when one thinks about it. But here the Hulk is portrayed as a more “human” character instead of the single-brain-celled creature he is usually portrayed as in the comics.

Straight-forward where the first movie was convoluted, action-packed where Hulk dithered, The Incredible Hulk dispenses with whatever back-story and exposition there is over the film’s opening credit sequence. No tortured unresolved oedipal conflicts here!

The Incredible Hulk assumes that audiences already know the character and his back-story: following an accident involving gamma rays, scientist Bruce Banner becomes the raging super-powered, green-skinned monster The Hulk whenever he gets angry. Of course the U.S. military in the guise of the corrupt General Ross (William Hurt) - who also happens to be the father of Banner’s girlfriend, Betty - is interested in getting their hands on the Hulk and using his blood to manufacture a new breed of super-powered soldiers. Banner becomes a fugitive, hoping to find a cure for his condition before Ross and the U.S. military industrial complex can get their hands on him. In that sense it is more of a sequel than a remake than some of the “let’s give it another shot” talk may have let on.

The story kicks off in Brazil where Banner works as a manual laborer at a bottling plant, trying to find a cure and learn Portuguese in his spare time. (One of the film’s funnier lines involves his broken Portuguese.) Soon however crack U.S. commandos led by Tim Roth with a permanent five o’clock shadow (do they allow this sort of thing in the U.S. military?) are on Banner’s case. He escapes – narrowly – in an exciting foot chase on top of rooftops in a densely populated Brazilian slum, an interesting and exotic choice that makes a change from your standard Hollywood action movie locales.

Things must come to a head however. Banner must find a cure and he soon finds himself back in the States where the Hulk faces off against the U.S. military in a thrilling show-off on a university campus that may lack the scope of a similar fight in the first movie, but which is emotionally more involving.

This time Roth’s character has however been injected by super-soldier juice and is well on his way to becoming The Abomination, an over-sized monster against which the Hulk faces off in a no-holds barred epic battle at the movie’s climax. This final battle in New York streets replete with flying cars, lots of stuff exploding and fleeing bystanders actually outclasses the final show-off in the recent Iron Man by the way.

Except for one or two quiet moments shared by Banner and his girlfriend while on the lam, Incredible Hulk doesn’t waste a single frame on dull talky exposition. It is all plot-driven and action-filled. In fact, unlike the much-hyped Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Incredible Hulk never runs out of steam. Put simply: this is the movie which audiences wanted to see back in 2003. No dull existential angst and weird split screen film techniques. No mutant poodles either. Instead we get some nice comic asides, including another cameo by Stan Lee and a riff on those mega-stretchy purple pants Banner always seems to wear.

With The Incredible Hulk Marvel has done it again. Like the recent Iron Man, Incredible Hulk is a definite Saturday matinee crowd-pleaser. Kids – and their parents – will love it. Unfortunately the only thing standing in the way of Incredible Hulk becoming the summer hit it deserves to be will be audiences’ negative memories of the 2003 original. Well, forget about all that: The Incredible Hulk may ultimately be as brainless as its main character, but it really is “incredible” this time around. And Hulk smashes stuff too . . .

SPOILER ALERT! Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the movie yet. Some notes fellow comic book geeks would be interested in: One can see that Marvel now has more control over the movie adaptations of its material in the way they have now brought the concept of “cross-overs” to them. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (Iron Man) makes a cameo appearance towards the end of the movie and hints that a “team” – no doubt the Avengers – is being formed.

Events in this movie also hint that the villain in any future sequel would be “The Leader”, the green-skinned criminal mastermind with the over-sized brain. In the movie he is Samuel Sterns (played by Tim Blake Nelson), the scientist who helps Banner with a cure. Speaking of cameos, look out for one by body builder Lou Ferringo who used to be Hulk in the 1978 television series as a pizza-loving campus security man. Also, Tim Roth’s character in the movie states that he is 39 years old. The actor is in fact 47; closer to the age Hurt’s character estimated him to be. END SPOILERS!



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