The Incredible Hulk (2008) dir. Louis Leterrier
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt
“The Incredible Hulk” is the second part in this ambitious venture from Marvel – an attempt to link the Marvel heroes in a series of feature films ultimately converging in an ‘Avengers” film. It’s an exciting time for comic book fanboy cinema, and a great 2008. While “The Incredible Hulk” doesn’t come close to “Iron Man” it successfully trumps the Ang Lee version, providing a fan and audience-friendly electric-paced franchise reboot.
The film takes place several years after the Ang Lee version, Bruce Banner, now played by Edward Norton, is in hiding in Brazil. The military General Thaddeus Ross, formerly Sam Elliott now William Hurt, continues to scour the world looking for Banner so he can bottle his dark but powerful biological powers. Banner’s search for a cure for his condition is aided by a scientist named Mr. Blue who corresponds with him via the internet. When Banner’s location is accidentally revealed to Ross a lengthy cross-continental chase begins from Brazil to the U.S.
Chasing Banner is the uber-soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) a rapid dog of a man, who fears nothing and revels in the challenge of fighting the beast man Hulk. When Blonsky comes face-to-face with the big green man for the first time he develops a thirst for his power. And so in searching out the cure Banner leads Blonsky to the secret which will make his adversary into an even more menacing beast. Complicating matters is Ross’s lovely daughter Betty (Liv Tyler) who rekindles her relationship with Banner after all these years. Hulk faces off with Blonsky’s new alter ego Abomination to save Ross and the citizens of New York City from harm.
It was a pleasant surprise to see that Marvel didn’t render Ang Lee’s “Hulk” completely obsolete. By telling the Hulk backstory in the opening credit sequence we quickly bypass the origin scenes we already know from the first film. And so after the credits we jump right into the story with great pace - something which was sorely lacking in the first film . Therefore, one could watch Ang Lee’s film and Louis Leterrier’s film as two distinct chapters in the Banner story.
The Hulk looks much the same as the Ang Lee version, except slightly less green – a duller grass-stained green. A low-key lighting scheme attempts to blend the Hulk in better with the real environment but from my discriminating eye, there’s still some room for improvement with the CGI.
Tim Roth’s Abomination provides the massive action and destruction that fanboys wanted from this new Hulk. The finale, as we all know from the trailer, is a New York street battle which destroys a lot of city property. Unfortunately Abomination didn’t tickle me fancy. He’s over-designed from a creature-effects point of view, and too far removed from the human form. His grossly broadened shoulders, protruding rib cage and spinal vertebrae made him more beast than man, thus losing its connection to Tim Roth.
None of the old 70’s Hulk references did anything for me - Lou Ferigno appears, Bill Bixby even appears, same with the familiar line “don’t make me angry” as well as the sentimental music from the TV series. But didn’t they already show these token reverences in the Ang Lee version already?
I reveled in the easter egg connections to "Iron Man" before Downey Jr.’s not-so-secret cameo appearance as Tony Stark. SHIELD, Nick Fury and Stark Industries are mentioned a few times, but when Downey appeared at the end in character with his uniquely coiffeured beard the full scale of the film and its place in the larger Marvel universe was opened up. Unfortunately his appearance is brief and his dialogue tells us little more than we already knew from the post credits Iron Man easter egg. Really, is that all the writers could think of?
Minor griping aside, with “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” a success, let’s hope “Thor” and “Ant Man” can continue the trend – though I'm told by my comic aficionado friends that these two stories will be much more difficult to adapt for the screen. Enjoy.