A reboot of the franchise after Ang Lee’s poorly received 2003 effort, The Incredible Hulk manages to be an entertaining film – or three-quarters of an entertaining film, but I’ll get to that in a moment – that’s also remarkably disposable. Rather like a comic book.
Wisely glossing over the origin story that anyone interested in this movie knows already, The Incredible Hulk finds rogue scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton looking very cute) hiding out in Brazil, making ends meet by working in a soft drink bottling plant, trying to find a cure for his Hulkiness, and working on relaxation techniques that will control his heart rate so he doesn’t Hulk out. These early scenes are a showcase of effective storytelling, as we find out through visuals rather than lumps of expository dialogue how Banner got turned into the Hulk, when his last Hulk-out was, and so on.
Unfortunately an accident at the bottling plant causes a drop or two of Banner’s blood to end up in some poor bastard’s soda pop, which leads to Banner being traced to his hideout. On his tail are General Ross (William Hurt) and bad-ass military man Emil Blonsky (scene-stealing Tim Roth). Hijinks and Hullkiness in the slums of Rio ensue, and Banner is forced to flee north in search of a possible cure and also to see his estranged girlfriend Betty (Liv Tyler).
Everything works surprisingly well for most of the movie. There’s a surprising amount of humor (particularly the tribute to the “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” line). The acting is good, with top honors going to Roth, who hasn’t been in enough movies lately. Norton’s so good at helping us see the angry man inside his unremarkable exterior that he makes the Hulk-out scenes credible. Tyler manages to convey both beauty and brains but unfortunately isn’t given much to do beyond Standard Girlfriend Duty (cry, administer hugs, do the hero’s shopping). The most unexpected acting treat comes from Tim Blake Nelson as a somewhat loopy scientist.
The effects hold up well. The few bits I’ve seen from Ang Lee’s film made the Hulk look too bright and bouncy. This Hulk gives the impression of mass, though I still think an approach like the TV show might work best – round up some huge guy from WWE and paint him green. This might prevent the film’s big failing – the climactic fight between Hulk and Abomination.
It’s at this point that the film loses all interest. It’s a foregone conclusion who will win so there’s no emotional involvement for the audience. The shortcomings of the effects are showcased rather than glossed over – it’s like watching the Battle of the Gumbys. And the fighters are so close to being invulnerable that there is no suspense. By contrast, the fight between Iron Man and Iron Monger had suspense, because inside those bad-ass metal suits were fragile humans who could easily be turned into pulp if the fight didn’t go their way.
Still, The Incredible Hulk is pleasant entertainment, even if very little of it lingers in the mind afterward.