I’ve been a fan of the Hulk since before I can remember. I mean the TV show, of course. Bill Bixby was the man, as Banner. Seeing his ice blue eyes turn green in the requisite 2 times per episode was the highlight of my childhood evening. Lou Ferrigno is still one of my childhood heroes, and I’m glad that both Hulk movies have used him in a small cameo.
The new movie is a lot different than Ang Lee’s introspective and arty version that came out a few years back. That’s good, and that’s bad. A lot of nerd rage has been expended on the first movie, which I think gets a bad rap. This one is above average; it’s no Iron Man but it’s much better than the Asstastic Four, and even Superman Returns as a Deadbeat Dad Stalker and Becomes Jesus.
Ang Lee’s version, Hulk, spent too much time on the origins of the big green guy and made it accidental; here they ret-con the origin over the credits, and keep the original concept that Bruce Banner bombarded himself with gamma rays intentionally, as part of an experiment. (I’m also glad that it is now acceptable to put “the” in titles again). We find Bruce (Ed Norton) hiding out in Sao Paolo in the terraced neighborhoods where City of God was filmed; he’s working at a bottling plant, and communicates with a Mr. Blue over encrypted satellite transmissions to further his research into ridding himself of the gamma poisoning. General Ross, now played by William Hurt, is on his tail again with a crack team of commandos led by Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a British-born Russian on loan from the Royal Marines. Not since Highander, when Sean Connery played an Egyptian named Ramirez with a Scottish accent has there been such a combo.
Tim Roth’s Blonsky ends up being the best character in the movie. Ross sends him in blind, and he’s awed and surprised when he sees Banner get Angry and gets a forklift thrown at him. When he finds out that Banner’s boundless strength comes from a government project, he wants in. So while Bruce runs home to dig up his research, and accidentally bumps into old flame Betty Ross (played well by Liv Tyler’s lips), Blonsky is getting juiced up with a serum developed by the military, or perhaps Major League baseball, to make super-soldiers.
There’s little interplay with the characters, really; Ross and his daughter have an obvious conflict because he wants to puree Banner’s blood and make better super serum, while she loves him and helps him on the lam. She and Norton, who is pretty much the same character he played in Red Dragon with occasional pants-ripping episodes, have some chemistry, but he has little in the way of motivation or desires other than to be rid of the curse. We never see the kind of guy who’d shoot himself up with gamma rays for science. Later on we meet science geek Tim Blake Nelson, who’s so over the top that he ought to have an Einstein hair-do and a labcoat on. But no one goes to a Hulk movie to see characterization; they learned that with Ang Lee’s version.
The battles are pretty damn good; the first encounter with the Hulk in Brazil is frightening enough to show the real mayhem that a ten foot tall invulnerable rampaging behemoth can wreak. The second battle at a college campus seems to showcase Ross’s ineptitude; while Sam Elliot’s General was cool and Machiavellian, calling in tanks, choppers, fighters and finally burying the green guy in a rockslide, the new one seems to forget that shooting Hulk is mostly just a danger to any innocent bystanders. If Blonsky didn’t show up to pull some Jet Li moves on Big Green, it would have been a wash. The final fight between Banner and Blonsky is fought out in Toronto subbing for Harlem, and it’s a treat. They throw in some fan service at the end, like Hulk claps, which are just silly. At least he gets to say “Hulk Smash!”
We of course get a Stan Lee cameo, as well handled as the one in Iron Man, and an even better Lou Ferrigno cameo as a security guard. He even gets some lines, which considering his speech, was a nice touch (he is nearly deaf due to a childhood infection, and has a slight impediment). It’s too bad we don’t get a reaction shot, since Ferrigno is still a gigantic 6’5″ beast, and it would be nice to see him dwarfed by the new Hulk.
Overall, the movie is a great summer action flick. It doesn’t invest you emotionally like Iron Man did, and I’m sure it will be blown out of the water by The Dark Knight. A lot of comic book nerds love the movie over the Ang Lee version, which had arty comic book panel designs and a lot of emotional issues with Betty, Bruce and their respective fathers. I never read any of the comics except a graphic novel my Dad grabbed from a house being demolished, which had the Army fighting the Hulk in huge power suits that had too much bio- feedback. I think between the two versions, there’s a great Hulk movie. Lee may have had the silly Hulk Dogs, which came from the comics I might add, but the tank fight in the desert is still the best Hulk battle on film.
So The Incredible Hulk gets 3 smashes out of four. Above average, and worth seeing in the theater, but we’ll have to wait for the sequel to see a balls-out Hulk fight.