The Incredible Hulk | A-

director: Louis Leterrier
starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt

HulkNot quite “incredible,” but outstanding nonetheless, the incredible Hulk returns to the big screen for a tighter, more action-packed outing that is sure to revitalize the franchise and further augment the burgeoning Marvel film universe, which now includes the X-Men, Iron Man, Spider-Man and the Punisher (and coming soon: Thor and Captain America). Unlike George Lucas, there is no raping of my childhood here; the faithful adaptations that Marvel’s produced over the past several years not only encourage nostalgia, but they also work pretty damn well for people that have no inkling of the characters’ origins.

Going back a bit, the much maligned 2003 edition of Hulk is widely regarded as a misguided flop; with many thinking Ang Lee’s inventive and unique approach to the story was corny and awkward. This, despite a $132M box office haul (read more about the film here).

I thought it was an excellent if slightly off-beat approach to telling the story, and I’m a bit baffled by the depth of the loathing some people have for Ang Lee’s version. I liked it a lot…but with all that being said, it ain’t as good as the 2008 iteration.

There were well-publicized rumors of an ongoing battle between Ed Norton and Marvel over final cut of the film as it got closer to release, and it seems like Norton has scaled back the promotion he was willing to do for the movie as a result. Norton essentially re-wrote the script and added a lot more character development, all stuff that was shot. Some fifty minutes of his desired cut ended up getting excised from the finished product, which is a shame, but thanks to the magic of DVD, we’ll get to see all of that footage on the eventual disc release. As much as I like Norton, I think Marvel did right by trimming a lot of stuff. The finished product, while lean, is a perfect reintroduction to the character without getting bogged down in exposition that the casual filmgoer would find slightly tedious. There’s plenty of room for that in the next flick, now that this one is sure to be a massive hit.

Despite all that controversy, Norton is great as Bruce Banner, a bit more believable as a scientist than Eric Bana was in the 2003 film. He brings a lot of credibility to the movie as a whole, bringing his considerable talent to bear. The real center of attention, however, is the big green guy himself:

hulk smash

Hulk’s look is a bit closer to the original comic book this time around, and ILM did a fantastic job animating both the Hulk and his nemesis, Abomination. When I first saw the trailer months ago, my reaction was a resounding “meh,” so it’s good to see they’ve polished the effects work since then. Their work, as always, is “incredible.” Mwa. The battle royale that serves as the film’s climax is down and dirty; a brutal street fight between two invincible titans beating the crap out of each other with hammer blows. Exciting stuff. The rest of the action sequences prior to that are breathtaking, my favorite moment coming with the “sonic cannons.” Yes, sonic cannons.

Speaking of Abomination, it’s nice to see Hulk battle an actual enemy this time around, rather than “fighting” his father in the form of a giant storm cloud (yes, if you haven’t seen the 2003 Hulk, he fights a giant storm cloud). Tim Roth doesn’t have a ton of material to work with here, but he does make the most of it while he’s there (in human form). Continuing, William Hurt chews up his scenes, clearly enjoying himself as the Ahab-like General “Thunderbolt” Ross. Liv Tyler’s not bad. She looks damn good and it’s hilarious watching her softly say “Bruce” repeatedly with her collagen-enhanced upper lip. Also, I think I might’ve seen her sitting courtside next to her dad Steven (of Aerosmith) at tonight’s Celtics-Lakers game on ABC. A bit o’ timely promotion, methinks.

There are all kinds of easter eggs to catch throughout the flick, many of them calling back to the TV show featuring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. Watch and listen closely. Like Iron Man, there is also a tease at the end of the film that hints at the eventual Avengers film Marvel is planning, which will be the big pay-off for all the groundwork they’re laying with their slate of releases this year and into 2011 (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man 2, etc.). Geeks everywhere are gripping their pocket protectors in anxious anticipation.

I’m anticipating seeing this and Iron Man again; both movies have well exceeded my expectations and makes me hopeful their future efforts can improve upon stuff like this:


An update on the Regal Galleria theater: much better experience this time on one of the multiplex’s main screens (a big upgrade from the comparatively tiny auditorium we saw Indy IV in). Big screen, great sound, comfortable seats in auditorium #4. I may be persuaded to go there again.

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