The Incredible Hulk

 

The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk

Director: Louis Leterrier
Starring: Edward Norton, Tim Roth, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson
Rating: 3 stars (out of five)

You know how everyone complained that there wasn’t enough action in Ang Lee’s Hulk movie? The folks behind this new not-quite-sequel have made damned sure that no one’s gonna be saying that this time. The Incredible Hulk has so much fast, intense violence that its PG-13 rating is pretty decisive proof of the arbitrary nature of these ratings.

The violence is going to be the main attraction, or repellant, with this film. The storyline itself, in which a hunted Edward Norton goes back to scientist-girlfriend Liv Tyler (who is really strange looking, even moreso than Norton) and ends up having to fight a runaway version of the Hulk (embodied by the strange-looking Tim Roth; this is just a movie full of weirdos, isn’t it?) is no great shakes. There’s nothing compelling in the script or the performances to hang a movie on. It all comes down to literal cartoon violence—the computer-generated Hulk is going to fight the computer-generated Abomination (a bigger, meaner, less-human Hulk) and pretty much destroy Manhattan in the process. If you’d like to see a fast and furious battle in which, say, a giant green man tears a police car in two and uses the halves as boxing gloves, then this here is your movie. If monsters beating up helicopters is not your thing, well, wherever this film is showing, the multiplex probably still has Sex and the City on four screens.

The film does a fine job of reimagining the first film, and filling in the audience. The lengthy titles sequence runs Norton and company through a recreation of the origin story: Scientist tests something or other on himself as his lab-coated girlfriend watches. Something goes really wrong, he turns big and green, fights off the military in the form of girlfriend’s Army general father, and escapes, disappearing south of the border. Now, let’s have a movie. Really, with an idea as simple as this, this might be a better way to go than to run us through the mandatory origin story. With Spider-Man, how he gains his powers and then chooses to become a superhero is a vital story. With the Hulk, just say “Bad science; now he’s a monster” and move on.

The simplicity of the idea is also a drawback, the reason there’s nothing here but violence. The Hulk is not a hero. He punches things that make him angry, so all you can do is find bigger and bigger things to make him angry. That’s what this movie does. That’s all this movie does. Do you want to see some of that?

The film has merit in the opening Brazil sequence, a location that’s as utterly fascinating as the second act’s rural university campus is boring. The fact is, director Louis Leterrier brings a pretty slim resume to bear and does a good job of keeping the film moving and the action just this side of incomprehensible. The computer graphics are decent, especially as you get used to them, though the Abomination’s design is just … too over-the-top, like all the excesses of bad ’90s comics distilled and 3d-modeled.

The acting? It’s fine, but just exists to service a relatively dull and familiar-feeling story. Norton is good, but nowhere near at the level he hit in, say, Fight Club. Tyler is odd, soft-spoken and, call me a stereotyper, too young and ephemeral to convince me she’s a cutting-edge biologist. Tim Roth is intense, but in a way that doesn’t play to either his gift for screwy comedy or his ability to deeply engage an audience. William Hurt is puffy and blustery, and (strange-looking) Tim Blake Nelson—whose goofy, awed and ultimately corruptible scientist is the best character in the film—hardly appears. But that’s the one reason to hope for a sequel—Nelson is last seen getting a head wound mutated by whatever the gamma-radiation serum that makes hulky things is, so presumably he could come back as the super-smart Leader, who I believe is one of the Hulk’s more prominent bad-guys in the comics.

The film throws in fun moments for the fans. There’s the mandatory Stan Lee cameo, and TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno has a quick spot. They even get in a clip of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father to put Bill Bixby, the TV Bruce Banner, into the flick. Bixby’s classic “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” gets a nice sendup, and the movie ends with a brilliant cameo that could make for great future films, and one that got a lot of fans at the preview screening cheering.

Truth of the matter is, I had no faith in this film at all. I expected it to be a two-hour sucking chest wound, one that would be mercifully lost amid the summer’s higher-anticipation comics films. While this one no Iron Man, it’s far from a disaster, and likely to leave fans of the character, or the genre, fairly satisfied.