“You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…”
Bruce Banner has always lived in a state of fear that his alter ego, the Hulk, will come out through intense, provoked anger. After 2003’s unimpressive “Hulk” directed by Ang Lee and starring Eric Bana as the title hero, many comic fans and filmgoers alike found themselves close to the edge of “hulking out.” When a reboot was announced, the initial thoughts across the Web were either excitedly refreshed or ambiguously indifferent.
The big green brute is back in theaters with French director Louis Leterrier’s resuscitation “The Incredible Hulk” starring a brand new cast, with an oddly familiar tone. By taking cues and staying faithful to the 1978-1982 dramatic television series of the same name Leterrier has crafted a sometimes corny, but guiltily fun popcorn flick that doesn’t disappoint in terms of action and the creation of a new action star: Edward Norton.
“The Incredible Hulk” is not a traditional series reboot, like 2005’s “Batman Begins.” Instead, Banner (Norton) is already five years into his affliction and has been on the run from the villainous General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt) after a terrible experimental accident in which Banner’s love/Ross’ daughter Betty (Liv Tyler) and the general himself were seriously injured.
Hiding out in Brazil, working day labor in a soda-bottling factory and searching for a cure through an online contact named “Mr. Blue” (Banner’s codename is of course “Mr. Green”) by night, our hero is tracked down by General Ross and a crack squad including the delightfully evil Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth).
After a particularly exciting chase sequence through the packed city of Rio, Banner gets cornered by a group of thugs and the military force, his anger gets the better of him and… well we know what that means. The giant green mass emerges out of the darkness and with one loud roar, we the audience finally find the Hulk movie we’ve been looking for.
Edward Norton is expertly cast as Banner. As portrayed by Bill Bixby in the original television series, the character was a somewhat introverted man, yet always curious and with a slight hint of bitterly removed charm. Norton is the perfect actor for the role due to his slow, somewhat sarcastic tone and his intriguingly grinding attitude. Because of this natural talent, when Banner is close to transformation, the anger portrayed by Norton is quite stirringly realistic. Along with Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman, Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and most recently Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man (who makes a hilariously wonderful cameo at end of the film), Edward Norton is among the best – and he deserves it.
The supporting performances are also unquestionably strong. William Hurt proves his almost veteran status, with a wonderful performance as General Ross. He does a tremendous job a creating a truly detestable character, one who pisses on ethics and can always been depended on putting himself first above all (even his own daughter).
The underused and often overlooked Tim Roth is absolutely fantastic. While General Ross is the bad guy in the film, Roth’s Blonsky is pure evil. When this militant mongrel first sees the Hulk in action, he becomes addicted to the power he has observed. In cahoots with General Ross and the excited yet gullible Mr. Blue a.k.a. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson), Blonsky turns into the twice-as-powerful-as-the-Hulk mutant “Abomination.” With Abomination devastating New York City, our hero must face his ultimate obstacle which will forever change the way he lives. Bruce Banner must learn how to control his alter ego.
The anchor of the film, which truly drags it down in terms of likability, is the tragically wasted performance of Liv Tyler. She’s exceedingly irritating, and her inability to create any agreeable chemistry with Edward Norton is unabashedly annoying. There is a hint of linkage between the two characters at mere moments, but most of the time she is exasperatingly awkward and horribly miscast.
Tyler’s weak performance is also emphasized by the film’s unbelievable overdramatic tones. The original television series featured a lot of melodrama through slow-motion and through the performance of Bixby, but it doesn’t exactly translate well to the screen. There are a lot of excessive moments of exaggeration that work better than the extremely histrionic work that Ang Lee did with “Hulk” in 2003, but the “corny-factor” is a bit distracting at times in this movie. The script, written by Zak Penn with edits by Edward Norton, is sometimes tongue-tied but has a heart and a very well-written lead character.
The melodrama may be a bit preoccupying, but the film’s overall action is what drives the attention of the audience. Featuring work by the aptly titled Gentle Giant Studios, the visual effects are brilliant and cohesive, and the set pieces are marvelously elaborate. Leterrier has only been known to American audiences as the director of the “Transporter” movies, but his masterful eye at action under the direction of a superhero flick shows extreme promise and hopefully Hollywood will take notice.
The summer of 2008 has been very kind to movie fans so far, especially those seeing films produced by Marvel Studios. “Iron Man” is by far the best film of the year so far, and despite its problems, Leterrier’s “The Incredible Hulk” is another Marvel winner and definitely deserves to rampage the box office and get all the “green” it can get its big hulk hands on.