Director: Louis Leterrier
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth
UK Release date: 12 June 2008
Certificate: 12A (112 mins)
If you saw Ang Lee’s 2003 movie Hulk, forget it. This is not a sequel, this is a reboot, similar to what Batman Begins and Superman Returns did for their respective franchises. Thankfully this doesn’t mean we have to sit through the same story again. In a very wise move the opening credits are used to recap the premise and in an exciting and efficient montage we see Bruce Banner experiment on himself, transform into the big green monster, batter his scientist colleague/girlfriend, and then flee in fear and shame –basically all the stuff everyone already knows. And so The Incredible Hulk gives us the next, much more interesting bit of the story: the tale of a fugitive who's as scared of himself as he is of his hunters.
We join Bruce Banner in Brazil. He lives a solitary life working in a soft drinks factory, tinkering with flowers in a vain attempt to make an antidote, and practising yoga to temper the beast within – “156 days without incident” says a title card. Soon enough the count restarts when the vindictive General Ross and his hit-squad led by ageing soldier Blonsky, show up and start the hunt. Following a nifty Jason Bourne-esque chase sequence over the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Banner/Hulk flees, returning to the USA to get data from the accident to make a cure before General Ross captures him and uses his powers to create an army of hulks.
Ed Norton may seem like a strange choice for the Hulk but he makes perfect sense as Bruce Banner. He exudes intelligence and vulnerability and has great form playing characters with split personalities since sharing his mind with nihilist hipster Tyler Durden in Fight Club. And as the Hulk is rendered with CGI Norton doesn't really need to be a beefcake. In fact, the strongest thing this film has going for it is its cast. William Hurt does fine work as General Ross, an institutionalised army man who is confused and frustrated by the complexity of the Hulk situation. Tim Roth has his work cut out as the baffling Blonsky, a too-old British soldier with a Russian name who at times wears the full dress uniform of the US Air Force without shaving and so looks like swarthy schizophrenic who’s gone missing from a fancy dress party. However, it’s Liv Tyler who deserves top marks. As Dr. Elizabeth Ross, daughter of the General and former squeeze of Banner, she manages effortlessly to personify the redemptive power of love. Even after Banner (as the Hulk, I should add) knocks her about, she stays faithful to him. Personally I subscribe to the ethos of Jerry Springer's audience, “If he give me a beat, he be out on da street”. Still, it’s Dr. Ross that elevates the film. Her forgiveness and tenderness is the only thing that can soothe the Hulk's anger, it gives hope to the despairing Banner.
Now, you might be wondering why the Hulk series required a do-over just five years after the last Hulk movie. Here’s your answer: Super Franchise! Until recently, comic book publisher Marvel used to farm out films to Hollywood studios but now they've formed their own production wing, Marvel Studios. Marvel movie no 1 was the recent Iron Man, the age-old tale of a genius-engineer-playboy arms manufacturer who matures just enough to notice the global turmoil his weapons cause but not enough to realise that it's silly to fly around in a robot suit. In Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson makes a post-credits cameo as Nick Fury, the superhero superspy and mentions the “Avengers initiative”. Similarly in Marvel movie no 2, this here The Incredible Hulk, Robert Downey Jr. who plays Tony Stark/Iron Man, makes a cameo and also mentions the “Avengers”. So, all these characters having been set up, they’ll be getting together in a mega superhero movie called, you guessed it, The Avengers. Coming summer 2011.
As superhero movies go, The Incredible Hulk is a good one. The cast is solid, their characters likeable, and the plot is fast-paced enough to skim over the absurdities yet still make sense. Yet it falls victim to the same flaw as most other Hollywood superhero films – pointless villains. Here, the Hulk faces off with a bigger Hulk-type monster. This adds nothing to the film. It’s there for one purpose only, to create a spectacle at the end. But does that really satisfy us? At the end of Iron Man, the superhero faces down a corporate board member who, at the last minute and for no good reason, suits up into a bigger version of Iron Man. Again, it’s a pointless villain. The frustration is amplified when you consider who these characters should really be fighting: the US government. Tony Stark had been a naive tool of the Military-Industrial Complex but now he’s experienced the damage it has done. Why doesn’t he try to right that wrong? Bruce Banner has had his life ruined because of a secret government programme to create super-soldiers. Why should the conclusion to his story be to squish some oversized vermin? These characters have been created and taken down certain paths only to end up on frivolous tangents for no other reason than convention. It seems like cowardly writing and if these superheroes don’t earn their suffixes soon, I’m going to get angry. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.