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June 18, 2008

FILM REVIEW: Incredible Hulk Reboots to a Better Start


By D.F. Krause

The sequel to Ang Lee’s 2003 film Hulk turned out not to be a sequel at all. And the result, director Louis Leterrier’s Incredible Hulk, is far better off for it.


It’s the same CGI monster, the same characters and the same premise, but Incredible Hulk used a completely new cast and decided to “reboot” the story rather than pick up where Lee left off in 2003. The new film was designed to more closely resemble the TV series that starred Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno from 1978 to 1982.


It succeeds on many levels, and tops the series by light years when it comes to the action sequences. But where Incredible Hulk is ultimately more exciting and satisfying than its now-discarded predecessor, it goes only one for three in the presentation of its three primary characters.


Edward Norton, who plays Hulk alter ego Dr. Bruce Banner, was reportedly cast in part because of his resemblance to Bixby. Norton’s version of Banner is more troubled and constantly afraid of his own green shadow – not for no reason, mind you – but he lacked some of the confidence and heroic purpose that Bixby brought to the role. Although Norton’s Banner does intercede on behalf of a damsel in distress early in the film, there are far more potential confrontations from which he simply walks away rather than tempt his hulking fate.


Liv Tyler is Banner’s love interest, Betty Ross, this time around. Her portrayal of the role is unremarkable, which is not entirely her fault. The Ross character is supposed to be a biological research scientist, which should set her up for a fairly complex and important role in helping Banner seek a cure for his condition – like the character of Elaina Marks played by Susan Sullivan in the TV series pilot.


But apart from hiding a flash drive in a jewelry holder, she mainly plays the girlfriend-on-the-run-with-the-hero role. Her most heroic moment is when she stands in front of a tank, Tiananmen Square-style, which turns out not to be all that heroic because the tank was being driven by her father.


Ah, her father. In the role of Gen. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, William Hurt turns in the film’s top performance. Driven and hard-driving, Gen. Ross wants to capture the power of the Hulk to use as a military weapon, but is conflicted by his daughter’s loyalty to Banner, as well as his growing realization that such power is not easy to harness and can have tragic implications.


In the creepy, scheming evil guy role is Tim Roth, who plays soldier Emil Blonsky – an all-too-eager test subject aiming to become the military’s first intentionally designed Hulk. The final battle scene between our favorite green friend and the Blonsky’s gray menace is a CGI spectacular.


Speaking of CGI, the designers did a better job this time around of preventing the Hulk from looking quite so cartoonish. A scene of girl/Hulk bonding in a cave between Tyler and the CGI-generated Hulk is almost believable as a result.


The film does a nice job of tossing in references both to the TV show and old-time Hulk comic books. Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee makes his usual cameo, as does Ferrigno (who, via his cameo as a security guard, ironically becomes the only actor to play the same role in both films). Bixby, who died in 1993, makes an appearance via the magic of video when Banner sits down to watch an episode of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. Even tabloid reporter Jack McGee, Banner’s constant nemesis in the TV series, gets a mention.


And huge fans of the comic book series surely smile when Betty tries to persuade Banner to put on a pair of huge, stretching purple shorts – always the comic book Hulk’s standard attire.


While Zak Penn wrote the original screenplay, and gets the sole credit for doing so, Norton himself reportedly rewrote much of it, including the changes that eliminated any reference to Lee’s 2003 effort. It’s a shame Norton didn’t get a writing credit. Those changes improved the idea of the film considerably – and overall his writing effort, more than his acting, may have been his strongest contribution to the film.


Incredible Hulk is a nice mix of action, intrigue and human drama. While Banner is a bit too sullen, and Betty could stand to be a bit more formidable, the overall effort is worthy of the Hulk legend and altogether satisfying.


3.5 stars out of 5


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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