Here’s a shocker. I actually liked “The Incredible Hulk”.
In general, with these sorts of movies, it helps to have low expectations. In this case, they were as such because of all the whining I’d read from star Edward Norton about how all the best scenes were cut. I recognize that Eddy wasn’t in and therefore probably hadn’t seen any of the action sequences, and, as a result, had a very different image in his mind as to what the final picture would look like. But surely he must have READ THE SCRIPT which no doubt contained stage direction such as “HULK notices abandoned police cruiser, smashes it in half with his fist and then uses each half to beat the pulp out of TIM ROTH MONSTER”. Furthermore, I find it difficult to believe that the cut scenes were SO TRANSCENDENT that this VERY comic book-esque film would, with their inclusion, somehow be transformed into high art. There is just no way.
So at the start of the film, after a fun little montage which catches us up to speed, we join Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) living a quiet life in Brazil, watching Portuguese Sesame Street and taking lessons on how to make your stomach concave. He has also taken a job in a GREEN soda bottling plant which primarily employs brutes and supermodels. All the while he is messengering with a scientist back home as they work on attempting to cure his affliction. His location is compromised when some of his blood gets into one of the sodas, thus poisoning Brazilian Soda enthusiast, Stan Lee. Bruce Banner is on the run again! Teaming up with his estranged girlfriend, Betty (Liv Tyler), Bruce must find his scientist friend and cure himself before Betty’s daddy gets a hold of him.
Ironically for Norton, the biggest problem with the film is its attempt to follow in the footsteps of other comic book films of late, and make this fantastical story somehow relevant to the real world. “X-Men” works on an allegorical level. “Iron Man” and “Batman” are almost plausible. But a scrawny dude exposed to lethal levels of gamma radiation, who survives but gains the pesky side-effect of, whenever he gets angry, scared or excited, turning into a 9-foot-tall ball of testosterone? Who is also GREEN? Because of the radiation? I’m sorry to burst your bubble but THAT COULD NEVER REALLY HAPPEN. So stop trying to act like an IFC Films-approved version of the Hulk story is possible. Stick with the “Hulk Smash” which, in this case, works really well.
Unlike the first attempt at a Hulk movie, which pretty much everyone agrees sucked, “The Incredible Hulk” really captures the spirit of what the Hulk is like when he’s all Hulked out. While he’s a completely different entity than the mild-mannered Bruce Banner and certainly not what you would call an intellectual, he’s not a monster either. He knows who the bad guys are and he smashes accordingly. At no time do we think he is going to hurt Betty or any other creature of light (like, say, kittens). But if you have evil in your heart, Hulk knows it and you are screwed. I think this is an important point that was completely missed in the first movie. It explains why Hulk eventually becomes part of the Avengers. Bruce Banner yammers on about finding a cure and living a normal life yet he is compelled to help people. Deep down he knows he has a calling which will make his life complex but ultimately more meaningful than would just boning Liv Tyler and playing with beakers.
Without a doubt there are many snicker-inducing moments in The Incredible Hulk. For instance, the prevalence of the color green. I’m no scientist, but I have a hard time believing than gamma radiation poisoning (even this special variety) turns your blood cells green and you know you are cured when your blood cells once again turn red. Also, did Bruce Banner turn down jobs at other bottling plants who were making orange or grape soda? Is General Ross really a Midori Sour man?
What’s more, let’s talk about pants. I appreciate their attempt to explain how Hulk, whatwith his 80 inch waist, manages to keep his hulkhood covered by the pants of a much smaller man. Bruce Banner buys elastic waist pants! But it seems like after he buys some Brazilian hemp trousers, he reverts to the Double Denim look pretty quickly, even scoffing at Betty when she bring him the classic purple sweat pant of comic book Hulk. At the climax of the film, Banner is definitely wearing well-fitting JEANS that remain mostly in tact when he hulks out. They do MAKE stretch jeans, but the size difference is still too vast. Bruce Banner would have to rock the hip-hop-boxer-flash to accommodate the metamorphosis.
These are small criticisms, however, of an overall enjoyable film. Liv Tyler as Betty is sweet and likable (albeit unconvincing as a molecular biologist); a welcome replacement to the cold, wooden Academy Award Winner Jennifer Connelly. She brings much genuine affection to her character’s complicated relationship with Bruce. You really feel for her when she begs her father to stop trying to kill Hulk and when Bruce insists on jumping out of a plane with uncertain results instead of staying behind and being her boyfriend.
Likewise, Norton adequately channels the tortured altruist that Bill Bixby brought to the character on the TV show. Tim Blake Nelson is super character-actory as the over-exuberant scientist who may or may not have found a cure for hulkism. Tim Roth is always at his most compelling when playing a villain. In this case he uses the desperation of an aging solider as the motivation for undergoing experiments which would give him Hulk-like abilities and later cause him to ravage the city in a fairly awesome smash battle.
In short, “The Incredible Hulk” is a smashing good time. Especially if you hate helicopters as much as Hulk does.
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