The Hulk: your new favorite action hero
Comic-to-screen films don’t get any better than The Incredible Hulk
I never know what the fanboys are hoping for with the big-screen adaptations of classic comics (and I think it’s a POV best left to online bulletin boards and out of film reviews). What normal humans hope for is that the imagination of the comic creators is translated well enough to create a fantasy into which we too can be transported. This second live-action film version of one of Marvel Comics’ most enduring characters makes this happen from the opening scene.
It’s Hulk. It’s pretty simple. His alter-ego, scientist Bruce Banner (played here by Edward Norton) gets mad (or more accurately, his heart rate accelerates to 200 bps) then the gamma radiation in his body makes him get huge and green.
Thankfully, the movie itself is kept really simple, too. Screenwriter Zak Penn (the last two X-Men, Fantastic Four) and first-time director Louis Leterrier have created three extended action sequences and strung them together with a Fugitive-like one-step-ahead-of-his-pursuers cat-and-mouse game. That’s it. The joy here is in how thoroughly those three action scenes deliver.
The opener, and probably the best of the three big scenes, moves through the maze of a hillside Brazilian favela (shantytown) to the quickening pace of the beeping heart monitor on Banner’s wrist, while the military that is bent on reclaiming its human weapon gives chase. The colors are all rust and sweat, and the tension of the chase mounts until, well, smashy, smashy.
That’s pretty much all there is to the story (OK, there is a little more, including the co-scientist/ex-girlfriend—Liv Tyler—trying to figure out how to “cure” Banner, and the man leading the hunt, the single-minded general played by William Hurt). I won’t spoil the rest other than to say, one happens during the light of day, introducing Hulk to the public on a college campus, and the other is at night, an epic battle in the streets of New York City between Hulk and another military experiment, the hotshot fighter-turned-power-hungry Abomination.
The critical/popular consensus seems to be that the recently released Iron Man is the better of the two, but The Incredible Hulk is a much leaner and more exciting affair. There’s no creation story burying the lead, no sweeping commentaries on world affairs (just one crazy military dude’s ambition) and not so many pandering wink-winks (Stan Lee is there, but it’s short, sweet and in line with the plot).
Judged against other comic-book films, The Incredible Hulk earns a slam-dunk 5-out-of-5—against all films of the action genre, it’s a solid 4. It all depends on your expectations. The only semi-slight complaint here would be the cross-pollination epilogue, with Robert “Iron Man” Downey Jr. looking forward to whichever Iron Man 2/Hulk 2/The Avengers film is still at least two years from coming out. (Oops, did I give something away? Don’t worry, it has nothing to do with this film.) As soon the final good guy/bad guy battle was finished, the credits should’ve rolled.