It was easy to suspect that Edward Norton would be a good fit for The Incredible Hulk. Here’s an actor who can dignify almost anything—particularly, as in Primal Fear, in American History X, and now in this, the affable dork with a dark side, who when crossed becomes a rager to be reckoned with.
So here he is as research scientist Bruce Banner, a man who, although a touch repressed and not quite able to maintain meaningful relationships on account of regular stints as a big, green, King Kong-Mr. Hyde hybrid, is at least likable enough to let you know you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. He regrets that very much, by the way, which is why it’s good to have the clever, compassionate Norton portraying him and why he begins the movie hiding out in a Brazilian favela, self-exiled even from the beauty to his beast, his beloved Betty Ross (Liv Tyler).
And, wouldn’t you know it, just as Banner starts zeroing in on a cure for that unfortunate confluence of poor anger management and gamma radiation that transforms him in times of emotional stress into a seething rampage of computer graphics, the Army starts zeroing in on him. They sorta figure he’s their property. Want to make a weapon out of him. Like armies do.
On the emotional-stress front, it doesn’t help that Operation Hulk Snatch is organized by Banner’s estranged girlfriend’s father, one Gen. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt), and led by a intensely aggressive, possibly risk-addicted mercenary named Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), who confides to the general that he wouldn’t at all mind becoming a gamma-ray ’roid monkey himself—and eventually gets his wish.
The results are what you’d expect, particularly if you were disappointed by director Ang Lee’s angstier, artier, earlier Hulk from 2003: fresh, wanton devastation. Office furniture, cars, military-issue Hummers, helicopters, whole buildings, credulity—you name it, and The Incredible Hulk will pound it to smithereens. No, his greenness does not stand for environmental conservation.
There is something of the been-there-done-that about this, which is a little odd, given that the other Hulk movie had been-somewhere-else-done-something-else. And odder, given a franchise—derived from the comic book series created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1962—that should be durable enough, like the big guy’s pants, to bulge (and bulge) without ever ripping in the crotch.
Importantly, The Incredible Hulk isn’t a sequel. It’s more like Marvel Studios’ and director Louis Leterrier’s way of apologizing for this movie’s big green big-screen predecessor of five years ago. Everybody seems to want to beat up on Ang Lee for that one; let’s remember him, also, as the deliverer of movie adaptations as nuanced and diverse as Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain—whereas this Leterrier guy has to his directing credit the two Transporter action flicks and that Jet Li movie, Unleashed, whose original title was Danny the Dog. In other words, Leterrier is the right man for the job, as long as the job calls for a satisfying delivery of such deeply ruminative dialogue as “Hulk smash!”
That’s his catch phrase from the comic, just so you know, and probably not among the touch-ups Norton reportedly brought to superhero-movie go-to scribe Zak Penn’s screenplay. The Incredible Hulk also contains several allusions to the 1970s TV series of the same name, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno—including, apparently, those moments when the show’s plot would bog down and bore you, and you wished they’d just hurry up and piss the guy off so he could finally hulk out and get to the smashing already.
Seems like Leterrier’s not really in it for character, so it’s too bad his action also tends toward the blunt, banal and sometimes befuddling. He does well with some (not all) of the movie’s tries for levity, like the Stan Lee cameo, and the Lou Ferrigno cameo (Ferrigno also supplies the Hulk’s voice), and, of course, the Robert Downey Jr. cameo, crossing over from Iron Man and accidentally reminding us what a better movie that was thanks to Jon Favreau’s lighter directorial touch.
To sum up, all the deeply ruminative dialogue you need here is: “Box-office smash!” Still, thanks especially to Norton, this Hulk is credible.