Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth
Directed by: Louis Leterrier (“The Transporter”)
Written by: Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) and Edward Norton (debut)
Hulk returns to the big screen, this time as “The Incredible Hulk,” a reimaging of the underappreciated and artistic Ang Lee version of 2003. Sadly, the film feels like a brittle stepping stone for the bigger picture at Marvel: setting up for an “Avengers” flick sometime in the near future.
Although the new cinematic version of the mean, green superhero wants to completely disassociate itself from its predecessor, the story seems to begin right where the Lee picture left off. Bruce Banner (Eric Bana then, Edward Norton now) is living in Brazil trying to control the monster inside his gamma ray-filled body.
This means if you don’t know the mythology of the Hulk, polish up on your comic book history because “The Incredible Hulk” doesn’t have time to explain. Head screenwriter Zak Penn (“X-2”) decides to simply breeze through Banner’s background and scientific discovery, which comes by way of a cliché montage during the films opening credits
It’s been 158 days since the Hulk has emerged when we see Banner, who is making a living working in a bottling factory. On his wrist he wears a small watch-like monitor that lets him know when his heart rate increases, which, in turn, warns him that the big green guy could make an appearance if he doesn’t control himself. This is an unwarranted and erroneous addition to Banner’s story. While the comic book, TV show, and 2003 film versions explain that Bruce only transforms into the Hulk when he became angry, this Hulk has to take deep breath for everything including running long distances and getting overly excited while in bed with Betty Ross (Jennifer Connolly then, Liv Tyler now).
Betty and Bruce are reunited when Bruce returns to the states after Betty’s father, Gen. Thaddeus Ross (Sam Elliott then, William Hurt now) and the U.S. government locate the drifter and attempt to capture him so they can create more Hulks as military weapons. To help, Gen. Ross recruits super soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), who later becomes the Abomination, to hunt for the Hulk and subdue him.
In more mainstream fashion and with far less style and originality, “The Incredible Hulk,” helmed by unproven action director Louis Leterrier (“Unleashed”), follows the same pattern of most superhero/comic book movies. Although this “Hulk” tends to lean more toward the 1970’s TV series, which starred Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, there’s really not much emotion behind the Hulk to say the audience is immersed in his personal story and conflict. Simply playing the TV show’s theme song during one part of the movie isn’t going to cut it.
For those Hulk fans who were critical of the lack of action in the Lee version, there’s more in this one. But really, are a couple extra smashed tanks really benefiting a story that should be focusing on a tormented soul? Lee’s version was brave enough to try something completely different that all the trivial comic book adaptations. In “The Incredible Hulk,” Leterrier and crew are just mixing up the same imitative concoction and pouring it out green this time.