The Incredible Hulk
For a household name, the Incredible Hulk is a tough act to follow. Most people are familiar with the classic Bill Bixby TV show, where he traveled from town to town righting wrongs while turning into a dyed-green Lou Ferrigno and walking to the chord of sad music. Ang Lee of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” fame directed a 2003 “Hulk” movie starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly, which gave a mostly unspectacular box office performance. This lead directly into this totally-unrelated “Incredible Hulk” movie, made just five years later, which has Marvel Studios pretending the first one never happened.
Edward Norton plays green-genes himself, Bruce Banner, who turns into a towering jade behemoth (still voiced by Lou Ferrigno) whenever angered, thanks to an experiment gone horribly wrong under the supervision of obsessed General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt). Five years later, Banner narrowly avoids capture by Ross’ men in Rio de Janeiro, lead by his ruthless right-hand man Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth). Banner returns to the States to reconnect with his lover Betty (Liv Tyler) – who just happens to be Ross’ daughter. Pursued by the General and the full force of the military, Bruce and Betty race to rendezvous with college professor Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson), who is anxious to assess Banner’s condition. Unfortunately, General Ross has also injected Blonsky with a prototype super-soldier serum (the same that made Captain America, with a few little glitches), making him stronger, better and faster. Blonsky is becoming addicted to the serum, which has some none-too-pretty-side-effects, leading to an all-out monster brawl in Manhattan.
When comparing “The Incredible Hulk” to its predecessor, the film is something of a mixed bag. On one hand, Liv Tyler and Edward Norton inhabit far more active characters than their counterparts, who looks muted by comparison. On the other hand, William Hurt’s Thunderbolt Ross is insufferable compared to his 2003 counterpart, played by Sam Elliot. Overall, “The Incredible Hulk,” directed by “Clash of the Titans” helmer Louis Leterrier, is an improvement over the 2003 edition, thanks to an emphasis on entertainment instead of melodrama.
In relation to the other Marvel movies, the film’s continuity is a bit strange. Somehow the movie takes place after “Iron Man 2” despite being released just months after the first “Iron Man.” Like all Marvel Studio movies though, fans will want to fast-forward through the credits to see a post-credit scene which leads directly into the Avengers.
Norton was set to reprise his role in the upcoming “Avengers” flick – which combines all the Marvel Studios characters into one movie – but Marvel unceremoniously replaced him with Mark Ruffualo (yeah, I can’t see it either). Whether this was the result of creative differences or cost-cutting is open to speculation, but it’s a shame regardless, considering Norton contributed as both the lead and uncredited co-writer. As the result, this movie gets pushed deeper and deeper into the bargain bin.
While not as strong as “Iron Man” or even “Iron Man 2,” “The Incredible Hulk” remains a strong and serviceable superhero flick. Time will tell how much future Hulks will look back at this film green with envy.
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