The Incredible Hulk

2008, Movie, PG-13, 0 mins

Review

INCREDIBLE HULK, THE
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It may not be as good a film as IRON MAN, but rebooting Marvel Comic's mean, green anger machine faces a very different set of challenges. The story is so familiar it's hard to generate much curiosity, let alone excitement, about yet another variation, especially a mere four years after Ang Lee's ambitious clunker HULK. Then there's the simple fact that the Hulk, incredible though he may be, doesn't really do much other than lose it and smash stuff up. Luckily, X2 screenwriter Zak Penn and director Louis Leterrier (TRANSPORTER) were up to the challenge: Their exciting do-over skips the origin story and focuses on Dr. Bruce Banner's largely unsuccessful attempts to keep his cool while on the run from military men who are literally out for his blood.

It's been five years since Bruce Banner's (Edward Norton) experiments in radiation resistance -- work Banner didn't realize was part of a larger biotech project designed to produce a super-soldier for the U.S. military -- went horribly awry, turning the mild-mannered physicist into a ticking time bomb of gamma-ray infected rage. Now when his heart rate breaks 200 bpm, Banner bulks up into the biggest, baddest juice head this side of Gold's Gym: Say hello to the Hulk. Bruce is living incognito in the sprawling Rio slum of Rocinha, a fugitive from the U.S. government -- the Hulk's initial rampage put the hurt on quite a few people, including Banner's own girlfriend and fellow researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Ross (Liv Tyler) -- and her five-star father, General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt), would like nothing more than to get his hands on whatever turns Banner into the human tank of his dreams. Working under an assumed name in a soda factory, Banner is learning to control his rage through Brazilian martial arts breathing techniques and researching an antidote with the help of a mysterious online buddy known as Mr. Blue (Tim Blake Nelson). After a drop of Banner's distinctive, gamma-irradiated blood accidentally finds its way into a bottle of soda bound for the U.S. (and the gullet of Hulk creator Stan Lee, one of a several clever cameos), Banner's careful cover is blown. General Ross sends ruthless, Russian-born Royal Marine Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to track and trap Banner, but Emil only succeeds in unleashing the beast, who tosses a forklift at him and easily escapes. And when Blonsky gets a load of what Banner becomes under fire, he wants to be one himself. General Ross realizes he's found the perfect solution to the Hulk problem, if his own faulty research into super-sized soldiers doesn't turn Blonsky into something equally uncontrollable and even more dangerous.

The dialogue is minimal but sharp, the pace swift and the action sequences suitably loud and brutal, but there's a downside to Penn and Leterrier's strategy: Cutting right to the chase means we don't get any of Banner's anguished psychological background. Exploring that background slowed Lee and screenwriter James Schamus' HULK to standstill, but without it, Banner risks becoming as one-dimensional as his alter-ego. Nevertheless, it's hugely entertaining, and not only leaves the door wide open for a sequel but an entire universe of Marvel movies. Avengers assemble! leave a comment --Ken Fox

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