Incredible Hulk, The

Uneven and structurally messy, “The Incredible Hulk,” the new version of the legendary comic hero is overall only slightly better better than Ang Lee's 2003 take, but it's decidedly different. Setting aside issues of logic, psychology and characterization, Louis Leterrier's movie is a simpler, action-filled, f/x-driven summer popcorn flick par excellence.

First comes first: The second production of Marvel Studios is not nearly as good or as coherent as its first, high-profile “Iron Man,” starring Robert Downey Jr., which is still running strong at the box-office with prospects of crossing the $300 million mark in the U.S. alone.

No, this “Incredible Hulk” is first and foremost committed to mass entertainment, which means that thematically it's not very deep or thought-provoking, not to mention the inevitable dumbing down dimension. In its current shape, the movie relies on, and is book-ended, by two major chase set pieces, in the first and last reel, which are dominated by thrilling action sequences and state-of-the-art but largely derivative special effects. These two acts occupy about one third of the picture, if not more.

The main problems of the previous “Hulk” movie were its verbose narrative, with heavy-duty dialogue steeped in Freudian psychology, bleak and somber mood, and the creature of the Hulk, which simply didn't look or move right. I still recall the laughter of critics in the first press screening at the sight of the cheesy Hulk jumping around like a big, shapeless toy. “Incredible Hulk” tries-and to a large extent succeeds-to correct this problem with the creation of a scary iconic creature, but it goes all the way in the other direction, neglecting matters of linear plot, narrative logic, and motivations in the name of an actioner that delivers the basic thrills and frills on a visceral level but doesn't generate much emotional impact during the viewing, and becomes utterly disposable at the end.

In 2003, Ang Lee's “Hulk” tried to capture Bruce Banner (played by Eric Bana) and his alter ego in an origin story that examined a portrait of a man at war with himself and the world. “Hulk” told the story of a beast that was both hero and monster, whose powers embodied Banners waking nightmare.

The film opened in American markets with a record-setting $62 million, but then declined rapidly due to bad reviews and negative word-of-mouth, resulting in a domestic gross of $132 million, well below expectations. Lee's film is considered (unfairly I think) to be a total flop, both artistically and commercially.

When Universal and Marvel decided to make the new chapter in his saga, they elected to capture the rawest elements of the franchise, selecting a French filmmaker known for his lightning-fast camerawork and passion for the TV show that transfixed him as a child. Opting for a series reboot that embraces the spirit and narrative of the Bixby Ferrigno series, the studio wanted to give the fans the Hulk they expected in a pulse-pounding action saga with feats of heroic strength and a nemesis even more dangerous and powerful than the Hulk himself.

The screenplay for “Incredible Hulk” is written by Zak Penn, who shapes the narrative along the lines of his previous work for “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Add to it filmmaker Louis Leterrier's experience as an assistant to Luc Besson (on the failed “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc” and the more commercial “Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra”) his own helming of “The Transporter” series and “Unleashed” and you get a clearer idea of the structure, logic, and pacing that drive this actioner, which contains sequences and motifs of many horror and sci-fi flicks.

Indeed, savvy viewers will be able to detect right away the hodge-podge plot, a patch work with big holes, and the influence of movies such as “King Kong” (and all the other “Beauty and the Beast” fairy/folk tales) and more recently of “Transformers,” particularly in the final reel, in which the Hulk battles man-a-mano (so to speak) with the Abomination, Emil Blonsky's alter ego.

It's too bad that we can't see the reportedly longer, more detailed version of Edward Norton (who also contributed to the scenario uncredited), who had publicly expressed his disagreement with Marvel's presumably leaner cut; here is one summer movie that's too short for its own good, running less than two hours. With its breakneck pacing, “Incredible Hulk” feels rushed, as if it's in a hurry to deliver the goods fast and clean, or else risk boring the viewers.

As a result, the action and battle sequences are disproportionately long and moving at an extremely rapid tempo. In contrast, the plot per se–the romantic angle between Bruce and Betty, the military involvement, the scientific elements–feels truncated and underdeveloped, relegated to a secondary position in the overall scheme.

The film's commercial appeal and profitability are also problematic as the budget is rumored to be around $150, which means that “Incredible Hulk” must yield twice as large grosses domestically just to break even. Opening weekend should be strong, but I have doubts whether the picture would have the same long legs as “Iron Man.”

As shot by the brilliant cinematographer Peter Menzies, the movie assumes the shape of a road movie, a globetrotting chase film centering on Banner (Edward Norton) as a man on the run, embarking on a journey back home, which takes him through South America (Brazil, Guatemala), the East Coast of the U.S. (Virginia and Washington D.C.), and finally New York City (first Harlem, then Manhattan).

The first reel, which lasts about half an hour and is set in Brazil, is most promising. When the story begins, scientist Banner is keeping a low profile, working at a bottling plant, while desperately hunting for a cure to the gamma radiation that poisoned his cells and unleashes the unbridled force of rage within him, The Hulk. Banner has been living in the shadows, cut off from a life and the woman he loves, Dr. Elizabeth Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, in the role Jennifer Connelly played in 2003), casting sad, forlorn glances at her photo, placed on his desk.

Living as a fugitive to avoid the obsessive pursuit of his nemesis, General Thaddeus Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), who's Betty's father, Bruce knows that a military machine seeks to capture him and brutally exploit his potential power.

As all three men grapple with the secrets that led to The Hulks creation, they are confronted with a vicious new adversary known as The Abomination, a monster named Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) whose destructive strength exceeds even that of the Hulk. To defeat this nemesis, one scientist must make an agonizing final choice, accept a peaceful life as Banner or find heroism in the creature he holds inside.

The cast of characters also includes Ty Burrell, as Leonard, a straight arrow scientist competing for Betty Rosss affections, and Tim Blake Nelson, as Professor Samuel Sterns, a cellular biologist who may quite possibly hold the key to Banners quest for a cure. Sterns appears later in the proceedings, after extensive computer correspondence with Banner.

It's telling that all the story's persona, including Banner, begin as fully-fleshed individuals, but as the yarn progresses (or regresses), they are reduced to cardboard, one-dimensional characters that mostly serve as plot points, sort of a glue between the various set-pieces, which grow bigger and louder. Reportedly, the movie contains 900 visual effect shots, 450 of which are full key CG character shots, and most are seamlessly blended into the yarn, thanks to the expertise of effects supervisor Kurt Williams, who previously worked on such blockbusters as “Fantastic Four” and “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

Under these circumstances, the only thespian who can develop a semblance of a real human character and render a decent performance is Edward Norton, who is convincing as the scientist as well as the Hulk (whose voice is provided by the legendary Lou Ferrigno).

The graceful Liv Tyler has some quiet moments as the romantic interest, a woman torn between her duties as a university professor, the General's daughter, fiance of the loyal but dull psychologist Leonard, and grand love for the seemingly doomed fugitive-hero. Unfortunately, Norton and Tyler's romantic scenes are vastly uneven, though there's chemistry between them. While those set in Betty's house are credible, semi-touching, and even humorous (in bed, Banner stops their heated lovemaking, claiming, “I can't get too excited!”), later sequences, when the Hulk saves Betty from destruction by the military and their escape and hiding in caves and forests are derivative, drawing too much on familiar iconic episodes in “King Kong” and other horror films.

The weakest performances are arguably given by Tim Roth, who's misdirected and too quickly goes over the top, and Tim Blake Nelson, who interprets his role too broadly and comically as a “mad” scientist locked in his own mental world and lab. The encounter between the two men is one of the story's lowest points.

In contrast, there's some humor in the exchange between Tim Roth's Blonsky and William Hurt's Ross regarding the former's age. Blonski claims to be 39, while in reality he's closer to the actor's real age, which is the one Ross assigns to him.

To be fair, there are many visual pleasures to be had, a combined result of location-based shoots (in Brazil and other places) and stage sets, courtesy of ace lenser Peter Menzies and production designer Kirk M. Petrucceli and their crews. Aerial shots of Rio de Janeiro's slums and of the hillside favela of Taveras Bastos, a winding maze of narrow back alleys and steep steps that provide a spectacular backdrop for the elaborately staged sequence in the first 15 minutes of the film (in which Banner tries to escape from Ross' commandos), are stunning.

In addition to the action sequences shot in Tavares Bastos, scenes were also filmed in other locations of the storied city, including the older, colonial neighborhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa. The second unit team took advantage of the proximity to Tijuca Forest, the world's largest urban rainforest, rendering breathtaking ground and aerial sequences.

The constructed interiors, such as Banner's apartment, shot in Toronto, match the real exteriors of Rio's poor slums and dreary living quarters.

Finally, like other film versions, “Incredible Hulk” tries to be playful and self-reflexive,” evident in some of the cameo appearances. Lou Ferrigno, the body builder who played the Hulk in the TV series, is cast as a campus security guard, easily seduced by Banner with one slice of Pizza.

Spoiler Alert

In the very last scene, set in a bar, Hurt's depressed General Ross shockingly encounters Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark of “Iron Man,” who then then proposes rather slyly to join forces and form a “team.” Guess what the team is going to be


Bruce BannerEdward Norton
Betty RossLiv Tyler
Emil BlonskyTim Roth
General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” RossWilliam Hurt
Samuel SternsTim Blake Nelson
LeonardTy Burrell
Major Kathleen SparrChristina Cabot


A Universal release presented with Marvel Entertainment of a Marvel Studios/Valhalla Motion Pictures production.
Produced by Avi Arad, Gale Anne Hurd, Kevin Feige.
Executive producers, Stan Lee, David Maisel, Jim Van Wyck.
Co-producer, Kurt Williams. Directed by Louis Leterrier.
Screenplay and screen story, Zak Penn, based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby.
Camera, Peter Menzies Jr.
Editors, John Wright, Rick Shaine, Vincent Tabaillon.
Music, Craig Armstrong; music supervisor, Dave Jordan.
Production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli.
Supervising art director, Dan Dorrance.
Art directors, Andrew M. Stearn, Clovis Bueno (Rio); set designers, Brad Milburn, Michael Madden, David Fremlin, Michael Shocrylas, David Hirschfield, Mike Stanek; set decorators, Cal Loucks, Monica Rochlin (Rio).
Costume designers, Denise Cronenberg, Renee Bravener.
Sound, Greg Chapman; re-recording mixers, Andy Koyama, Chris Carpenter.
Visual effects supervisor, Kurt Williams.
Special visual effects, Rhythm & Hues Studios, Soho VFX, hy*drau”lx [cq] , Image Engine.
Stunt coordinator, John Stoneham Jr..

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 111 Minutes.