Eugene Weekly : Movies : 6.26.08


Unbelievable Games
Incredible Hulk bores for the sequels
by Molly Templeton

THE INCREDIBLE HULK: Directed by Louis Leterrier. Written by Zak Penn, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Cinematography, Peter Menzies Jr. Music, Craig Armstrong. Starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt and Tim Blake Nelson. Universal Pictures, 2008. PG-13. 114 minues.

In 2003, as you may remember, Ang Lee released a film simply called Hulk. Few people liked it. It’s appropriate, then, that Marvel and Universal, in rebooting their potentially lucrative franchise, would stick the Incredible back in there. This is a different Hulk, their title insists. Bigger! Better! Incredible!

Or … not so incredible. Despite the efforts of a pained-looking and sympathetic Edward Norton, The Incredible Hulk begins like a Bourne movie — sweeping through Brazil and Mexico the way Jason Bourne swept through much of Europe, and with about as many skyline shots — and gradually turns into an Xbox game in which humankind throws whatever it’s got against this rampaging green man-beast and/or his newly created nemesis, the Abomination (Tim Roth). Hulk smash; Abomination smash harder — and both show the limits of CGI when they fail to believably interact with the real world. 

The trouble with The Incredible Hulk begins at the root of the Hulk’s being: He’s a superhuman for whom being superpowered is absolutely no fun (contrast this with Iron Man’s Tony Stark and tell me who you’d rather be for Halloween). Bruce Banner is a nice, unassuming scientist pining for his lost love, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), and working desperately to find a cure for the gamma radiation poisoning that turns him into a mindless beast when his heart rate goes too high (apparently it’s not all about anger). That beast is a walking temper tantrum with unstoppable force. The crux, then, is in the overlap, in how these two forces relate and react to one another, and what they do to Banner’s only-human mind. But only toward the movie’s end do director Louis Leterrier (um, The Transporter) and screenwriter Zak Penn (um, X-Men: The Last Stand) bring the two sides of Banner’s self together. The battle within is necessary to make the battle without more than just overblown action sequences that look like so much we’ve seen before.

The Incredible Hulk does have a few nicely done moments: when, for example, Betty Ross’ temporary suitor, left behind, is smart enough to see the truth through his anger; when, early on, a fight-trained Banner dispatches a handful of hoodlums; and when the film addresses the burning (for some) question of how Banner retains his trousers while the rest of his clothing tears away (whether he really needed to size his stretchy pants against a woman’s rotund behind, however, is another matter entirely). It also has its moments of utter stupidity: Would a man who, as we’ve just been reminded, has been on the run successfully for five years really stop to send an unencrypted file with exactly the aliases the government found on his dropped laptop? Making your characters uncharacteristically stupid in service to the plot is unforgiveable.

This Hulk is full of green-tinged sets, cityscapes, military power and might (embodied by William Hurt, looking oddly like he’s turning into an action figure), the dangers of science and the power needed to control the beast within; one of the troubles with the Hulk as a character is that his superhero metaphor is even closer to the surface than most. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have potential; it just means the more interesting parts of his story will have to wait for the ever-so-unsubtly hinted at not-quite sequel. You didn’t think Marvel would let you forget they had two superfolks on the big screen this summer, did you? 

The Incredible Hulk is now playing at Cinemark and VRC Stadium 15.