Three and a half stars (PG-13)
In 2003, a lot of fans got upset over celebrated director Ang Lee’s epic film, Hulk. The basic problem was that they went to the theater expecting “HULK SMASH!” and instead were presented with “Hulk has substantial Freudian father issues!” The gap between audience expectations and the filmmaker’s vision resulted in a lot of ill will, even if the movie still made a boatload of money. Five years later, in the wake of numerous superhero smashes, the Hulk is back, without Ang Lee and with an “Incredible” in front of his name.
So how does this one play out? HULK SMASH! The Incredible Hulk is determined to give fans exactly what they want, which means lots of big action, mixed with just enough story to hold it together and a few treats for the faithful. I won’t tell you what those treats are, but everyone else will, so if you want to be surprised, good luck. I will tell you the voice of the Hulk is provided by Lou Ferrigno, who played the green giant in the old live-action TV series. Pretty cool.
The opening of the movie is pretty cool as well, with Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, in a solid performance) laying low in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The setting is similar to that used for the films City of God and City of Men, desperately poor and visually stunning, with hundreds of small buildings covering the hillside. What an inspired location. After a fine set-up and a doozy of an action set piece, the location moves from Brazil to Guatemala, then to the U.S. East Coast, ending up in New York City for the grand finale.
New York City. Again. Out of all the places on Earth, why did the filmmakers decide on such an overused setting for their climactic blow out? The location choices mirror the arc of the movie — great start, solid middle, typical end. Not that I’m complaining all that much. I left the theater so happy they didn’t screw it up that I didn’t dote on the negative. Sure, the story lurches nearly as abruptly as the Hulk and, yes, it appears that gamma rays destroy internal logic and consistency, but what the hell, the movie works.
Filmmaker Louis Leterrier, a hard-core fan of the Hulk TV series, assumes viewers are familiar with the Hulk and wastes little time filling us in on the background story. I agree with him, so I’ll just let you know who’s who. Liv Tyler plays Dr. Elizabeth “Betty” Ross, Bruce Banner’s spunky honey bunny, and William Hurt, barely recognizable at first glance, is her son-of-a-bitch father, Gen. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. Tim Roth grinds his teeth excessively as Emil Blonsky, a man who gets a whole lot of power and handles it quite badly. And Tim Blake Nelson turns up as professor Samuel Sterns, a helpful scientist who most likely will play a major part in the next installment of the franchise.
What else to tell you? For the most part, the CGI is much better than the ad campaign indicates. The cinematography is excellent and ... oh hell, the bottom line is that The Incredible Hulk isn’t as good as it could have been, but it’s way better than I thought it would be. Have fun.