Tim Black Nelson
Marvel’s second homemade outing has had a lot to contend with: not only the usual fan-based weight of expectation hanging over a project bringing to life such a well-loved character, but also the aftermath of Ang Lee’s introspective and slightly bemusing, The Hulk. The Incredible Hulk is most certainly not, director Leterrier is keen to stress, a sequel.
From the beginning it’s clear that Leterrier’s movie is a very different beast. After the title sequence establishes a new and more compact origin story, we’re thrown straight into the favelas of Brazil as Bruce Banner (Ed Norton) attempts to deal with his little green problem while staying out of the reach of the U.S army.
But when U.S. General Ross (William Hurt) sends in an extraction team led by veteran soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to capture him. After a lengthy chase scene clearly evoking The Bourne Ultimatum‘s memorable rooftop chase, Banner loses his struggle to keep the Hulk at bay and a new look monster, realised in impressive CG begins to wreak havoc in the Brazilian shanty town.
Surprisingly, Norton’s performance as the fugitive Banner is disappointingly flat, and Marvel’s trick of hiring great actors doesn’t pay off so well as it did in Iron Man. For someone with such an excellent track record in portraying inner turmoil and struggling with their darker sides, Norton’s performance seems tame, bearing all the hallmarks of someone going through the motions. At no point does one ever feel the anguish that Banner is going through, and at no point does the rage lurking inside him ever threaten to bubble to the surface in any form aside from the CG monster itself.
Liv Tyler, as his ex-gal Betty Ross, shows more conviction with both warmth and kindness enough to tame an angry 10 foot green monster, and a feisty, no-nonsense attitude that makes her more than just a love interest. Roth and Hurt too are predictably dependable, infusing the film with a discernable grittiness and texture.
Nods to past incarnations of the Hulk will no doubt placate longterm fans, but it is the explicit widening of the Marvel Universe that is sure to please them the most. Stark Industries manufactures the weapons used to combat The Hulk whilst S.H.I.E.L.D busily intercept the public’s emails in a bid to track Banner down. Tony Stark even manages to make an appearance in person. Even for those who aren’t avid readers of Marvel comics, this kind of continuity and consistency is heartily exciting. One cannot help but enjoy the fact that Iron Man can turn up in The Incredible Hulk, and wonder at the possibilities it offers.
It’s just that Leterrier’s movie is just not as much fun to watch as it’s supposed to be. The change in atmosphere when Downey Jr. saunters in to a bar for a brief cameo is telling: a single scene with Stark has more charisma than the entire rest of the movie. That said, with the exception of Norton, the talented cast put in great performances and the action scenes are handled with skill. Not quite a Hulk smash then, but a decent dent nonetheless.