Forgiveness isn't an exclusive gift. Multiple fictional heroes, from Batman to the Punisher, have enjoyed a creative rebirth after their introductions failed or their stars faded.
The latest repentant personality to receive an image makeover is Iron Man's comic book colleague the Hulk. The moodiest superhero in the expansive Marvel universe last graced the big screen in 2003, when Oscar-nominated director Ang Lee chose to quasi-sensically explore the emotional resonance and moral quandaries of Dr. Bruce Banner's emerald burden. Too bad for Lee the true fans wanted less human conflict and much more "Hulk smash!"
And so we're treated to a reboot. Universal Pictures and the new Marvel Studios decided to forgo a traditional sequel and just start over from scratch with a Hulk picture that delivers the action fans expected. They hired Louis Leterrier, director of two Transporter pictures and a Jet Li flick, and nabbed serious thespian Edward Norton for the conflicted role of Banner, Hulk's human counterpart.
With Lee's dud adequately cleansed away, the new point of reference for this re-imagined Incredible Hulk is the campy television series that ran for five seasons beginning in 1978. Leterrier and his screenwriter, Zak Penn, include almost as many references to the program as they do to Hulk's source comic books. They range from obvious (Lou Ferrigno plays a campus security guard), to subtle (a young newspaper reporter goes by the name of Jack McGhee, which was the name of the reporter Jack Colvin played in the television show), to blink-and-you-missed-it quick (Norton at one point watches the old program The Courtship of Eddie's Father, which starred Bill Bixby, the original Bruce Banner).
Penn's plot even sounds like something we would have hunkered in front of our sets to watch in the late '70s. Banner lives in self-imposed exile as he searches for a cure to the gamma poisoning that triggers his savage transformations. He pines for his lost love, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), and attempts to stay one step ahead of Betty's father, Gen. Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt), and the military's top soldier, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth).
Leterrier's Hulk isn't an origin story. It assumes we're already familiar with Banner's tragic plight, and taps right into the sorrowful cloud of helplessness that hangs over this hero's head. Norton does a fine job personifying Banner's suffering, and carries an ill-equipped Tyler through their melancholic scenes. I wish he had actual interactions with Roth, but Blonsky mainly stares down Leterrier's digital Hulk in the film's assorted battle scenes.
And how is that computer-generated Hulk? Sadly, the CGI effects that were ridiculed in Lee's version still don't work here. The Hulk looks like a dark, shiny, muscular pickle. Certain body parts looks amazing when close up -- a massive foot stomping through a factory or a hand busting through the New York pavement. But Ferrigno's presence only reminds us that a steroid-enhanced actor playing the Hulk was more believable then, and probably would be now. Also, Hulk's anti-climactic battle with Blonsky's souped-up Abomination monster is adequate by video-game standards but disappointing in a summer blockbuster.
Steeped in nostalgia for the television show and the comics, this Hulk sidesteps back story but also neglects to further the narrative. Save for Roth's super soldier, the characters experience minimal growth from start to finish. In fact, it was only when the aforementioned Downey cameos as Tony Stark in the closing minutes that I realized this film's true function. Hulk is a placeholder, a refresher course on the character's bare essentials so he can be part of Marvel's already announced Avengers movie tentatively scheduled for 2011. If you don't mind paying for a lengthy prologue, smash away.
Stop gherkin me around, man!
Run time: 112 mins
In Theaters: Friday 13th June 2008
Box Office USA: $134.5M
Box Office Worldwide: $163.7M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: MVL Incredible Productions, Universal Pictures, Marvel Enterprises, Marvel Studios, Valhalla Motion Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 146 Rotten: 72
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Louis Leterrier
Producer: Ari Arad, Michael Helfant, Stan Lee
Starring: Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, William Hurt as General "Thunderbolt" Ross, Tim Blake Nelson as Leonard, Ty Burrell as Dr. Samson, Christina Cabot as Major Kathleen Sparr, Peter Mensah as General Joe Greller, Lou Ferrigno as Voice of The Incredible Hulk / Security Guard, Paul Soles as Stanley, Débora Nascimento as Martina, Greg Bryk as Commando, Genelle Williams as Terrified Gal, Chris Owens as Commando, Al Vrkljan as Commando (as Alan Vrkljan), Adrian Hein as Commando, John MacDonald as Commando, Shaun McComb as Helicopter Soldier, Simon Wong as Grad Student, Pedro Salvín as Tough Guy Leader, Julio Cesar Torres Dantas as Tough Guy, Raimundo Camargo Nascimento as Tough Guy, Nick Alachiotis as Tough Guy, Jason Burke as Communications Officer, Grant Nickalls as Helicopter Pilot, Joris Jarsky as Soldier, Arnold Pinnock as Soldier, Tig Fong as Cop, Jason Hunter as Cop, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos as Cab Driver, David Collins as Medical Technician, Chris Ratz as Young Guy, John Carvalho as Plant Manager, Robin Wilcock as Sniper, Wayne Robson as Boat Captain, Javier Lambert as Guatemalan Trucker, Martin Starr as Computer Nerd, Todd Hofley as Apache Helicopter Pilot, Joe La Loggia as Soldier, Tamsen McDonough as Colleague, Michael K. Williams as Harlem Bystander (as Michael Kenneth Williams), Roberto Bakker as Market Vendor, Ruru Sacha as Supply Driver, James Downing as Army Base Doctor, Rickson Gracie as Aikido Instructor, Stephen Gartner as Ross's Soldier, Nicholas Rose as McGee, P.J. Kerr as Wilson, Jee-Yun Lee as Reporter, Desmond Campbell as Gunner, Deshaun Clarke as Little Boy, Tony Nappo as Brave Cop, Aaron Berg as Soldier, David Meunier as Soldier (as David Miller), Tre Smith as Soldier, Moses Nyarko as Soldier, Carlos A. Gonzalez as BOPE Officer, Yan Regis as Medic Soldier, Stephen Broussard as Handsome Soldier, Robert Morse as Command Van Soldier, Matt Purdy as Ross's Aide, Lenka Matuska as Female Medical Assistant, Scott Magee as Humvee Driver, Wes Berger as Sterns Lab Soldier, Carla Nascimento as Large Woman, Krista Vendy as Female Bartender, Mila Stromboni as Hopscotch Girl, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (uncredited), Stan Lee as Milwaukee Man Drinking From Bottle (uncredited)
Also starring: Zak Penn
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