Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Cast: Edward Norton (Bruce Banner/The Hulk), Liv Tyler (Betty Ross), Tim Roth (Emil Blonsky), William Hurt (General Ross)
In an effort to get the franchise back on track after Ang Lee’s “challenging” movie, The Incredible Hulk plays it straight down the middle. This is a no-nonsense commercial venture designed to appeal to fans and the masses alike. Certainly, the former are well catered for with a succession of not-terribly-subtle allusions and in-jokes: a snippet of the original TV theme tune; “D Banner” scrawled on a package; Lou Ferrigno as a security guard; a small-screen glimpse of Bill Bixby; references to both Nick Fury and SHIELD… Yup, this iteration certainly pays due homage to its comic book and TV heritage.
After possibly the swiftest backstory dismissal in movie history – blink during the opening credits and you’ll miss it – the film dives in on Bruce Banner exiled in Mexico, working on an antidote for his condition. As expected, it doesn’t take long before General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Hurt) tracks him down and sends in a crack squad of troops bolstered by the inclusion of Emil Blonsky, a Russian-born officer on secondment from the British special forces. Cue one very large, pissed-off CGI creature and a trail of destruction.
When Blonsky, played with relish by an unlikely Tim Roth, realises the power manifested in Banner, he allows himself to be injected with Ross’s supersoldier serum. Enraged by the Hulk’s seeming invincibility and addicted to his new-found power, Blonsky takes it a step further when the trail leads to Banner’s secret associate Dr Samuel Sterns (fans will recognise the name). Another injection, this time of Banner’s gamma-irradiated blood, and we’ve got an Abomination on our hands. Cue two very large, very pissed-off CGI creatures and an even greater trail of destruction following in their wake.
In order to distance itself from its predecessor, this is an altogether snappier film, with a lighter tone. However, in removing the gravitas that encumbered Ang Lee’s version, it’s reduced to a far less consequential offering. It’s visually engaging and easy to absorb, but light on tension. Norton is oddly subdued in the lead role, and even the action, despite its technical grandeur, feels impassive and detached. Perhaps part of the problem is that when you’ve seen giant computer creations clanging away – Transformers, Iron Man, Hellboy et al – the artificial spectacle very rapidly loses it glamour.
If anything, this reboot of the Hulk gives cause for a re-evaluation of Ang Lee’s film. It may have been ponderous at times, pretentious at others, but it did at least leave you with a kaleidoscope of images to reflect on once the end credits rolled. Unable (or unwilling) to appreciate the arthouse take on a comic book saga, detractors cried for a sequel that returned the Hulk to his roots. Well, they got it. Which goes to show that you should be careful what you wish for.