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Dustin Putman

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The Incredible Hulk  (2008)
2 Stars
Directed by Louis Leterrier.
Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, Christina Cabot, Peter Mensah, Lou Ferrigno, Stan Lee, Robert Downey Jr.
2008 – 113 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for action violence, some frightening images, and brief suggestive content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 10, 2008.
In 2003, acclaimed filmmaker Ang Lee released "Hulk," the big-budgeted adaptation of the Marvel comic book series created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Starring Eric Bana as Dr. Bruce Banner and Jennifer Connelly as his true love Betty Ross, the film was considered a box-office disappointment and mainstream audiences complained that the picture was too slow, ponderous and heady for their liking. Having revisited "Hulk" in the last week, the film now comes off as an astoundingly misunderstood achievement—a complex, multilayered, visually extravagant, and ultimately quite moving operatic tragedy that transcends the norm of the genre. If all viewers really wanted was just a big, dumb, by-the-numbers action flick, then their wishes have been granted with "The Incredible Hulk," a creatively dull reinvisioning that pretends "Hulk" never existed.

Following an opening credits sequence explaining the backstory of how cellular biologist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) was involved in a genetic accident that left him with the unstoppable ability to transform into a nine-foot-tall, green-skinned superhuman whenever his heart rate and rage level were raised, the plot proper picks up five years later, with Bruce in hiding in Brazil. As the hulk, he was responsible for multiple deaths and mass destruction, and General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt)—father of Bruce's now-estranged girlfriend Betty (Liv Tyler)—has made it his life's mission to find and destroy him. When Bruce's whereabouts are finally located, he once again must go on the run, secretly returning to the U.S. in the hopes that the data he has collected will be enough to reverse his infection. With a reunited Betty once again by his side, they head for New York City to visit a scientist who may be able to help them. Hot on their trail is not only General Ross, but also cutthroat British soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), himself now injected with a strain of the same dangerous serum.

Because "Hulk" is only five years old, it is virtually impossible not to compare it to "The Incredible Hulk," particularly since the unwise decision was made to start the series over from scratch. "Hulk," as directed by Ang Lee, was rich in character work, narrative depth and a provocative subtlety that spoke louder than any words or explosions could have. At the same time, it was also gorgeous to look at, complete with comic book-inspired aesthetics and an overall sense of wonder and poeticism. "The Incredible Hulk," helmed by Louis Leterrier (2005's "Unleashed"), hasn't any of those characteristics. The film is grittier, to be sure, but it is also emotionally wooden and visually forgettable, a CGI-heavy grab for the attention of teenage boys that has no concern for finding an identity of its own.

The screenplay by Zak Penn (2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand") is unimaginative and the story that is woven feels unnecessary, with little forward momentum taking place and none of the characters really growing any through the course of the running time. The special effects used to bring the Hulk to life are pretty good, and detail in body musculature and facial expressions are strong, but he really doesn't have much to do once the transformation occurs. The film lacks scope; the underwhelming action set-pieces have all been given away by the trailers and television ads, and they are all suffocating in their onslaught of CGI and dreary camerawork. The climactic battle on the streets of New York City between the Hulk and a now-monstrous Blonsky reminds of a poor-man's "Cloverfield," especially ironic since "Cloverfield" was made for a fraction of the budget that "The Incredible Hulk" had at its disposal. Watching two giant creatures face off, both whom are one step away from being invincible, just isn't very interesting, and director Louis Leterrier is additionally unsuccessful in bringing a grandeur to the proceedings or a rooting interest in how things turn out. Like 2007's "Transformers," it's just a lot of mindless chaos and freneticism lacking a heart or soul.

Edward Norton (2006's "The Illusionist") is a committed and passionate actor well-equipped to tackle the role of Bruce Banner, but the finished product does him no favors. It has been extensively documented in the press that Norton was battling the studio for final cut of the movie—he apparently had edited a 135-minute version that he much preferred to the 113-minute cut being released—and all evidence points to him being valid in his opinions. As it is now, the film is dumbed-down and deficient in personality. As love interest Betty Ross, Liv Tyler (2008's "The Strangers") shows a fiery flair in her reading of a character whose relationship with her father is strained and whose love for Bruce is the only thing to tame his out-of-control alter-ego. That Betty drops her current boyfriend (Ty Burrell) the second Bruce shows up without so much as a good-bye, however, seems awfully insensitive.

"The Incredible Hulk" has a few effective scenes, such as a touching one between Bruce and Betty in a cave and a very funny one that makes a succinct comment on New York City cab drivers. What is so disappointing about the film, though, is how much of a lesser experience it is than "Hulk." From its uninspired writing to its plodding character interplay to its stock action to its horribly cheesy "Hulk Smash" moment, the picture is mundane, predictable and empty. The title oversells the output. "The Incredible Hulk" isn't incredible at all. In fact, he's discouragingly ordinary.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman