When it was first announced that there would be a follow up to director Ang Lee's 2003 film Hulk, it seemed like The Inconceivable Hulk would have been a more appropriate title than The Incredible Hulk. "Inconceivable" because Lee's film was a significant disappointment that brought highbrow drama to a character that is most entertaining when he is smashing things, resulting in a movie that very few people were clamoring to see more of. But because the green-skinned goliath is one of Marvel Comics' biggest characters--both literally and figuratively--it was only a matter of time before he was back in action on film. It just seems like it would have been a wise choice to at least wait until the unpleasant taste of Lee's take on Hulk had dissipated before serving up another helping of potentially green crap.
Replacing Lee with director Louis Leterrier and actor Eric Bana with Edward Norton, The Incredible Hulk seeks to make right all that went wrong with Hulk, and get the franchise up and running for what promises to be a series of interconnected films set within the Marvel Universe. And while it seemed like a pretty stupid idea to revisit a character that pretty much failed the last time on the big screen, The Incredible Hulk actually manages to repair much of the damage done the last time Bruce Banner's monstrous alter ego went on the rampage. It is not a great movie, and it still has its share of problems, but the disparity between success and failure is not nearly as pronounced as it was in the 2003 film.
With Norton taking over as Dr. Bruce Banner--that would be one of the film's failures--The Incredible Hulk picks up several years later, with the good doctor hiding out in Brazil, as he looks to find a cure to the gamma radiation poisoning that transforms him into a raging green monster. Meanwhile, General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) continues to hunt down Banner, with the hopes of turning the technology that turned him into the Hulk into some sort of weapon. Working with Ross is Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a career soldier still looking for a good fight. Ross tracks Banner down in Brazil, and dispatches a team led by Blonsky, but before they can capture Banner, he transforms into the Hulk, smashes everything up, and escapes the scene of the melee.
More desperate than ever to find a cure, Banner returns to the United States where he runs into his former lover, Ross' estranged daughter Betty (Liv Tyler), who is determined to help him find a cure. But before Betty can really help Banner, Ross and his team of commandos attack, Banner once again Hulks out, and the Hulk proceeds to smash! Ross, however, has an unexpected trick up his sleeve. It seems that Blonksy has agreed to take part in an experiment that could potentially give him powers similar to the Hulk. Of course, things don't go quite as planned, and fans of the comic will no-doubt recognize the creature that Blonksy transforms into as the Abomination, a hideous monster that gives the Hulk a run for his money.
The most important thing to know about The Incredible Hulk is that it is a better movie than Hulk--at least in some ways. Norton is definitely not an improvement over Bana, and the CGI creature in the first movie looked more real more of the time than this one does. The Hulk in this film looks fake more often than not, and even when he looks more "organic," he is never believable as an actual living entity--especially during the more quite scenes opposite real human beings.
Despite the fact that compared to Eric Bana, Edward Norton comes across like a man missing half his spine and both his testicles, and that most of the time the Hulk looks like a cross between a Ray Harryhausen creature and a green, non-skid butt-plug, The Incredible Hulk really is a better film than Hulk. The script written by Zack Penn and then tinkered with by Edward Norton is a vast improvement over the David Mamet-wannabe script of the 2003 Hulk, which was ponderous, pretentious and pretty damn boring. At the end of the day, the only thing a film with the green-skin goliath needs is to deliver a decent helping of Hulk Smash!™. The 2003 Hulk didn't deliver nearly enough Hulk Smash!™, and while The Incredible Hulk does run a bit too long, and the script does get weighed down in a bit too much melodrama and human angst, it certainly comes through with the Hulk Smash!™ quota.
Compared to some other superhero movies--and we'll restrict the comparison strictly to Marvel films--The Incredible Hulk could probably be best described as middle-of-the-road. It is not nearly as good as the first two Spider-Man movies, the first two X-Men movies, or Iron Man, but it is infinitely better than Daredevil, both of the Fantastic Four films, and the unholy crapitude of Brett "Hackmeister" Ratner's X-Men 3. Diehard fans of the comic book version of the Hulk will be more pleased with Leterrier's Hulk than Lee's, as it takes itself much less seriously and delivers more of the type of entertainment you'd expect when you go see a movie about a huge green monster that destroys things.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]