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Incredible Hulk by Louis Leterrier (dir)
Review by Drew Bittner
Date: 13 June 2008 / Show Official Info /

Edward Norton as Bruce Banner "Hulk" / Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Liv Tyler as Betty Ross / Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky "Abomination" / William Hurt as Gen. Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross / Tim Blake Nelson as Samuel Sterns / Ty Burrell asa Dr. Leonard Samson

By now, if you're a comics fan, you've seen The Incredible Hulk. I've seen it twice and, why not, I'll share my opinions with you.

While not quite reaching the heights of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk does a great job of presenting the character (for the second time in five years) to the movie-going public. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is a scientist whose experiment five years ago went horribly wrong; whenever he grows angry or scared, or is hurt, he transforms into a nine-foot-tall greenish-gray engine of mass destruction. He's been on the run since the day of his first change, hounded relentlessly by Gen. Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) and a team of Hulkbusters that now includes top soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth).

Banner is hiding in Brazil, seeking a cure to his transformations, but a mishap puts Ross's troops on his trail once more. Banner tries to elude them but complications ensue, and the Hulk smashes the Hulkbusters--and leaves Blonsky burning for a rematch.

Banner's best hope of a cure now lies in returning to the US, so he heads north and makes his way to Culver College, where he once studied with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler). Betty and Bruce have a relationship that is true love--once she realizes he is back, she gives herself completely to helping Bruce.

Unfortunately, Ross and the Army are on the scene. The ensuing melee results in the monster being given a name and Blonsky suffering a setback.

Bruce and Betty go to New York to meet "Mr. Blue," aka Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson). But things get out of control, and spiral from bad to extremely bad very quickly...

Marvel Studios has another hit on their hands, there's no denying it. The movie, directed by Louis Leterrier and written by Zak Penn, contains amazing amounts of action, matching Bruce Banner and his emerald alter ego against some powerful enemies. The clash at the film's climax is a feast for anyone who loves superhero movie action.

There's also some good chemistry between Edward Norton and Liv Tyler, who make viewers believe that these two have a long history and a powerful emotional bond. There are great little touches that drive this home, from Betty's ability to reach the Hulk's gentler side to Bruce's fleeting looks of yearning when he sees Betty with another man. It's good movie work, supplemented by William Hurt's portrayal of Ross as a man whose ambition long ago overwhelmed his basic humanity--in some ways, he's a bigger monster than the Hulk. And Nelson is manic and almost giddy as Sterns, foreshadowing a major threat on the horizon in his final scene.

On the other hand...

Tim Roth is a fine actor but I felt he was miscast as Blonsky. He has the emotional intensity of a man who simply cannot accept second place to the Hulk, but his physicality just isn't persuasive; he doesn't look like a career hardass. That's just my opinion and it's a minor quibble.

What isn't a minor quibble is how the film makers treated 'Leonard' (aka Dr. Leonard Samson), Betty's transitory boyfriend. We see them together twice--in the quad and in a pizza parlor--before Betty takes Bruce home and then goes with him in the morning. We also get a very brief scene where he gives a psychoanalytic snapshot of Ross. Essentially, his presence in the film was a waste of time. He could have been used to illuminate a romantic triangle with Bruce and Betty, or give Liv Tyler a chance to agonize over leaving a good man for the guy she loved but lost, or even highlight the benefits of a safe, comfortable but unchallenging relationship over a much more dangerous true love.

But no. Instead, we get a general dismissal of the character as unimportant, so that we get no idea why Betty ever dated him. It's a feeble attempt at fan service (see more on this below) but it was entirely wasted and the biggest disappointment of the movie.

As for fan service, gee, did we get a lot of it. Much like Iron Man, this is a movie that is very much a love letter to comic book fans. Keep your eyes open and you'll see a lot of Marvel in the margins.

It shows that Marvel is serious about building an integrated cinematic universe, building upon the great start made by Iron Man. Sure, they might not have the X-Men, Fantastic Four or Spider-Man, but they will have (soon enough) Thor, Captain America, Ant-Man and Iron Man 2.

The movie doesn't reach the heights of Iron Man. Why is that? Maybe it's because Bruce Banner is a less fun character than Tony Stark. They both have their demons to overcome, but Bruce is a more melancholy figure; he's not the guy you'd want to invite to your party, lest he "hulk out" and destroy your home. Maybe it's the more somber tone, but Incredible Hulk is just a less exhilarating movie than Iron Man, which is probably exactly right.

With Incredible Hulk catching the torch in this cinematic relay race, Marvel Studios looks set to earn gold medals for years to come.

Strongly recommended.

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