Ang Lee’s Hulk, the A Beautiful Mind take, left fans cold, so now we have Louis Leterrier’s “HULK SMASH!” version – and it does indeed rock the house. The script – solely credited to Zak Penn [suggesting that the parts star Edward Norton worked on were edited out] – gives us all kinds of neat stuff to watch: Bruce Banner [Norton] working on Brazilian martial arts techniques to maintain his calm; a graphic that pops up every so often to remind us that it’s been x days since his last Hulk-out; a kind of spiffy pair of references to Captain America [including a shield!]; a brief appearance by Dr. Leonard Sampson; a hint that the Hulk’s smartest arch-enemy might be waiting in the wings if a sequel is warranted, and lots more.
The question is, does the movie work? Well, yeah, it does. The only real problem with the film is that it has been edited to be almost the exact opposite of the Lee film – almost all action, with a small amount of character development. A lot of critics will probably tell you the film is humourless, too, but watch for what has to be Stan Lee’s best cameo ever and see what you think. There’s even just enough romance to remind people that Banner had a serious relationship before he become the Jekyll/Hyde being that he is.
The plot here is pretty much the basic Hulk comics plot: Banner doesn’t want to become the Hulk but people won’t leave him – with predictable and dire results. The fun is in setting the film is real locales [the chase through the Brazilian favella might remind of Jason Bourne, but it’s nifty in its own way] and in using the Banner character to show two of the basic conflicts in fiction: Man vs. Himself; Man vs. The Environment, and Man vs. Man. Banner’s struggle against his primal self is there, just as in the comics, as is his struggle with the U.S. Army – personified by General Thunderbolt Ross [William Hurt] and Emil Blonsky [Tim Roth]. A case could be made that the climactic battle between Hulk and the Abomination could also represent Man vs. The Environment [or misuse of same], but we’ll forego that one.
Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk loses the comic affectations of Lee’s film – there are no shots composed to resemble comic book panels – but retains the emotional core [however little screen time it might get] and powers forth the action. By the time Hulk and the Abomination clash, they are characters and not merely CG constructs. Leterrier’s direction is as swift as merciless as Emil Blonsky, and a whole ‘nother level beyond what he achieved in his Transporter films.
Perhaps, if there were more character moments [not many, but the inclusion of the Banner-Samson chat from the first trailer would’ve been nice] the film would resonate better, but this time, it’s all about the fun – and The Incredible Hulk is definitely that!
Final Grade: B+