In a chase movie, it’s no coincidence when a camera zooms in on chat-room dialogue reading “Keep moving.” And the quickness of the swift The Incredible Hulk assures that it won’t be lumped alongside, or confused with, 2003’s slow Hulk.
Call Ang Lee’s colossal misfire the interminable skulk. Pretentious psychobabble drowned out the punchy pulp fiction about Bruce Banner’s angry-green-guy side that generations have loved for years in the Marvel series of comic books.
Director Louis Leterrier and writer Zak Penn (with uncredited help from star Edward Norton) have reset this franchise with zany breathlessness. It’s loose, lean, fast, comical, thrilling, loud and as flirtatious with substance as necessary to avoid disposability.
It needs a conflict of blind, destructive fury taking hold of a quiet, rational man. It must address the slippery slope of scientific reach exceeding comprehension. It must rock in totality by showing a green galoot use bad grammar as he rips a cop car in half and uses it as boxing gloves.
If there were a kitchen sink, the Hulk would wear it as a jock.
It’s been five years since nebbish scientist Bruce’s first Hulk-out, the result of gamma rays messing with his genetic markers. That time, Bruce seriously injured fellow-scientist girlfriend Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and her warhawk father, Gen. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt, his liver-spotted face seemingly filled by formaldehyde).
Bruce is now holed up in Brazil, bottling soda for money and breathing deeply to suppress the Hulk. When Bruce’s heart rate rises, so does the Hulk’s indiscriminate brutality. Like a supermarket break room, there is a counter to denote days without incident. It’s at 158, but not for long.
After a drop of Bruce’s blood lands in a bottle, a resultant incident yields the best Marvel-movie cameo yet from former Marvel chairman Stan Lee and a lead on Bruce for the bloodthirsty Ross.
Led by rabid, ruthless black-ops soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), commandoes corner Bruce in the factory where he works. There, he uncages the rage. Leterrier shoots the Hulk’s initial appearance here with the slow, steady reveal of a horror movie. A bevy of swift snatch-and-grabs makes the mammoth, monochromatic monster’s entrance more effective.
Eventually escaping to America, Bruce learns of hidden data with which the general could make military Hulks. With Betty’s help, Bruce must destroy it, but not before getting it to Samuel Stearns (effervescently geeky Tim Blake Nelson), a scientist who might hold a cure. But Blonsky is more formidable than expected after Ross gives him “super-soldier” injections to make him stronger (able to recover even after the Hulk imprints his jawbone on a tree), faster … and less human.
Tyler and Norton seem blubbery in the awkward silences of the talky scenes. Not surprisingly, the busier and more boneheaded The Incredible Hulk gets, the better it is. If a Hulk movie must have been made, this is the one that should have been done five years ago.
Sonic cannons and Humvees impressively barrel across a college quad (attracting only two students), and there’s more vehicular destruction than a 7-year-old discovering Hot Wheels.
It’s also crammed with lovably loopy homages to the TV show and such an assured sense of humor that you’re not likely to ever find a better erectile dysfunction joke in a superhero film.
Both Tyler and Hurt are inoffensively one-note, and its two leads make the most of silly material.
As Bruce, Norton is more persuasively lanky and scientific than 2003’s bulky Eric Bana; resurrecting a nerdy choirboy haircut from Primal Fear in the first half helps, too. Norton bristled at character-development bits lopped out of the final cut, but the tetchy actor is fine enough.
Plus, Roth is so great that, like a good soldier would, you see him extracting vital information from all the exposition. Like a military-minded Dorian Gray, Blonsky’s self-serving preoccupation with maintaining his might is more interesting before his face looks like week-old porridge.
It’s no shocker, then, when Blonsky genetically transforms into the Abomination, an anti-Hulk, for a climactic showdown on a 125th Street in Harlem that looks fished out of a blaxploitation film. (It’s also one of few scenes in which the film’s drab, 1970s-TV color palette is the right choice.)
As good as Norton and Roth are, it’s not enough to make this Hulk-Abomination clash anything more than another very well rendered, but disengaging, CGI clash. The aforementioned car-as-boxing-glove bit is triumphant, but it gets wearisome by the time they’re hurtling helicopters.
So make that one stupid Hulk movie and one stupidly entertaining Hulk movie.