reviewed by Tom-Tom
Man, it is difficult to make a decent Hulk movie. The problem, I believe lies in the character itself. Like a werewolf film or any monster movie, actually, the inevitable point of the plot is directed towards the beast or a transformation into said beast. Every part of the plot in which the party trick (as later called by the Messiah of current Bruce Banner’s Mark Ruffalo) isn’t featured unfortunately pales in comparison to the points in which it does. The original TV series, at least, had interesting plot lines and dialogue as Dr. Banner searched all over to find a cure while being hunted down by an investigative reporter. Each episode ended with his transformation into Lou Ferrigno still, in my opinion, the most impressive of the Hulks, although the most recent one introduced in the Avengers films comes close. It was impressive because it was a real guy albeit covered with green body paint and bushy eyebrows tearing things apart, someone I might very well could have grown up to be, like Mr. T, or Rocky, or the Karate Kid i.e. the product of a lot of hard work and not a little bit of coolness. But here, along with Ang Lee’s previous respectable attempt to make the green giant scientifically plausible, the Hulk is the thing people are coming to see so they can see him, to quote the late film critic Roger Ebert’s derisive take on lazy action scenes, “blow stuff up good.”
Thankfully, we don’t have to sit through the Hulk origin story in its entirety here. It is shown through skillfully cut scenes showing Dr. Banner (Edward Norton) infusing himself with gamma radiation for reasons we know not while girlfriend Betty Ross (Liv Tyler )and her military father General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) look on in horror as the (University Professor?) poor guy goes green even to the eyes.
The film cuts to the present with Banner living in a shanty town in Brazil. He works in a bottling factory off the books taking anti-stress lessons from a yogi of sorts who attempts to teach the gringo how to physically reduce his strong emotions by sucking his stomach in and out. It’s weird but apparently effective.
A slip-up on Banner’s part leads General Ross’ forces to his Brazilian home’s door aided by Emil Blonsky played with an all-in gusto by Tim Roth and very possibly the best (only good?) thing about this movie. Bruce makes his escape dressed in a very incognito bright red parka. His pulse, which is monitored constantly by a wrist indicator slowly rises and we can sense what’s coming. To be fair, the screenwriters really do their best not to jump the shark here with the Hulk’s visage finally revealed through a haze of smoke. The film’s not without self referential humor with signs of stretchy, Hulk-transformation-friendly pants mentioned and cameos by Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno himself.
It’s compelling the almost suicidal urge of Blonsky to face the Hulk again. He approaches the problem coolly and calmly as he listens to the General’s debriefing, but we see the all too familiar mad glint in his eyes. This guy likes a challenge and he’s about to level the playing field. This allows for some revisionist back story in which we learn that Banner hadn’t even intended to help the army but instead had attempted to make a gamma radiation proof serum and it somehow went wrong. Way to completely take everything interesting about the character away, guys.
Liv Tyler as Betty Ross isn’t half as interesting as Jennifer Connolly in Hulk steering more towards the damsel in distress than the capable woman of action. When the Hulk himself comes into full view, it’s for shame. He has unusual ridges in his chest, and just looks out of place as a CGI despite advances which made Gollum, Yoda, and dinosaurs look much more realistic 5-15 years before this film. William Hurt, although certainly not my favorite actor is rather underused with his two-dimensional, almost 5 year-old’s image of how a Military General should act, performance.
The Hulk too, is an enigma. Is he sentient or just a rage monster? Why do his screams sound like a Balrog’s? Can he actually speak? Can anyone’s heart rate get to 200 that easily? Especially a skinny guy like Norton? I’ve run races and never gotten above 160 beats per minute and I’m not the healthiest guy around. Why does it have to be exactly 200 that Banner turns into the Hulk? The reason behind these questions is more the result of lazy writing than intentional enticement.
The final act of this mess goes down the rather uninteresting path trodden before albeit with better writing in Superman II. A Mr. Blue (Tim Blake Nelson as zany as ever) joins Emil Blonsky as the only other slightly interesting character in the movie. I believe the reason the Hulk finally found his place in the Avengers because there were other things going on rather than just waiting for Banner to go green. There were other plots, other interesting characters to care about, even the non-super ones. As The Incredible Hulk sadly proves, Banner’s “party trick” isn’t enough to make a good movie although it is fun to see Tim Roth give his minor role his all, while he remains Tim Roth and not a CGI character, that is.