- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
uch has been made about the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding Marvel’s big screen relaunch of the Incredible Hulk. From the alleged debate over the film’s final cut between star Edward Norton and the studio, to the recent announcement that Norton would be snubbed a writing credit for his polish of Zak Penn’s script, the movie was gearing up to be a publicity-fueled disaster. As it turns out, all that fuss was for nothing. Not only is director Louis Leterrier’s “The Incredible Hulk” a vast improvement upon Ang Lee’s 2003 version, but it’s a solid comic book movie that is sure to win over the hearts of fanboys and newcomers alike.
Taking place months after his initial transformation into the Hulk, the story begins with Dr. Bruce Banner (Norton) on the run in Brazil. Learning to control his anger while seeking a cure for the gamma poisoning that causes him to mutate when his heart rate accelerates, Banner’s plans are interrupted when General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) sends in a Special Ops unit – led by ex-KGB mercenary Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) – to capture him and study like a lab rat. Banner barely escapes (but not before revealing his nastier side), and upon his return to the US, he links up with his former flame (and the General's daughter), Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), to continue his research. Meanwhile, Blonsky seeks to even the odds in preparation of his next face-off with the Hulk, but when his insatiable appetite for power results in him mutating into a Hulk-like creature called The Abomination, Banner is called on by Ross to control the monster inside him and save the day.
Though the movie starts out more like a Jason Bourne adventure with Banner constantly on the run (there’s even a rooftop chase similar to the one in “The Bourne Ultimatum”), the film is rarely dull. Leterrier doesn’t make the audience wait too long for the first appearance of the Hulk, and even after you’ve seen him in action, you only want more. Not surprisingly, the film delivers plenty of cool set pieces along the way, including a no-holds-barred battle between the Hulk and the Abomination in the streets of New York, and an even more enjoyable fight between the Hulk and a still-human (but super soldier-juiced) Blonsky in the second act.
The Hulk also looks about ten times better than Ang Lee’s neon-green version. His muscles bounce and ripple when he moves, and his grittier appearance makes him look more realistic. Sure, he’s still very much a CGI character in a live-action world, but what more do you expect from a giant green monster? Thankfully, “The Incredible Hulk” isn’t solely dependent on its titular character’s appearance. Edward Norton delivers a pleasantly underplayed performance as Banner, while Liv Tyler and William Hurt prove that they’re more than capable of filling such pivotal roles. Even Tim Roth, who could have easily gone over the top as the film’s villain, is clearly having the time of his life without coloring outside the lines. Additionally, cameos by Lou Ferringo, Stan Lee and Robert Downey Jr. offer an exciting look at what the Marvel Universe used to be and what it aims to become in the future.
The one thing I wasn’t expecting in an Incredible Hulk movie was humor, but Leterrier pulls it off surprisingly well with some light-hearted homages to the 1970s TV series. Still, “The Incredible Hulk” is first and foremost an action movie, and though it’s not quite as good as “Iron Man,” it’s a proper adaptation that delivers plenty of action without sacrificing character development. This is everything a Hulk movie should be, and it’s likely to become the surprise hit of the summer season.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Release:
“The Incredible Hulk” may not have done as well as “Iron Man” at the box office, but the Blu-ray release for the film is just as impressive. Highlighted by an audio commentary with director Louis Leterrier and co-star Tim Roth, an alternate opening that shows Bruce Banner contemplating suicide in the Arctic Circle, and a whopping 42 minutes of deleted scenes, the single-disc set is packed with more punch than a Hulk Smash. The rest of the bonus material is focused on the behind-the-scenes experience, with “The Making of Incredible” taking a broader approach to the production of the movie, and “Anatomy of a Hulk-Out” offering a more detailed look at the filming of the three Hulk-driven action sequences. Rounding out the set are two cool featurettes on the creation of the Hulk and the Abomination (complete with footage of the two actors’ involvement in bringing their CG counterparts to life), an animated comic from Hulk: Gray #5, and the typical U-Control feature which includes a picture-in-picture video track, a character and location dossier, and a Scene Explorer which allows the audience to simultaneously view the storyboards, animatics, VFX and final product for a handful of important sequences.