June 19, 2008

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The Incredible Hulk (PG-13)
The rather svelte Edward Norton gives us a meaty version of Bruce Banner/Hulk in The Incredible Hulk, an enjoyable and action-heavy reboot of the Hulk franchise.

So the movie doesn’t exactly begin with the words “screw you, Ang Lee and Eric Bana” but it does do its best to erase their Hulk from our memories. Spider-Man 2-style, it gives us the origin story of how Bruce Banner (Norton) became the Hulk (CGI-ed Norton, with, according to IMDB, the voice of Lou Ferrigno) and how he’s spent years trying to control the beast inside of him over the credits. When we catch up with him in the present day, his life consists of anger management techniques learned during some sort of hyper-masculine yoga and a job as a laborer at a soda plant in Brazil where he can’t really speak the language (thus resulting in a very funny “you won’t like me when I’m … hungry?” line). Thanks to an errant drop of Hulk blood and a Stan Lee cameo, his hideout is discovered by General Ross (William Hurt), the Army general who wants to capture the Hulk and use him to make more super-soldiers. He sends hyper-competitive British marine Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) on the mission to capture Banner. Blonsky fails, of course, but he becomes obsessed with meeting again the big green meanie that he saw when Banner’s blood pressure rose a little too much. Blonsky wants to meet the Hulk and fight him, fight him with a chance of winning, a desire that leads Ross to approve some genetic tinkering with the willing Blonsky.

But while Ross wants more hulks, Banner wants to get rid of the one inside him. He trades information about his state with a mysterious Dr. Blue he knows only from the Internet, but when that scientist requires more information to find a cure, Banner decides to head back to the lab where he was created — back to the lab and to his fellow scientist and former love interest, Elizabeth Ross (Liv Tyler).

Yes, this is the “Hulk smash” version of the Hulk story that we did not get last time. Stuff explodes, Hulk fights all manner of people and weaponry, we get the kind of quippy humor that is all but required in a superhero movie. Like Hulk, The Incredible Hulk doesn’t offer all that much that’s new, but unlike its forebear, this movie uses the comic book movie formula to create something that doesn’t feel half-baked. Yes, we have a CGI-ed Hulk, but he seems less like a pixilated cartoon character moving through green-screened space than he did before, and even in the scenes in which a couple of CGI-ed things fight each other, we get some sense that they’re moving in the same space as the rest of the film.

So perhaps “better than” and “not as bad as” and “comparatively more exciting” are not the descriptors this movie was hoping for. The Incredible Hulk is no Iron Man, it didn’t reinvent the genre or even make the genre’s conventions sparkly and new. But it mostly entertained, it basically worked and it generally held my interest from the first hazy scenes to the final blink of a green eye. B

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images and brief suggestive content. Directed by Louis Leterrier and written by Zak Penn, The Incredible Hulk is an hour and 54 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Universal Pictures.