If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. A saying taken to heart by Marvel who felt Ang Lee’s vision of their giant green superhero in Hulk released in 2003 was not a resounding success as it struggled to make more than 100 million dollars at the American box office. Their solution was to bring in a new creative team, cast and crew to revive the franchise fortunes. It would have been a wise move had they known what was wrong with Hulk for it to underperform so badly. On this showing, they didn’t as they’ve taken a step backwards from the deep and brooding atmosphere of Lee’s version to a dumbed-down crowd-pleaser. Hardly a surprise when they put Louis Leterrier, the director of The Transporter 2 and Unleashed (both 2005), in the hot seat.
Picking up where Hulk left off, this new look entry sees Eric Banner (now Edward Norton) hiding in Brazil trying to find a cure for the gamma radiation that has left him with a serious personality complex. Although he has learnt to control his anger and has not turned into the giant green monster of incredible strength, he wants to be rid of it. Communicating with an American scientist known as Mr. Blue on the Internet, he is given hope there may be a solution, however his hope of a discreet recovery are ruined when General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt), the father of his ex-lover and former co-worker Betty (Liv Tyler), gets wind of his location. Enlisting the help of ex-KGB agent Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), he goes on the hunt for Banner in the hope of capturing him for his own use.
From the moment Banner is found by Ross, Leterrier rarely lets the pace of The Incredible Hulk pause for breath: it seems the ponderous approach favoured by Lee which received so much criticism has led to Marvel bosses to demand a hyperactive style here. The edits during scenes cut so close to when a character starts talking it feels you are being rushed through the dialouge scenes, giving little time for the characters to lay much of a foundation. Banner defeats Blonsky in Brazil, makes it to America, finds Betty, battles a Blonsky enhanced with Ross’s super soldier technology based on the Hulk’s radiation exposure in a _Bourne Identity_-lite chase story with none of the intrigue or shadowy goings on. Norton may have helped with the script, but it’s focused on laboured plot points or backstory filler to plug the gaps between the expensive CGI set pieces.
This combination of actors lack the spark needed to carry the loose plot.
For Hulk, the work of George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic team came under criticism for being too crisp and clean. Here, a grittier Hulk is provided which does look a lot more ferocious although, until he squares up to a Blonsky transformed into a similar monster named Abomination, battles against army troops are simply Hulk smashing up military vehicles and a few explosions in open spaces. Once he has someone his own size to square up to, cityscapes become a playground for them both to smash and destroy, and there is good use of _Cloverfield_-esque ground level footage. It just all comes without the sense of depth Lee managed to imbue in a superhero who is essentially a giant green angry man. On a basis level the action is more frequent, yet it is almost overused to make up for the character shortfalls without the CGI.
The Banner/Ross romance is unconvincing, suffering from pale King Kong overtones, while Hurt’s Ross is a distant performance from a respected actor lacking the tongue-in-cheek mentality needed for Hollywood blockbusters. Norton himself is an even worse culprit for appearing uninterested — you can tell he is not used to playing second fiddle to a CGI element of his character and struggles to match predecessor Bana in the title role. While Marvel would have hoped The Incredible Hulk would be a step in the right direction to draw a wider audience than their initial attempt, this combination of actors lack the spark needed to carry the loose plot. Roth manfully attempts to snarl his way as the villain of the piece, yet even his desire for more power is oddly muted given his crazy side seen in Resevoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992). The Hulk is likely to be re-appearing in a film version of Marvel’s superhero team The Avengers in 2011, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the next solo outing saw another dramatic overhaul of cast and crew.