Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Lou Ferrigno
Zak Penn, Edward Norton
How much of a nerd was I in junior high and high school?
While most teen boys were obsessing over the adventures of X-Men, Iron Man, Spider-Man and, yes, The Incredible Hulk, I was escaping into the world of Archie, Jughead, Reggie, Veronica and Betty.
I wasn't just a nerd. I was the kind of nerd who got his ass kicked...regularly.
While I've undoubtedly gained an appreciation for the world of Marvel's superheroes, I doubt I'll ever be the sort of guy who rushes out to the multiplex with the opening of each new superhero film.
While I don't fancy myself a fan of the superhero type of film, I must agree on a couple points upon which most superhero fans would likely endorse.
First, the recent "Iron Man" was a damn fine film.
Secondly, Ang Lee's artsy phartsy "Hulk" is not a damn fine film.
Lee has expressed surprise that a mere five years after his film, another Hulk film is being released and it's NOT a sequel to his semi-successful film.
While Lee's film attracted more box-office than anyone would have expected, most in the film industry would agree this was more a symbol of loyalty to the brand than an embracing of Lee's far too artistic vision for "Hulk."
"The Incredible Hulk" is a more faithful action flick than this year's "Iron Man," a film known as much for its wit and style as its action and superhero stylings. In "The Incredible Hulk," Edward Norton engagingly portrays Dr. Bruce Banner, the normally mild-mannered scientist who gets gargantuan and green when the stress builds up.
Unlike "Iron Man," there's not a tremendous focus on storyline and character development, a reported bone of convention between Norton, director Louis Leterrier ("The Transporter") and the studio. It has been reported that Norton is doing minimal publicity out of the film, largely out of disagreement over the version of the film being released and its not including 30 minutes worth of material he and Leterrier felt needed to be included.
Norton may very well be right, though it's difficult to say given that "The Incredible Hulk" already runs at nearly two hours and feels a good 20-30 minutes too long. While the CGI doesn't come off nearly as cartoonish as the film's trailers would have you believe, and the film's action sequences become sillier and sillier while the lack of humor is even more noticeable with the film coming on the heels of Robert Downey, Jr. and "Iron Man."
"The Incredible Hulk" includes virtually everything a superhero film should including a love interest (Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, a military bad guy (William Hurt as General Ross), a genuine bad guy (Tim Roth, as Emil Blonsky...no relation to Nikki) and, as has become a Marvel tradition, a voice from the past shows up in the person of Lou Ferrigno voicing Hulk himself.
As is also a Marvel tradition, there are multiple noteworthy cameos throughout the film including at least one that evoked audible delight from the audience of the screening I attended.
While these cameos aren't likely to stay a secret, I certainly won't spoil the secret here.
"The Incredible Hulk" marks the second time this year that intelligent, gifted actors have taken on roles of this nature. While "The Incredible Hulk" falls short of the depth, style and satisfaction of "Iron Man," action fans are likely to embrace it and Marvel traditionalists are likely to be significantly more satisfied with this film than Ang Lee's 2003 flick.
Scripted by Zak Penn with retouching by Norton himself, it will be interesting to see if Norton can be lured back should the film be a box-office smash given his reported dissatisfaction with the studio's direction for the film. Though, it should be noted that one of the film's most obvious cameos lends credibility to the idea of a sequel and teaming that would likely lure back even the most artistically devoted actor.
Along with Norton's engaging performance, William Hurt shines by giving General Ross the perfect touch of humanity to accompany his obviously dastardly ways while Tim Roth makes an appropriately bad-ass bad guy. Liv Tyler's Betty is surprisingly unconvincing, though this appears more a result of her awkward dialogue than any particular flaw in her performance.
"The Incredible Hulk" may not be the film everyone was hoping for given the popularity of the "Hulk" brand, but it's far more faithful to the superhero's origin than Ang Lee's artistically satisfying but relatively soulless 2003 film. Intense, energetic, action-packed and fun, "The Incredible Hulk" looks to be summer's second box-office hit for the folks at Marvel.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic