Director: Louis Leterrier
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler
Runtime: 114 mins
Rating: * *
On paper, The Incredible Hulk incites commentary on varied, complex issues: the interplay of ego and id in the male mind, reprimands against nuclear warfare as well as post 9/11 ideas of civic disorder and the destruction of urban landscapes. All these ideas, though, find their tumult constructed around a giant green man, and outside the safety of comic book pages, their exploration would seem ridiculous. In this spirit, the film gladly explores an approximation of bugger all and isn’t even too entertaining in the process.
Demonstrations of lessons learnt from Ang Lee’s maligned attempt are loud and abrasive: Lee’s novel approach to making a blockbuster – only interrupting the back story when the scenery is beautiful enough to require screen-time – is disregarded, with Leterrier preferring a quick montage. The film tries to further assume a separate identity when Banner (Norton) tosses away a pair of purple pants synonymous with the TV show. Its roots are treated as a great, obvious shame when in fact Lee’s film was generously bland rather than appalling, and any picture that has muscular semi-nudity is liable to be accused of campery. Clearly, the intention here was to revive a franchise, but it’s not really good enough to do that in the way Batman Begins did, so the only identity it’s left with is ‘Studio’s June Tentpole’, with all that entails, including getting rid of plausibility: “Fuck verisimilitude: we’ve got Attitude!” and a script that never goes beyond those old standards of, “Get them looking for a white man in that factory” and a British character saying the word “softball”.
So much time is spent putting a new saddle on a dead mule that, in telling you what the film’s philosophy is as a film, notions of character development are largely abolished. Tim Roth’s villain is introduced in the first 30 seconds as being a British marine that snarls, and these lazy tropes are maintained for the duration, albeit cloaked for the latter part of the movie in a fish-lizard CGI bazaar. The angle of Betty Ross’ (Liv Tyler) mother is twatted into and out of the movie in the space of two lines of dialogue. A sense of who these characters are is so important in this movie, because a read of Wendy Ide’s viperish review of Transformers and a look at The Incredible Hulk’s trailer will tell you everything you need to know about the film: upon transforming into the mongrel-blooded monster, Tim Roth forgets to bring along his penis, while Banner’s multiple emphases on needing stretchy pants reassures that Hulk isn’t going to be so flippantly androgynous. “Any last words?” says Roth. “Hulk. Smash.” And there you go.
Such gorilla-isms, of course, go against what the film tries to establish in the preceding hour and a half; the image of a Hulk able to experience human emotions, of having an ever-increasing sense of control over his actions. Accuracy now clearly at the forefront of the writer’s mind, cluttered Brazilian slums are expertly negotiated by large vehicles and Hulk is unable to jump or run quickly during the first half, a skill he pulls of magnificently when fighting a monster that goes at a bit of a pace.
The protagonist is played by the unlikely match of Edward Norton, who has quietly managed to not appear in a really good film since he did a host of them in the mid to late 90s. His performance is certainly competent, though perhaps William Hurt and Tim Roth perform such brutal eviscerations on their own reputations that he is given too much credit. It is reminiscent, strangely, of Reese Witherspoon’s early teen features, in which the pleasure was all derived from watching her bludgeon the rest of her cohort (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Selma Blair etc.) off the screen with even the mildest facial contortion. Norton, though, really is above involving himself in franchises like The Italian Job and Red Dragon, which are obviously past their peak.
The Incredible Hulk occupies a middle ground where finding positives is difficult. This is a shame, as it isn’t a dreadful experience, and neither, for a movie burdened with the need to make a substantial amount of money after Lee’s failure, is it horribly cynical. It’s not too long, and it’s innocuous without being visual Rohypnol. A sequel is suggested at the end, and whilst there are (hastily shovelled-in) plot strands that could provide another decent film, that’s all it would ever be: a fair plot, nicely realised.