The Incredible Hulk has Edward Norton playing Bruce Banner: the gamma-altered scientist who must control his anger, lest he transform into the raging green goliath known as the Hulk. Liv Tyler plays Betty Ross, the love of Banner's life. It's made all the more complicated by the fact that Betty's father General "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) is trying to find the runaway Banner and weaponize whatever the heck it was that went wrong - or went right - with him. Aiding the general is Russian mercenary Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth). Tim Blake Nelson also makes an appearance as Samuel Sterns: not the janitor of the classic Marvel comics, but here a university scientist.
If The Incredible Hulk has anything weighed against it, it's not within the movie itself or from box office competition (as if The Love Guru is going to be worth your eight bucks plus price of popcorn). Rather it will be lingering sentiment from Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk movie. I'm one of of the very few who will admit to liking Ang Lee's vision of the Hulk. In my mind there's not much wrong with Lee's Hulk movie. He tried to make a comic book come to life on the big screen - panels and all - and in that sense it worked beautifully. But it was a handicap toward commercial success. As Orson Scott Card noted a few years ago, movies based on comic books can either be (a) made for the fans of the comic book or (b) made for movie audiences in general. Ang Lee's approach from the former jarred many who were expecting an action spectacle. I must say this though: the scene toward the end of Hulk between Bruce and his father David as they meet - you know what I'm talking about if you've watched it - is my favorite single scene from any comic book movie of recent years. That scene alone is why Hulk still whirs happily in my DVD player every so often.
But there's no denying the obvious: Ang Lee's Hulk was on many fronts a disappointment. Five years later and people still remember that. And that's the biggest hurdle that 2008's The Incredible Hulk must overcome.
I hope it does, because The Incredible Hulk is a very good movie. And if you did enjoy 2003's Hulk, I think you will be very pleasantly surprised at how much better The Incredible Hulk is. Director Louis Leterrier took the more wise approach and made this a movie that everyone can dig, whether die-hard fans of the comic or those who fondly remember Kenneth Johnson's television series, or just casual movie-goers. Indeed The Incredible Hulk, as my friend Phillip Arthur has observed, is something of a synthesis of the 1970s The Incredible Hulk television show and the recent incarnation of the character from Marvel Comics' Ultimate line. The film begins with one of the smarter origin sequences for a comics-inspired film: Bruce Banner conducts an experiment on himself involving gamma radiation, in a shot directly inspired by the now-famous image of Bill Bixby sitting in the gamma machine from the television show. Without a word of audible dialogue we see how something goes very wrong, and Banner transforms into the green Goliath for the first time. Banner escapes and goes on the run, trying to flee both from love for Betty and capture by the military.
If there's one thing that I miss from Hulk that is not in The Incredible Hulk, it's the subplot about Banner and his father, and how that was the source of Banner's pent-up rage. But on the other hand, The Incredible Hulk plays up more of the classic angle of Banner being a man who wants to be left alone and can't stop the constant harassment by those who would exploit or destroy him. As Phillip also previously wrote, it's like "Frankenstein meets The Fugitive".
The action sequences in The Incredible Hulk destroy lots of property, like military equipment and a university and much of downtown New York City... which for a property like Hulk, that's a good thing! I thought that Emil Blonsky/the Abomination was a much better physical foe than David Banner was in the 2003 Hulk movie (but why couldn't they give him the ears he has in the comic?). There are also many nods to the Seventies television series, including how they were able to include Bill Bixby (won't say how, but I couldn't help but have a wide-eyed grin at seeing him here). Lou Ferrigno has a much better cameo appearance than the one he had in Hulk. Craig Armstrong's score also includes "The Lonely Man" theme from the television show. And of course there is the ubiquitous crashing the party - as he does with every Marvel movie but we do enjoy looking for him - of Stan "The Man" Lee, in what is likely his strangest cameo yet.
And then there is that final scene in the bar, between General Ross and a certain character - played by the same actor - from this summer's OTHER Marvel Comics movie. In another era, it might have been a tacked-on thing. But between that and the other references in The Incredible Hulk - including what happens to Stearns and even to what Marvel geeks will recognize as the "Super Soldier" program that produced Captain America - there's a real sense of a new mythology being built on screen, in a way that I can't recall has ever been done this way before. If done right, this could be a very cool thing that Marvel Studios is working toward. It's almost enough to make me think that the X-Men and Spider-Man movies came along a decade too early.
Anyhoo, check out The Incredible Hulk. I think you'll find it a far better movie than anything you might have been expecting. Definitely one to add to the DVD library later this year, too.