Opening with a sequence similiar to the depiction of Tony Stark's rise in Ironman, Louis Letterier's The Incredible Hulk deals with essential backstory in a matter of seconds, with the least amount of fuss. Bruce Banner, this time out played by Edward Norton, now works in a soda-pop factory somewhere in South America, trying to lead a quiet existence "without incident". Meanwhile, General Ross (the hammy William Hurt) is continuing his personal vendetta against Banner, and brings in Special Forces guy Emil Blonsky, played by Tim Roth, to track him down and bring him in.
Blonsky fails to capture Banner, who obliterates his team in our first brief sighting of the Hulk. This sequence plays out a little like something from a horror movie - Blonsky's men snatched out of the darkness by an obscured green monster. Blonsky wants another shot, and General Ross offers him the chance to become like Banner. As soon as this offer is made, you know its a mistake, as both Ross and Blonsky are slightly unhinged, maybe not making the best decisions they've ever made in their lives. Blonsky likes the idea of becoming a test subject a bit too much. He experiments, and foolishly goes up against the Hulk one on one. He is nearly killed. Now General Ross has the perfect subject - a broken, willing Blonsky out for revenge. The Abomination is born.
One of my favorite sequences of the film is when Blonsky, not yet the Abomination, tries to take on the Hulk. He's had a little of the super soldier serum and he wants to put it to the test. An impressive standoff ensues with Blonsky taunting Hulk, displaying some very slick acrobatics. This is not just his SAS training - its the serum is going to work. The Hulk does indeed batter him though.
Both the Abomination and the Hulk look great. Thing is, this time around I only felt some of the pure rage and adrenaline that I got from Ang Lee's Hulk. The highlight of the film is seeing Hulk wreak wanton destruction, but this time it seemed more restrained, controlled. I know that as Hulk progresses in the comic books, he does get gradually smaller and more intelligent, so Leterrier and ultimately Marvel may have wanted a reflection of that. I also thought the film could have benefited from a greater comparison between the character of Bruce Banner and Emil Blonsky. Blonsky makes the drastic decision to allow his body to be experimented on, and like Banner, he knows his body is going to change. Having Blonsky struggle with the psychological implications of this, aswell as the physical, would have made for interesting viewing.
As for the rest of the film, I feel somewhat conflicted. I'm not convinced about Louis Leterrier, he doesn't seem able to elicit even half-decent performances from his cast. Edward Norton is the only actor who really comes away from the production with any dignity. To be honest he is a more than adequate replacement for Eric Bana, and I think here we have one of those rare occasions where a change in lead actor makes no difference to the sequel. Norton has an air of vulnerability but ultimately isn't tested. As predicted Liv Tyler brings nothing to the role of Betty Ross, only solidifying the talents of Jennifer Connolly in the first film. William Hurt, as General Ross, doesnt seem to know what kind of picture he's in, and certainly looks like he was not prepared for this role or even entering into the comic book genre. His scenes with Roth seem a little uneasy, uncomfortable. Most of the dialogue is truly laudable so the principal players struggle. Leterrier himself struggles with the scenes inbetween the action. I've seen The Transporter, Leterrier's first outing as director, and I remember remarking to myself that the action sequences were very well executed but the dialogue and acting sucked. Thankfully Jason Statham has come a long way since that one.
By all means go and see this as it is a spectacle. The Hulk scenes are great, yet I can't help thinking that in the hands of a more accomplished director, this could have been so much better. Then again, who in their right mind would a) direct a film about a big green man, and b) take on a project that the mighty Ang Lee was slated for? Without giving anything away though, there is a cameo at the end that makes it all better....
© Robin Maxwell - Spittinflicks.