Dir. Louis Leterrier. 2008. US. 112mins.
Two big-budget, high-profile attempts later and it's perfectly clear that Marvel sincerely believes The Incredible Hulk is a viable film franchise. What's not so clear is why.
Producer Gale Anne Hurd's second stab at The Incredible Hulk throws all the tricks in the blockbuster book at the angry green Marvel man: this is an effects-laden spectacular with a respected, Oscar-nominated actor which culminates in a massive CGI monster mash on the streets of Manhattan. What's missing is any suspense, or, towards the latter part of the film, sense. Perhaps, as the Hulk story is so well known, mystery is impossible, but this leaden Godzilla of a film could have done with some of Iron Man's lighter touch - which a late-shot codicil only serves to underline.
The Incredible Hulk will open big and wide and play happily to its demographic: young, male, monster-loving. It military firepower and brute nastiness will deter families, however, and word of mouth is unlikely to be so strong. Still, it's certainly set to surpass Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk, which took $245.3m worldwide, $132m of that domestically, and better Iron Man's $98m domestic opening weekend in May (although matching its $537m worldwide take to date is not so sure). Without glowing notices, The Incredible Hulk may have a quick drop-off, and ultimately will land on the monster DVD shelf somewhere between King Kong, Godzilla, Alien, Predator (indeed Alien Vs Predator, which this sometimes resembles) other Marvel titles and, yes, Lee's Hulk, which looks like an art film compared to this.
Although Edward Norton tries hard to shade it, Hulk is at heart an extended set-up for two cartoonish monsters to slam each other around Manhattan like a CGI version of a WWF match. The film skips through the Dr Bruce Banner backstory briskly in its opening credits to start out in the favelas of Rio where the world's most famous gamma radiation self-abuser (Norton) is trying to work on his anger-management techniques in muted sequences reminiscent of Batman Begins.
Pursuing him is evil General Ross (William Hurt), who has recruited tough-as-nails soldier Emil Blonsky (an incongruously out-of-shape Roth) to assist, at whatever the cost. While working at a soda bottling plant in Rio, Banner broods over his missing love Betty (Liv Tyler) and corresponds electronically with the mysterious Mr Blue, who may have the solution to his problems.
While this Hulk starts out promising a dark, psychological drama, it soon enough transpires that the film's true heart is as beating, frenzied, summer entertainment and the schism soon begin to show. Norton's Banner is depressed, dull even, with no backstory beyond the obvious, and when Tyler enters the scene, her character is more than a little wet (often literally, as director Leterrier seems hellbent on shooting her in the rain). It's hard to care much about either one.
When General Ross and Blonsky start to parlay about gamma radiation and the potential to create a super soldier, the signposts for a showdown are writ large but it still feels like a long and tedious stomp (often over logic) to the film's clamorous climax. There's not much here in the way of tension, and while Hulk is undoubtedly ferocious, his threat is strictly cartoonish. As he bounces off like a giant green Spacehopper, The Incredible Hulk makes noises about a return, but it seems doubtful audiences will keep the faith for a third try - at least, with Hulk as the sole star.
Valhalla Motion Pictures
Gale Anne Hurd
Kirk M Petruccelli
Peter Menzies Jr
Tim Blake Nelson