Director: Louis Leterrier
Whereas Iron Man began with a testosterone shot of military hummers, war torn Afghanistan, and with a soundtrack blaring classic hair metal rock, the second Marvel studio release, The Incredible Hulk begins like an exquisitely beautiful and delicate silent movie. I’d almost call it arty if I wasn’t afraid it would conjure up bad memories from the nearly universally loathed, most recent Hulk incarnation from director Ang Lee. No, the 2008 film opens with a terrifically edited montage—a visual tapestry and feast for the ears as well as Scotish Moulin Rouge! composer Craig Armstrong’s impressive musical score (which has now become one of my favorite of 2008) is synched along with images that brings even those of us unfamiliar with the comic book mythology up to speed, with nary a trace of dialogue. In order to best capture the back-story in an efficient and sweepingly visual way, French director Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2), the talented Australian Die Hard 3 cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr. and Hulk’s three person editing team utilize classic cinematic trickery along with telling newspaper headlines and data from pertinent documents to chronicle the sad tale of brainy scientist Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) whose experiments with radiation resistance went horribly wrong, not only poisoning Dr. Banner with dangerous levels of gamma rays but also morphing him into a violent, super-sized green Hulk who unleashes fury when angry, leaving bodies and injury in his wake, including accidentally harming his beloved Dr. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) in the process.
Once the credit sequence ends, our hero vanishes for five years and-- instead of offering a tried, true and admittedly tired superhero paradigm-- the film admirably stays in the mold of great "man on the run" pictures including The Fugitive and The Bourne Identity trilogy. Soon we catch up with Banner hiding in Brazil where-- when he isn’t concentrating on controlling his anger levels with breathing techniques-- works as a lowly factory bottling employee. Now with the sneaking suspicion that he was manipulated by Betty’s shady military general father William Hurt into using the science he assumed was for good for violent ends instead in the General’s quest to harness the Hulk’s capabilities into creating a super soldier where man becomes a weapon for Iron Man hero Tony Stark’s weapons conglomerate Stark Industries, Banner makes strides in contacting a U.S. based scientist to try and reverse the experiment.
Of course, it isn’t too long before the General becomes aware of Banner’s location and sends a team in with enough firepower to take out the entire country, headed up by the ambitious career soldier, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), who after realizing that Banner is “a whole new level of weird” finagles a deal with the General to be injected with the very same product in order to level off the playing field of an unstoppable Hulk whom bullets nor bombs can penetrate.
Realizing that he has no choice but to face the life he’s been escaping, Banner returns home where he unintentionally reunites with his love Betty Ross, now a professor at Culver University in Virginia. Quickly the two go on the lam to search for a cure, with time running out as the General and Blonsky continually track their whereabouts and with every new annoyance, Banner’s pulse increases dangerously towards the magic number of 200 wherein he turns into an uncontrollable version of himself that he most fears, namely The Incredible Hulk.
Although Norton lacks the easy mischievously sexy, albeit sometimes over-the-top charisma of Iron Man’s Robert Downey Jr., he is the quintessentially earnest everyman and one we instinctively empathize with as a likable scientist who’s trying to right some extraordinarily unfortunate wrongs. Granted some critics have-- similar to their main Iron Man attack-- found legitimate fault with Hulk’s lack of a real worthwhile villain although, as a fan, I enjoyed seeing Roth play evil once again. Despite this, the film works best when it’s understated in its attacks, especially in a phenomenally choreographed battle at the university midway through the film and at its absolute worst when it relies too heavily on frankly lackluster special effects in a damn near deafeningly loud, overwhelmingly cheesy video game styled final battle between Norton and Roth that seems to last longer than watching every installment of both The Thorn Birds and Roots miniseries combined.
However, aside from the overly long confrontation which will wear on the patience of a majority of audience members who aren’t fourteen year old boys, as it stands The Incredible Hulk is a superior film to Iron Man—majestic, beautiful, with a more compelling and richer storyline and of course that fantastic score, although this being said, when held up next to Iron Man, it’s nowhere near as fun. And, even though his cameo seemed to last no longer than two minutes, it was an incredibly lively and welcome sight indeed to see the handsome, impeccably dressed Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) arrive in the concluding moments of the film to set up the Hulk sequel and you could audibly hear the anticipation, gratitude, and amusement of the audience who let out either a chuckle or a small admiring holler at the prospect of the two franchises linking up... (okay, so that last cheer may have come from this reviewer).