Now, that's more like it.
Five years after Ang Lee's brooding, psychological take on the Hulk turned off moviegoers and faded fast from the box office after a huge $62 million opening weekend, Marvel Studios went back to the drawing board for a complete reboot of the iconic hero that was first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in 1962. Turns out that trying again was a bold risk that paid off, since the resulting film, while not quite incredible, is still very entertaining.
Where the 2003 version featured bland performances, phony-looking special effects and a ponderous story that took itself way too seriously, The Incredible Hulk -- the second film to be released under the new Marvel Studios banner (after Iron Man) -- gets it right by being what the first movie should have been like all along. With a lean running time of 1 hour and 52 minutes, it's fast-paced, action-packed, a lot more heroic and a ton of fun.
The basic premise is the same, just as it should be. Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is desperate to find a cure to the gamma radiation that poisoned his body after a freak accident, causing him to transform into a raging, not-so-jolly green giant whenever he gets really, really angry. His condition forces him to live as a fugitive in order to stay one step ahead of his nemesis, General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt), who will stop at nothing to track him down.
But Ross has a motive: to tap into Banner's indestructible power in an effort to create a formidable new weapon. Helping Ross is Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a fearless Super Soldier whose lust for power eventually transforms him into the deadly Abomination. Banner's only hope lies with Dr. “Betty” Ross (Liv Tyler), the General's estranged daughter who must help him find a balance between living a peaceful life as Bruce Banner and a heroic one as the big guy.
There's no question that The Incredible Hulk is a major improvement over its predecessor, but there are times when it feels a bit derivative of other movies. After limiting the Hulk's origins to the hyper-kinetic opening credits, the story cuts to Rio de Janeiro, where Banner tries to evade Ross's forces by jumping across the rooftops like Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum. And later, the beauty-and-the-beast style relationship that develops between Betty Ross and the Hulk is not unlike the bond that develops between Ann Darrow and King Kong.
But director Louis Leterrier (the Transporter movies) and screenwriter Zak Penn (X2: X-Men United) keep the movie fun by toying with the character's mythology, particularly the one found in the TV series that starred Bill Bixby. The TV theme song is clearly audible during Craig Armstrong's musical score, and Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk on TV, adds a nice touch on two fronts: not only does he have a funny cameo, but he also provides the Hulk's voice.
There was a lot of criticism that the special effects in the 2003 version looked too fake, and while the Hulk's physical features are a lot more defined this time around, he still looks like a computer-generated character. But the end result is still a marvel to behold, especially when the Hulk starts throwing cars around like they were yesterday's news. And the climactic battle scene with the Abomination will keep you on the edge of your seat, even if it does feel comparatively similar to the urban-set finales of Transformers and Iron Man.
But where Iron Man proved its mettle with enormous crossover appeal, it's highly unlikely that The Incredible Hulk will share the same fate. It still fits the bill as action-packed entertainment, but the characters are underdeveloped, and the romantic relationship between Edward Norton and Liv Tyler feels more stiff than natural. But William Hurt and Tim Roth seem to be having fun playing the bad guys, and keep an eye out for a fun cameo near the end that further sets into motion an Avengers movie sometime in the year 2011.
Truth be told, I actually liked Ang Lee's take on the Hulk. It wasn't a great movie by any means, but I still admired Lee for trying something different from the norm. The Incredible Hulk may be more routine as far as superhero movies go, but at least it's a return to form in all the right ways, and it will hopefully win back jaded moviegoers who were turned off by its predecessor.
And if they give it that chance, I'm sure they will agree that that's more like it.