Having been brought up during the time when The Incredible Hulk was the biggest show on television it was difficult to approach the movie version in an opened minded and positive way. The series was a massive success all over the world and ran for five seasons and several made for TV movies. It explored every aspect of the character, in both his guises, in such depth that there was a concern that there was little that was fresh to deliver an exciting story to the screen. Add to this, the previous film directed by Ang Lee was harshly reviewed and could have killed the franchise stone dead. Fortunately Hulk made a welcome return as part of the first phase of the Marvel cinematic universe.
The approach that the writers used for the film immediately showed that they were willing to try something a little different. The obvious route would have been to go through the origin story one more time with another actor in the role of the troubled scientist. So it came as something of a surprise when this did not happen. The whole origin story is told, but it is condensed into the title sequence of the film. It is a very clever move. It gives people not familiar with the story an opportunity to catch up and at the same time reassures the fans that it isn’t straying too far from what they already know about the characters. We see how the monster emerges, how his rage hurts the woman he loves (Liv Tyler) and how Banner comes to be on the run. That initial sequence leaves the film makers the space to develop their own ideas on how Bruce Banner tries to rid himself of the beast within.
Banner (Edward Norton) has been living under the radar for over five years and knows how to making himself invisible. While in Brazil working in a soft drinks factory he has an accident where a drop of his blood finds its way into a drink destined for the USA. When a man (Stan Lee) comes down with gamma poisoning, General Ross (William Hurt) is soon on the case and dispatches a team led by Emile Blonsky (Tim Roth) to Rio to take the monster down. Chaos ensues.
This film was a complete surprise to me. As I noted the apprehension was there before I even saw the movie. This was dispelled really quickly owing to the introduction and the way the story unfolded. There was no great rush to get to the action set pieces and it allowed Edward Norton to establish the character to the audience. This can be quite unusual for any personality never mind one that is reasonably well-known to the audience. Norton is excellent in his portrayal of Bruce Banner. He plays it small and calm just as his character is just trying to be at all times. He lends a humanity to both sides of Bruce Banner. This leaves room for William Hurt to chew the scenery in his role of General Ross. He is the archetypal military officer and you get his motivations right from the start. Tim Roth is reliable as always. He does not get a lot to play with as the veteran soldier but gives it his all, especially when he starts to get angry as well. Unfortunately Liv Tyler’s part is not particularly well-developed and she fails to make a mark on the scenes she is in. I suppose trying to steal the scene from a giant green guy is a bit arduous.
That leads me to the CGI and, inevitably, the star of the show. Hulk doesn’t look fake in any way and you get a real sense of his presence in every shot.He has grittiness to him that was sadly absent from the Ang Lee version. The same can be applied to the other monster who makes an appearance later on for the inevitable CGI heavy battle. The fights are well done on a small enough scale to allow the audience to easily follow the action. The director Louis Leterrier, had previously made his mark with the action film Transporter 2 and is well able to handle the action beats. It is very impressive stuff indeed.
It was good to see a few nods to the Marvel universe throughout the film. In the opening credits, there are mentions of SHIELD and Stark industries interwoven with the back story. There is a sequence early on where Banner is walking and the intimate end credits music from the television show starts to play. Then there is a small cameo role for the original Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, as a security guard. All of these things contribute to the enjoyment of the movie for fans but crucially do not detract from the main story.
Overall an impressive screen outing for the big green guy which meant that The Avengers movie was one step closer. Recommended.