Marvel’s 2008 re-launch of their Hulk franchise was supposed to be more “mainstream” than Ang Lee’s previous take. By mainstream, Marvel was probably thinking of improving box office receipts. Ironic, then, that the film’s US opening weekend box office actually fared worse than Lee’s Hulk.
The Incredible Hulk basically follows the same updated storyline – scientist Bruce Banner is bombarded with gamma rays and turns into the Hulk when he becomes angry or when his pulse rate spikes.
Plot: It is immediately evident that Marvel wanted this new film to contain as little exposition as possible as one action scene follows another. The script and directing pays tribute to the 1970s TV series with Banner as a loner on the run. The visuals of Banner changing into the Hulk – the dark shot of Banner’s face with his eyes glowing green – is a direct reference to Bill Bixby.
Action: The studios hired Louis Leterrier (Jet Li’s Danny The Dog, The Transporter) to helm this project hoping it would turn out to be an action extravaganza – but I found the action unexciting with a been-there-seen-that feel. The opening chase thru the slums of Brazil is far inferior to the one in Casino Royale. The special effects are serviceable but not exceptional. On the positive side, the film is closer to the comic than Ang Lee’s version, and features crowd pleasers like Hulk’s thunder-clap and the big green monster shouting “Hulk smash!”.
Cast: I was surprised when Marvel cast Ed Norton in the role of Bruce Banner. The end result, however, is disappointing. I actually like Eric Bana more as Banner and also preferred Jennifer Connelly to Liv Tyler. The rest of the cast was unexceptional – no standouts.
Interesting note – Brazilian jujitsu master Rickson Gracie makes a brief appearance as Bruce Banner’s instructor, teaching him breathing exercises. The roller credits, however, bill him as an aikido instructor!
Fan pleasers: Marvel’s recent productions have all included minor scenes foreshadowing the imminent Avengers movie. In The Incredible Hulk, we get specific mentions of the super soldier formula / serum that was used on Captain America and a brief scene with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr). Nice for fans, I suppose.
In short, The Incredible Hulk is a brainless and unexceptional action blockbuster. Not a hit but not a total miss either (miles better than Daredevil!)