starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt
screenplay by Zak Penn and Edward Harrison
directed by Louis Leterrier
by Walter Chaw Pretty much the unmitigated disaster its trailers predicted it to be, Louis Leterrier's noisome The Incredible Hulk is a cacophony of bad CGI, bad acting, and gravid serio-melodramatics that leaves only the disturbing image of Liv Tyler's acres of bangs standing in the aftermath of its absurd wreckage. It's a vanity piece for Edward Norton (as if Norton is ever in anything else these days) that washes out as one of the more puzzling examples of such, in that the only thing anyone's there to see is Hulk smash. Maybe not so puzzling upon further reflection; I heard someone describe Jim Carrey at a certain point in his career as the six-hundred pound gorilla--find Norton at the apogee of his own ego bloat in The Incredible Hulk. Rumoured to have rewritten wide patches of Zak Penn's script (and credited here as, tee hee, Edward Harrison), Norton strikes me as a player/coach in the mold of Sylvester Stallone but unburdened with Stallone's sense of temporal place and popular self-awareness. Norton's acts of persona-construction are involved with painting himself as more romantic and smarter (The Illusionist), more romantic and moral (The Painted Veil), or more romantic and mysterious (Down in the Valley) than the average bear (tragic Monsieur Curie Bruce Banner the amalgam of all three, of course), with little room in his Nietzschian self-regard for human frailty or much complexity. He's an actor capable of astonishing nuance, making it doubly frustrating that he seems to resent that in the Fight Club food chain, he's Edward Norton and not Brad Pitt. The Incredible Hulk is the hundred-pound weakling flexing in the mirror and answering the ad on the back of the comic book.
Banner (Norton) is a brilliant guinea pig who turns into a monster when he gets mad courtesy a healthy dose of gamma radiation. Offended by his sudden bursts of godlike potency, he runs from the Evil Military That Would Seek To Turn His Curse Into A Weapon into the impoverished arms of a Brazilian favela, where he learns to control his breathing after being slapped by a martial arts yogi. How getting lost in one of the most volatile places in the world is good for the ol' ticker is something between Banner and his arch-enemy Common Sense, but more of a puzzler is who in their right mind thought it would be cool to have two giant, stupid-looking screensavers battle each other. (And without Michael Bay anywhere in the production credits as sacrificial goat.) But that's later. First come the obligatory nods to the fanboy contingent: Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno, Bill Bixby on the television, and a quick reprise of Joe Harnell's sad-bastard piano theme--then onto the obligatory baddies in the form of super-soldier Blonsky (Tim Roth, essentially re-enacting his resurrection from Youth Without Youth in one weird sequence) and dunderhead brass Gen. Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt, badly miscast), father of Banner's girlfriend, Betty (Tyler). A sequel, or many, is set up with the appearance of affable doofus Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson)--who may or may not get the chance to evolve into The Leader in future instalments--and the post-script appearance of one Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to offer his services to a sloshed Ross. Blonsky turns into a bad monster, Banner turns into a good monster, and many pretend cars are crushed like tin cans.
The Incredible Hulk is long, pointless, and inert. It doesn't have anything to say and says it at great length and volume. I wonder if there's actually any meat in this character to extract, and watching it just a few weeks after Iron Man, I wonder if there's anything in the Marvel Universe I give much of a shit about now that Sam Raimi's moving on from Spider-Man. You'd think there's a bit of gristle in the Jekyll/Hyde, teatime of the soul thing, the Id/Superego divide--but the only thing front and centre is Norton's prodigious Ego, showboating and capering like this sad little kid wearing tights and a blanket cape well into middle age. I loved Leterrier's Unleashed, and there's a chase in the first half of The Incredible Hulk that reminded me in flashes of the director's sometime-affinity for flights across grimy rooftops. Alas, too much of it also reminds of the director's Transporter 2. It's slotted, railed, completely predictable fare that suffers in a lot of ways from the same things the television show suffered from: the inane inevitability that someone's going to piss Banner off and the certainty that he'll subsequently have to leave town in a blue study. Not much of a compliment to call this the perfect allegory for the teenage inability to deal with all those new emotions (the best scene in the movie is a coitus interruptus) and shaking a mighty fist at the world's inability to understand your martyr's heroics. Oh, Ed. Originally published: June 13, 2008.
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