Who: Edward Norton (calm, angry, repeat), Liv Tyler (loving), Tim Roth (psychotic), William Hurt (in charge), Robert Downey Jr. (cool)
Background: Aside from its fine comic heritage, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk has no ties to Ang Lee’s 2003 effort Hulk. Which is A Good Thing. Instead, director Louis Leterrier has cleverly sidestepped Lee’s brooding shots of, er, moss to produce a unexpected verdant treat. A smart opening title sequence establishes Edward Norton as the new Bruce Banner in much the same way that Christopher Nolan did with Christian Bale in Batman Begins. And that is a fair comparison, because The Incredible Hulk is great. Not Batman great, but it’s certainly saved the Hulk from ending up in the superhero retirement home alongside Elektra, Ghost Rider and Spider-Man (circa three).
The story: After ‘Hulking up’ by testing his gamma raygun thing, and nearly killing his girlfriend Betty (Tyler), Dr Banner (Norton) goes on the run from Betty’s dad, Gen. Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross (Hurt). Gen. Ross bankrolled the experiments, and now wants his ‘weapon’ back for development and dissection. Banner is understandably reticent to hit the operating table, so he hides out in the favellas of Brazil while he attempts to cure himself. General Thunderbolt enlists the help of plummy Emil Blonsky (Roth), an ex-Royal Marine turned hired gun, who Thunderbolt juices up with a generic ‘serum’ that allows him to keep up with the Hulk. Blonsky soon decides to up his dose and mix in a bit of Hulk blood – which, as well as being unhygienic, turns him into The Abomination. Talking weirdly, in received pronunciation, this boney Hulk-hybrid then sets about smashing Manhattan to bits. Highlight: when Hulk tears a police car in half and uses the two parts as boxing gloves.
What’s good about it? All of the naysayers who bang on incessantly about ‘another throw away comic book adaptation’ will hate this, because that’s exactly what it is. And that’s exactly what it should be. You enjoy it at the time, and then look forward to the next one. Where Ang Lee fell down – aside from making the Hulk jump thousands of feet into the air – is that he spent so much time trying to illustrate the Hulk’s inner struggle that he forgot about the rest of the film. The Incredible Hulk is LOUD, quiet, LOUD, quiet, witty line, LOUD. And it’s great for it. Everyone looks more involved and everything is thought out. Norton wears a heart monitor at all times, and even makes sure he buys trousers with elasticated waist bands. Tyler seems genuinely loving, and Tim Roth is great as the power hungry Emil Blonsky and seems to be genuinely enjoying himself in the role. The action is both creative and spectacular. Highlights being an almighty battle in a university, where the line “Where are my gunships?” sounds neither overblown nor embarrassing. Indeed: a nighttime chase with a non-hulked Banner escaping along rooftops may borrow heavily from the Bourne series - but it shows that Banner is as much a part of the story as The Hulk is, without labouring the point.
What’s bad about it? The final battle between The Abomination and The Hulk is a bit of a let down. Partly because the action and rest of the film is of such a high standard, but mostly because it’s the only point where the CGI looks a bit guff. Instead of what amounts to an abrupt, drunken brawl with no pay-off, it would’ve been better to have Blonsky just deteriorate into muscle-bound insanity. Some of the more outlandish science is glossed over a bit to easily, but mostly, we were left wondering what happens to his cock when he Hulks-up. But who wouldn’t?
Verdict: Where the last film was serious, this is fun. It brings the Hulk back and with a cameo from Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark aka Iron Man saying “I’m thinking about putting a little team together”, you get the beginning of the Avengers. And with Edgar ‘Hot Fuzz’ Wright directing Antman and Thor and Captain America all in production, knowing The Hulk will be there for the fun is all the more reassuring.
More: Exclusive Incredible Hulk clip