Of course, the Celts weren’t the only Big Green Guys going on a rampage this past week. Like much of America, I dutifully caught Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk last Saturday, partly to fill the cinematic void until the more-anticipated summer movies return (Next stop, June 27: Wall-E and Wanted.) And, well, if you haven’t seen it yet, this iteration of Hulk is about what you’d expect after Ang Lee’s notable misfire: Namely, it’s two hours of mostly mindless, Gamma and CGI-enhanced action sequences, strung together by generous heapings of Marvel continuity pr0n and a few bare threads of story, ripped mostly from the old TV show. Now, ever since Marvel hired the director of The Transporter to take another crack at Banner, this is exactly what the Hulk relaunch was billed to be. And since I too desired to see more “Hulk Smash!” from the Ang Lee version, I find it hard to be too down on these proceedings, and I’d say I enjoyed myself most of the time. Still, there’s not much here here. If you’re not a “Marvel guy” and just feel like taking in a super hero movie to whet the appetite for Hellboy 2 and The Dark Knight, I’d spend your money on Iron Man.
After a spiffy quick-edit reintroduction to the Hulk’s origin (albeit without Rick Jones or a gamma-nuke), Leterrier’s Incredible Hulk begins its first hour with a man on the run. It’s been 157 days since Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) last went all Tyler Durden on us, and he’s now hiding out in the sprawling slums of Rio de Janeiro, trying to stay off the grid, and otherwise working to keep a lockdown on his anger issues. But the US military — represented by one take-no-guff, mustachioed general, Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) and his deadly, if aging, new Special Ops assassin, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) — wants its potential Gamma-weapon back, and they will follow Banner to all ends of the earth to reacquire it, including the City of God. The first attempt at capture results in an “incident,” prompting Banner to head back to the States to look for a cure (with the help of his old flame, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler)) and the government to consider growing its own enhanced supersoldier (with the aid of the WWII-era superserum that helped bring forth Captain America.) Alas, Specialist Blonsky just can’t get enough, and before long he’s toyed with the forces of nature enough to make of himself an Abomination. This is what the military experts refer to as “blowback”…
And commence the smashing. But fear not, faithful readers! From the aforementioned super-serum to the Tony Stark sighting (now featured in the commercials), we have enough nods to the expanded Marvel universe amidst the carnage to make even Comic-Book-Guy blush. We’ve got S.H.I.E.L.D., we’ve got Doc Samson, we’ve got The Leader. (Fans of the TV show, take note also of the Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno sightings.) On one hand, for a old-school comic reader like me (albeit not a huge fan of The Hulk), the fact that Marvel was taking their properties to the next level and introducing interfilm continuity was the most exciting thing about this project. On the other, all the fanboy nods throughout made this film feel somewhat inchoate and unformed on its own. (What’s more, making it seem like the entire Marvel universe is in play carries its own pitfalls. When Banner is first seen discussing a cure online with a mysterious “Mr. Blue” out of New York City, I couldn’t believe they’d managed to shoehorn Reed Richards into the film. When it turned out to be someone else, I found myself let down.)
Finally, I know that I was among those asking for more mayhem and destruction from Ang Lee’s film, and that, as a character, the Hulk doesn’t really have any other setting other than “destroy things.” Still, by the time the Hulk and the Abomination engage in a climactic CGI-slugfest in my old ‘hood, I was well on the way to checking out. Part of the problem, I think, is that the fight here plays almost exactly like the final Iron Monger sequence of Iron Man. Our hero must face a bigger, more powerful eeeevil version of himself, and occasionally ensure that his significant other isn’t in the line of fire. If we’re running that show again, to be honest, I’d rather watch it with Downey and the Dude than with these two pixellated monstrosities. All that being said, Leterrier, Norton & co. have done a passable job with this Hulk do-over, and — as with Iron Man — if they’re getting the gang back together for another run, you could probably count me in for a matinee. Just maybe bulk the story up a little more next go, fellas. Too much smashing make Hulk brain tired.