They made a movie a few years ago that'll serve just fine as a litmus test for how you're going to feel about this summer's next big release, The Incredible Hulk. The litmus film: 2003's Hulk. A commercial and critical disappointment, Hulk '03 has now been dealt the ultimate ignominy: It's been rebooted. Hulk, meet Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Batman Forever.
Hulk '03 director Ang Lee and stars Eric Bana (Bruce Banner/Hulk), Jennifer Connelly (Betty Ross), and Sam Elliott (General Thunderbolt Ross) have been replaced in The Incredible Hulk with director Louis Leterrier and actors Edward Norton (Bruce), Liv Tyler (Betty), and William Hurt (Gen. Ross).
If you're like most, you probably thought Hulk '03 was too long, too slow, and too self-absorbed to kick much ass. If you're in this camp, rejoice: Your Hulk movie has arrived. The Incredible Hulk gets it right. It's a fistful of fun, with riveting action, thrills, scares, and laughs. It's gleefully cognizant of its comic-book roots — with fanboy-centric moments in its references to the Hulk canon, Captain America, and other Marvel properties — but doesn't get bogged down with slavish plot mechanics or origin-story minutiae.
But, if you're like me and think Hulk '03 already planted the flag, it almost doesn't matter. Hulk '03 is a moving meditation on anger, abuse, suppression, and emotional damage. It's a comic-book movie with a heart of gold.
The Incredible Hulk is just a comic-book movie. Oh, Bruce Banner gets mad and roughs up some bad guys, usually with an armored vehicle as a club, so that's a plus. But there's no emotional underpinning to his rage. He just goes off, as inert as a bomb, pissed off at physical threats. What do you want me to say? The psychology of anger is much more interesting than its physical manifestations.
As The Incredible Hulk opens, Banner is living a solitary life in a Rio de Janeiro favela. He lives a meager life, but he's got some big stuff going on: Banner is pursuing a cure to his "disease," the uncontrollable thing raging inside him, his AIDS of anger. He's also working on meditation techniques and jiu-jitsu methods to help him physically (pulse, breathing, diaphragm) control his temper.
Inevitably, General Ross discovers Banner's whereabouts and sends a team of commandos, headed by Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), to force him home. This doesn't go according to plan, and defeated by the Hulked-out Banner, Blonsky begins a movie-long obsession with becoming a computer-generated behemoth, too. By the time it gets to its slugfest climax, with Hulk going toe-to-toe with Blonsky, The Incredible Hulk just feels like the newest animated movie from Marvel.
Litmus test: Who makes a better villain: a 15-foot, snarling, rampaging monster, or an abusive dad? Your answer will tell you if you should pay a visit to the multiplex or the video store.
The Incredible Hulk
Opening Friday, June 13th