The Incredible Hulk is a turgid mediocrity, one that looks ugly, plays boring, and feels like the lame also-ran that it so clearly is. Watching the film, I could feel the filmmakers straining to load every frame with as much mindless drivel as they could, in the hopes that some of it would be entertaining.
Of course, I have talked to death the real reason this film exists: as an antidote to Ang Lee’s more artful 2003 version. And I suppose this film was well within the rights of the filmmakers, and was certainly within Marvel’s rights—after all, as Jean-Luc Godard once said, “The best way to criticize a film is to make another one.” That’s true, and that’s fine: but what if the film you are criticizing was strong, and your only method of critique is to make a soulless action picture?
Like Ang Lee’s film, The Incredible Hulk boasts a stellar cast. Edward Norton stars as Bruce Banner in "Hulk: Attempt No. 2," and you know the basic story: Banner is a scientist who was the subject of gamma rays gone awry and now turns into a giant green beast when he becomes angry. Liv Tyler plays Bruce’s love interest, Betty Ross; William Hurt plays Gen. “Thunderbolt” Ross, Betty’s father and the possible culprit of Banner’s condition; and Tim Roth plays Emil Blonsky, a maniacal military man whose rage leads him to undergo scientific procedures similar to Banner’s, thus becoming a bigger, uglier, more ridiculous monster dubbed "The Abomination"—voila, a super-villain is born.
There is surprisingly little drama to this version of Hulk. Bruce must control his heart rate in order to avoid transforming into the big green thing, a plot point that makes for a couple humorous jokes but no legitimate drama. Bruce and Betty have some sort of forbidden puppy love thing going on throughout, and that relationship is never challenged or hindered by anything other than the screenplay’s arbitrary decision. Betty has a strained relationship with her father, but again, there is neither consequence nor payoff to their friction. The basic plot elements are present in this film because they are supposed to be—after all, they worked for the comic book, didn’t they? Roth brings a psychotic zest to his role that makes him the most magnetic presence in the film, and his character likewise takes the most interesting and transformative journey of any of the film’s characters.
The Incredible Hulk Version 2.0 is directed by Louis Leterrier, a French filmmaker best known for directing The Transporter 2, in which he pretty much mimicked the style of the original. But at least that calling card film fit Leterrier’s signature style, which apparently consists of rapid-fire bursts of action and sudden shifts into and out of slow-motion, like a skateboard video. Trying his hand at a gargantuan-budget superhero adaptation, the director appears completely out of his element. His style seems strangely out-of-place in this kind of film, and while he does a decent job handling the film’s countless visual effects, the effects themselves are so ungainly and unattractive that his skill level hardly matters. The Hulk is no longer so much green as he is an ugly brownish swampy color, one who looks dirty and evil—with the exception of his pearly white game show host teeth. Similarly, the entire film seems stained by a dank visual palette. Most summer blockbusters are referred to as “eye candy,” but The Incredible Hulk is like “eye grease.”
The biggest sin of all involved in this enterprise—from Leterrier to Norton to the screenwriters to the newly-minted production unit at Marvel—is the self-righteous supposition that this is all really good…or at least some sort of major improvement on something that was once broken. But for all the shit Ang Lee’s Hulk has taken in the past five years, it was ambitious, intimate, and original, three adjectives not even close to this film’s vocabulary. The most frequent adjectives that come to mind when thinking of this latest version are “boring,” melodramatic,” and “Hulk Smash!”
The Incredible Hulk is a glaring bit of sub-standard filmmaking on every level in a surprisingly solid summer.