Ang Lee’s inert, overdrawn 2003 adaptation of the Stan Lee comic The Incredible Hulk left fans with a bad taste in their mouth, so Marvel studios reacquired the rights to their character as a means of atonement. It must be said, however, that the team — including director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter 2), writer Zak Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand), and purportedly over-involved star Edward Norton — do not acquit themselves well.
For a film that wants to stand on its own, Hulk does an awful lot to feel like a retreading sequel, between its cameos for Stan Lee and erstwhile Hulk Lou Ferrigno to the decision to shoehorn Bruce Banner’s origin story and escape from the military into the opening credits sequence. Additionally, the decision to use a CGI creation of the Hulk, which never looms large enough to merit the lack of an actor nor seems ultimately, well, Hulk-like, was a major criticism in the Ang Lee film. So why make exactly the same choice here in a film so eager to distance itself from the 2003 bomb?
Part of the answer might lie with Norton himself, a control-freak performer who seems so bent on creating an image that all of his scenes feel calculated and two-dimensional. Additionally, one of the strongest assets of Hulk is the character’s metaphorical value, as an addict or victim of horrible disease. I thought Penn was going in this direction in an early scene in which a paranoid Banner freaks out over tainted blood, but there was no follow-through, just a series of paint-by-numbers sequences in which he reunites with love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, sharing no chemistry with Norton) and her pursuant papa, General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt). Only Tim Roth as a fellow military man who gets a taste of the Hulk’s power and likes it (based on the Stan Lee creation the Abomination) seems to be having any fun or filling in any subtext here. You can’t blame a lab experiment gone awry on this film’s flaws, though: it got their on its own.
Opens June 13