The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier, 2008)
When Ang Lee's Hulk (2003) was released, it was deemed by many critics and viewers as a failure. The movie was a tad too slow, a tad too talkative, a tad too deep, and a tad too stylized for this generation of Diet Soda-drinkers and video game addicts. As years went by, Hulk has amassed a number of defenders, carrying out the slogan that Lee's film is by no means a failure since it succeeded in doing what it set out to do: to contemplate, philosophize the comic book movie and psychologize its conflicted hero. While the complaints of Hulk's detractors range from something as serious as the film's unwieldy depth to the something as trite as the purple tights the gamma-radiated brute is predominantly seen wearing, it cannot be argued that Lee's film remains to be an intriguing failure or success (depending on which fence you are sitting from).
Louis Letterier's update (or attempt to erase from the public consciousness the film that was Ang Lee's Hulk) of the Marvel comic book character is more in tune with middlebrow sensibilities, thus it is not very surprising to hear viewers shouting alleluias to this louder, dumber, and less challenging slump of a movie. The Incredible Hulk is nothing more than an over-budgeted commercial for the sequels, tie-ins, and every other gimmick the unscrupulous capitalists aboard Marvel Studios are thinking of. It attempts to amaze with a generous serving of wanton, destruction, and unabashed escapism only Hollywood can serve, with one half of the movie spent in explosions, gunfights, and wrestling matches between two computer generated mutant brutes, and the other half spent lighting Liv Tyler (who plays Betty Ross) to make her look like a Middle-Earth elf in academe clothes, supposedly the better to emphasize the unabashedly sappy romance between him and Bruce Banner (Edward Norton).
Letterier, who is famous for helming The Transporter's lousy sequel (2005), and a surprisingly refreshing Unleashed (2005) , all of which are movies that relied more on stunts and spectacles than actual storytelling, does a serviceable job making sense out of a storyline whose preamble is quickly breezed through during its opening montage (there's some sort of botched experiment where Banner turns into the famous Hulk and nearly kills his girlfriend, and his girlfriend's dad, General Ross (William Hurt)). The film officially starts in a Brazilian favela, where Banner is hiding while desperately trying to look for a cure for his gamma radiation. The entire sequence in the favela might very well be the film's most ambitious moment, where Norton (a terrific and very intelligent actor) gets to showcase a semblance of depth to his comic book character. The scenes in the favela showcases Letterier's aptitude for setting up rousing action sequences, where Norton is chased through the labyrinthine alleyways of the densely populated area by military operatives while maintaining an unexcited state. The moment Norton's green-hued computerized alter-ego appears, the film deflates into something repetitive and tedious: routine showcases of uncontrolled, flat and pixelated rage, of buildings and machines exploding, of roars, screams of unintelligible mutterings.
It's an unfortunate necessity nowadays to supplant talent with faddist coolness. The Incredible Hulk works most when we Banner revealing his human side; when he desperately searches for a cure to his radiation; when he stares longingly at his ex-girlfriend; when he is interrupted from having sex by a threat of turning into the Hulk midway through the lovemaking session. Even his nemesis Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), military officer who gets addicted to gamma radiation and eventually turns into a Hulk-like brute called The Abomination, showcases a facet of human imperfection, power lust and the inability to accept obsolescence, especially when Roth, puny when compared to the Hulk and even to General Ross, subtly injects an air of insecurity to the character. Unfortunately, the human elements of the story are quickly replaced for bangs, thuds and millions of dollars worth of fireworks.
At least Lee's Hulk had the temerity to reorient a superhero's persona to accommodate the director's ponderings on human psychology. At least Lee's Hulk had a computer generated creation that really acted (that film's most beautiful moment was when the gigantic Hulk looked into Betty Ross (played by Jennifer Connelly) and expressed a semi-real pain, regret and longing), instead of just grunt and destroy things. Letterier's film is as insignificant as the next movie to come out of this year's summer line-up. The hype, the cameos, the underused acting talent, and the promise are just bulk, just incredible bulk.