Attempting to reboot the Hulk in the image of the old Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno television series, THE INCREDIBLE HULK comes of as exactly what an episode of that show would have been like if it had any kind of special effects. The sadness and loneliness of Banner's nomadic existence as he wages a war against his own rage is all there, and thankfully the pretentious family dysfunction melodrama of Ang Lee's take on the Big Green has been kicked to the curb in favor of giving fans of the character's comic book incarnation were dying to see in the first place: the Hulk destroying the people who don't understand that it's not a good idea to fuck with him, and kicking ass on another super-powerful man-monster.
This installment finds Dr. Bruce Banner (Ed Norton, taking over from Eric Bana and doing a much better job) living in Brazil and learning the martial arts and its breathing/centering techniques to control his anger. He's been on the run from the military forces of General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) for five years, but he's eventually tracked down and after Hulking out on some of Ross' team Banner once more goes on the run, his trail leading back to former lover and Ross' daughter, Betty (Liv Tyler). During his adventures Banner is linked via computer to a mysterious "Mr. Blue," a bio-researcher who promises Banner a cure provided he can have a blood sample for testing, while an ambitious, combat-addicted soldier named Emil Blonski (Tim Roth) undergoes a series of augmentations that first turn him into (comics fans take note) a "super-soldier," later a Hulk-blood-infused "abomination." It all builds to a head that climaxes with the Hulk taking on the Abomination in the streets of Harlem and pretty much rendering the place a smoking crater before the Hulk inevitably wins the day and once more runs away, leaving Banner just as alone and totally fucked as he had been since the day he was on the receiving end of a massive gamma ray blast.
The one thing that a Hulk movie needs to succeed (other than a good script with plenty of monster-to-monster smash time) is a Hulk that looks believable to some degree, and considering what special effects are like these days one would think would be readily doable, but one of the biggest gripes voiced by nearly everyone who saw the previous film was that the Hulk looked too "cartoony; that didn't bother me so much last time because Hulk's look reminded me of a Richard Corben drawing as brought to stop-motion life by Ray Harryhausen. But now, some three years later, the CGI still hasn't been sussed out in regard to Hulk himself, and he looked so rubbery and greasy — yes, greasy — that I kept expecting somebody to grab him and shove him up their ass (my friend Suzi came to the exact same conclusion, describing him as looking like a "big ol' green buttplug"). As for the rest of the movie, the story is largely uninvolving and lethargic, and considering how much they actively tried to evoke the old Bill Bixby show that comes as no surprise. The only points of real interest are:
- The most blistering and violent superhero fight in screen history. Hulk versus Abomination is an amazing and bone-crunching set-to that had the whole audience awed and cringing, and while awesome parents may want to carefully consider whether theywant the younger kids to see it. I'd take my (hypothetical) kids, but that's just me.
- They set up an appearance by the Leader (comics geeks know who he is) in case there's another one of these, but I note that solely because the geeks in the audience get it; the guy playing the pre-Leader is one of the most annoying actors I've seen in a long time,
and I just wanted to punch his head in like it was an overripe melon. (Which brings
me to the talent-void Liv Tyler. She's never brought anything to any movie she's
been in and continues that here, with that annoying whispery baby-talk delivery of hers that makes her sound like Pebbles Flintstone with laryngitis. Yeah,
she's kind of cute in that half-formed-looking way of hers, but that's not
enough to make her inclusion in any way valid.)
- The Abomination starts out as a guy augmented with a recreated version of the super-soldier serum (later enhanced with some of Hulk's blood), and there are allusions to there having been a previous super-soldier in the past, setting up the announced Captain America movie.
- Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) shows up as a thwarted General Ross sucks down shot after shot after shot in a bar and ends the film by cluing Ross in on the fact that he and SHIELD are assembling a team to handle stuff like the Hulk, therefore setting up the 2010 Avengers movie.
- They finally address a question I've had since I was old enough to connect the adrenaline rush with sexual excitement, and how such excitement would affect Banner; don't worry, Banner recognizes where his rolling around with Betty is leading, and does an agonizing self-cock-block, to which I observed aloud "Man, it REALLY sucks to be the Hulk!" to which half the audience voiced various expressions of agreement, but the funniest response came from a woman who shouted "I feel sorry for HER!" And while I'm no Tyler fan, there's little that I find more appealing than a woman in nothing but a large men's shirt who's clearly gagging for it, and she looks delicious as such.
- The best Stan Lee cameo appearance yet.
the first installment, I suggest waiting for cable. However, if you're a fan of the old TV series, you will probably enjoy this a lot more than I did, so take that point into consideration. TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!