Sometimes even a superhero needs saving.
It's a truth universally acknowledged by comic book fans that the Incredible Hulk, one of Marvel Comics' most cherished icons, was not well served by Ang Lee's 2003 film "Hulk," a turgid, pretentious and overlong misfire that featured Eric Bana in the utterly forgettable title role. Five years later, with "The Incredible Hulk," an unlikely rescuer has come to the Big Green Guy's aid: a tall, slender, super-serious actor with a receding chin and a diffident, withholding temperament.
Edward Norton, known for his hyper-intellectual style and his penchant for rewriting every movie he does (including this one), has returned the story and character to their basics, delivering a straightforward, uncluttered and improbably absorbing adaptation of the Stan Lee strip that, while perhaps still a tad stiff and sober, achieves the all-important task of restoring the Hulk's pride of place in Marvel's pantheon of heroic mutants.
As "The Incredible Hulk" opens, erstwhile scientist Bruce Banner (Norton) is on the run in Brazil, eluding the nefarious General Ross (William Hurt), pining for his lost love, Ross's daughter Betty (Liv Tyler), and working out in an anger-management dojo, the better to control the adrenaline that triggers his transformation into a giant green monster. Thus do Norton and director Louis Leterrier set up the essential questions that drive "The Incredible Hulk": whether Banner will escape his U.S. government pursuers and whether he will accept or disown his terrifying power.
That's really about it in a film that, after a half-hour of establishing Banner's mournful, solitary existence, turns into a chase flick that sends Banner from Brazil to Guatemala to Mexico to Virginia to New York and beyond. The result is a classic comic-book hero quest that, while not entirely novel, hews to its own rules and conventions with dignity and artfulness. As the Hulk and Abomination go at it in the streets of Harlem in the final fight scene, it raises the question of how and whether the makers of the Marvel movie franchise can keep upping the action-spectacle ante. "The Incredible Hulk's" hilarious and tantalizing epilogue makes it clear that audiences will find out.
-- Ann Hornaday (June 13, 2008)
Sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images and brief suggestive sexuality.