This is Marvel Studios second comic book adaptation after Iron Man and has nothing to do with Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003), which ended up a box-office failure. Whereas that one had aspirations of intellectual drama, this one is a more straightforward action film.
After briefly explaining the setup during the opening titles, the film kicks off in Brazil where Dr Bruce Banner (Norton) is hiding from the American military and practicing anger management techniques. Reminiscent of The Bourne Ultimatum, there’s a breakneck chase across the rooftops of the favela, pushing through washing lines full of laundry. The first reveal of the Hulk is done subtly, with only occasional glimpses of him through the shadows as he attacks a group of soldiers in a bottling factory.
Edward Norton provides a low-key presence as the afflicted hero. His Bruce Banner is intelligent, reserved, and singularly focussed on finding a cure for his mutated blood cells. Some may find him underwhelming, but I appreciated the contrast between him and the angry monster, even if there isn’t much of a link between the two personas.
There’s a passable performance from William Hurt as General Ross. Tim Roth plays ratty marine Emil Blonsky, who undergoes a procedure to become The Abomination – a rival monster for the Hulk to battle in a 26-minute CGI showdown. Liv Tyler comes out best as the compassionate Betty Ross. Marvel gets this right – between Tyler here and Gwyneth Paltrow’s turn in Iron Man, the comic book women are getting some well written parts.
That’s not the only similarity between The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man. Aside from Robert Downey Jnr.’s cameo appearance as Tony Stark (setting things up for the Avengers movie which combines Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Ant Man, and Thor), there is also a pleasing level of quality in this second film from Marvel Studios. Surpassing Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Ghost Rider by a mile, The Incredible Hulk is a sturdy adaptation that draws on the 70s B-grade television show for inspiration.
The computer effects are of a high standard. The university campus skirmish features some great pulsing cannons (or whatever you call them). The Hulk always looks better in close-up shots, but still convinces as a weighted body in fight scenes. The aggressively loud sound effects will be pounding your head as you leave the theatre.
A noticeable weakness in this modest film is the point where Bruce meets Dr Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson). This mad scientist character, obviously set up to be a bad guy in a sequel, is just plain irritating. The pace also sags at this point, slowly transitioning into the necessary-but-predictable action smash-fest between Hulk and Abomination. The OTT climax doesn’t seem to be part of the same movie.
Overall, The Incredible Hulk is not a must-see, but if you’re after a decent comic-book adaptation then make this next on your list after Iron Man.