Incredible Hulk
directed by Louis Leterrier
(Universal, 2008)

At a time when superhero movies are box-office gold, it's almost unheard of to let a prime comic-book character languish after only one film, with no sequels in sight. But, after the letdown that was 2003's Hulk, filmmakers wisely let the green-skinned behemoth rest for a few years. When they brought him back, it was clearly a reboot, not a sequel, and everything was new, from the actors and crew to the CGI-animated Hulk himself.

Thankfully so. The Incredible Hulk, directed by relative newcomer Louis Leterrier, puts Ang Lee's Hulk to shame.

Still, Leterrier wisely avoids going back to the beginning. Reboot or not, Lee's cerebral interpretation -- which left viewers dozing -- is still pretty fresh in our memories, and walking us through Hulk's creation again would be tiresome. Instead, Leterrier alters the origin somewhat and sums it up in a brief montage behind the opening credits. The real film then opens with Bruce Banner, Hulk's alter ego, already in hiding in Brazil, where he works a menial job and is learning to control his anger ... until the U.S. Army, who wants the Hulk for military purposes, swarms all over him and sends Banner scurrying back to the States for a possible cure.

The cast here is strong -- not that the 2003 cast was weak by any stretch, but they didn't have much to work with. Ed Norton steps into Eric Bana's shoes as Bruce Banner. Liv Tyler takes over as Betty Ross, replacing Jennifer Connelly. And Sam Elliott's General Ross is now in the hands of William Hurt. All bring a strong level of layered emotion and motivation to their roles, and it's easy to empathize with their hardships. Tim Roth steps in as Emil Blonsky, a soldier under Ross's command whose obsession with defeating the Hulk will lead to his own transformation.

Still, the true focus remains on the monster, not the puny humans around him. While I'd never want it said that computer graphics outweigh the importance of good acting and a solid script, I'll admit up front that Hulk '08 puts that baby-faced Hulk '03 to shame.

Recent years have proven that comic-book movies can have both depth and wonder. Where Hulk came up short, The Incredible Hulk succeeds in spades. Now we have reason to look forward to a sequel.

review by
Tom Knapp

10 October 2009

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