Released: 12 June ’08
Director: Louis Leterrier
Screenwriter: Zak Penn, Edward Norton (uncredited)
Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt
Distributor: Marvel Studios, Universal Pictures
Running Time: 112 mins
Marvel Studios launches its second assault on cinema screens this summer with the return of the big green one. A sequel to Ang Lee’s 2003 take on the character, this Louis Leterrier-directed incarnation restores Bruce Banner (Edward Norton)’s anger-management-requiring alter ego to its ‘Incredible’ status with an explosive and eye-catching extravaganza of rippling green muscles and super-strength-infused carnage.
From the opening credit sequence, which brings the uninitiated up to speed with Banner’s gamma-experiment gone wrong and his ensuing exile, Leterrier serves up a high-octane thrill ride that doesn’t let up. A pulsating Army-Hulk encounter in Brazil is followed up by a bruising face-off Stateside, and the climactic New York smackdown between Hulk and the Abomination is a bone-shuddering beast of a scrap. Screenwriter Zak Penn injects enough comic book references to keep the fanboys happy too (Banner dismisses a pair of stretchy purple pants/“Hulk Smash!!”/the obligatory Stan Lee cameo), and initial anxieties over the effects have been put to rest with a convincing rendering of the Hulk and his Blonsky-gamma-ed nemesis. The pace, too, is frenetic, so much so that it almost disguises the fact that underneath all the CGI-bombast there is precious little going on. Almost…
The problems arise from the fact that there is not much for the Hulk to do. We meet Bannner, he’s on the run, and events unfold but the initial set up is never rectified or furthered in any way. The emotional drama that underpins the Hulk’s plight, is lightweight to say the least, and is not helped by the weakness of the two central performances by Norton (too bland to anchor the action) and Liv Tyler (faceless as Betty Ross, the object of Banner’s affection) upon which it hinges. An enigmatic turn by William Hurt as the dastardly General Ross and even Robert Downey Jr’s sequel-leading final-reel cameo as Tony Stark, serve only to highlight these weaknesses further.
The main stumbling block, though, is that the script delivers neither the drama nor the story to match the action that Letterier orchestrates to such devastating effect. Characters are underdeveloped, Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky in particular, and too little time is spent on the emotional turmoil of Banner as he battles the beast inside of him (Norton’s much publicised wranglings with Marvel over the film’s length suggest that a longer, director’s cut would flesh out these areas). It’s still an energised, and by turns spectacular, return for the tetchy one though, which suggests, particularly by its open-ended finale, that there is a healthy future in store for its temperamental protagonist.