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The Incredible Hulk (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Running Time 120 minutes.

What’s happened to comic book movies? After forcing me to agonize through the tedium of “Spiderman” and things of that ilk, Marvel put out “Iron Man,” which was a very entertaining movie. Now Marvel follows that up with “The Incredible Hulk.” When I saw that Edward Norton is starring, I figured that maybe the genre has broken out of the “Spiderman” quality into something better. Norton is one of the better and more particular actors around. If he found this script to be something in which to appear, it must have gravitas more than what we have come to expect from comic books.

The story and screenplay, both by Zak Penn (bouncing back from his second effort, “The Grand,” which was woeful), are indeed interesting. Bruce Banner (Norton) gets injected with gamma rays from an experiment that went horribly wrong. When his heart rate gets up to 200 beats per minute, he’s transformed into the Hulk, a la Dr. Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde, although in this film Bruce gets stuck with the Hulk unintentionally. After a short introduction, we find Bruce in South America trying to find an antidote. He communicates with a mysterious Mr. Blue, who turns out to be Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) via computer. The evil General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) is out to find him, do him in, and get his blood to make more monsters to use in national defense. Bruce is in love with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), who also happens to be Thunderbolt’s daughter. Thunderbolt sends Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to get Bruce.

The result is a lot of chases, Bruce’s transformation into the monster and back again, a love story, and two behemoths challenging each other as Blonsky becomes a monster, too.

Along the way there are some interesting cameos from Bill Bixby (even though he’s long dead), who was TVs Bruce Banner, Lou Ferrigno, who was TV’s Hulk, and someone from another Marvel hit who appears at the end of the film.

There was one scene, obviously inserted for comedic benefit, that was, instead, ludicrous. After the Hulk has had bullets bounce off him, has resisted a penetrating ray gun (it actually exists), and appeared not only invulnerable but impervious to pain, he straightens up in a cave where he has taken Betty, and bumps his head, saying the equivalent of “ouch!” Uh, let’s see, he can’t feel machine gun bullets or knives or rockets hitting him, but when he bumps his head, it hurts?

The filmmakers made a bad decision in having Thunderbolt constantly chomping on a cigar, even though that was the way he was depicted in the comics. A responsible director should leave smoking out of any movie.

Morton, Tyler, and Roth provide very good performances, well above the standard for the genre, but the guy who takes the cake is Hurt, who makes Thunderbolt suitably hateful.

This is a good story, well acted. The brilliant direction is by Frenchie Louis Leterrier, who is a veteran at comic book movies and movies that depend heavily on special effects. Here, he’s actually made a comic book movie that would be entertaining without the special effects.

June 12, 2008