The Incredible Hulk doesn’t hit it right out of the park as Iron Man did, but it’s a respectable triple. Whereas Ang Lee’s Hulk was more talky, less smashy, this new Hulk is more smashy, less talky. Ed Norton pulls double-duty for this latest adaptation of the Green Goliath. He’s pitch-perfect as Bruce Banner and, though he got hosed on a writing credit, his rewrite of Zak Penn’s script is an excellent melding of action and drama, which utilizes elements from the classic TV series, Bruce Jones’ seminal run of the comic and the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale miniseries, Hulk: Gray.
It’s a shame so much of the meat was plucked off the story’s bones. It feels as if Marvel was a little too trigger happy in the editing room due to the backlash of the previous Hulk. Much has been made of the row between Norton and Marvel Studios over the final cut of the film. About twenty minutes of footage was trimmed from the movie in order to maintain a faster paced and more commercial cut at less than two hours. Scenes from the trailers such as Bruce’s one-on-one with Doc Samson and his trek to the Arctic (where we were supposedly to catch a glimpse of Captain America) are gone. You can definitely feel that there was something missing in the film, especially considering how thinly written characters like Blonsky and Betty Ross were written. Samson is relegated to little more than a cameo.
The Incredible Hulk certainly lacks the visual punch that Ang Lee brought to the previous film. The Hulk’s encounter with the army on campus doesn’t match up to the widescreen action of the Lee Hulk’s battle in the desert. The final fight between Hulk and Abomination isn’t too bad considering we’re just watching two CGI cartoon characters punching each other.
I should stop picking apart the film as this was a damn, good time. As I said, Norton is fantastic in the lead role. He might not look as good in the part as Sam Elliot, but William Hurt equates himself well as Thunderbolt Ross, Marvel’s answer to Captain Ahab. Tim Roth is another great actor, but he doesn’t have much to do as Blonsky. There’s also just the right amount of humor sprinkled into the film. Liv Tyler isn’t the most nuanced actress around, but she’s best during those lighter moments, especially her scenes in New York City. Tim Blake Nelson probably puts in the most fun performance of anyone in the cast as Dr. Samuel Sterns. As any comic book fan worth his salt knows, he’ll return to plague the Hulk’s life as the cranially-enhanced supervillain, The Leader.
And that’s another element die-hard fans will get a kick out of. The film packs in numerous Easter eggs and cameos (including a certain man of iron) for the geeks to squeal over. I spotted about 5 of them just in the opening credits. Stan Lee makes his obligatory appearance, but one that actually plays an integral part in the story. Lou Ferrigno is there and they even found a way to work the late-Bill Bixby into the movie.
If we could have just gotten Ang Lee to direct THIS version of the Hulk, that would have been a kickass comic book film. The Incredible Hulk doesn’t have the innovative visual style of its predecessor, but it is a more faithful adaptation. Hulk isn’t just a worthy follow-up to Iron Man, but it also continues to build the foundation for a shared Marvel universe to be brought to life on the big screen. It acknowledges the past while giving us a taste of the future where we’ll find a star-spangled super-soldier and the phrase, “Avengers assemble!” becomes a distinct possibility.