Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk is a more focused and action packed film adaptation of the Marvel comic book involving Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) and his gamma-eradiated, anger-induced Hulk than Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) and is almost as good as recently released Iron Man. While in Brazil at the beginning of The Incredible Hulk, the film might have even been as good as Batman Begins and was for a few sequences but then it backed away from that greatness during its CGI-heavy climax, leaving realism and the human element behind.
The Incredible Hulk begins beautifully with an homage to the television show of the same name from the late '70s that starred the late Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno (who makes a cameo in this film as he did in Hulk but this time he is given dialog). Something happens during this sequence that could have earned The Incredible Hulk an R rating but the images were cut just right by Kyle Cooper to avoid it. It would benefit the viewer if they saw Iron Man first because there are many nods and winks to companies, organizations, and characters from that film that will go unnoticed or seem insignificant otherwise.
While hiding out in Brazil, a mishap occurs at a soda bottling plant and General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, a former associate of Banner who is now hunting him, is alerted of Banner’s presence there. General Ross leaves to capture Banner with the aid of Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), who is on loan from Great Britain’s Special Forces.
While in Brazil, Banner studies the martial art of aikido to control his anger and works at a factory where Martina (Debora Nascimento), a striking Brazilian day laborer, has a crush on him. The crush is never spoken of; it’s all in Martina’s eyes. Would a woman of Martina’s facial quality actually be a day laborer in a factory? I found it to be a remote and extremely questionable possibility but not outside the realm of plausibility. Banner doesn’t even notice Martina’s looks but that is understandable (for the sake of The Incredible Hulk’s eventual romantic sub-plot). Banner is in love with someone else by the name of Dr. Elizabeth “Betty” Ross (Liv Tyler).
After General Ross and Blonsky catch up with Banner in Brazil and Banner is subsequently chased across roof tops, we find out that Martina lives directly below him. I found this very curious. Banner works with a woman who has eyes for him, is easy on the eyes, and lives directly below him, and nothing has happened between them. The plausibility of this scenario gets stretched rather thin but thankfully there are bigger and more entertaining issues within The Incredible Hulk to keep the viewer’s mind occupied.
Emil Blonsky is the surprise of this film. He is eventually Banner's main antagonist, his foil. Blonsky is a soldier almost past his prime, who has turned down promotion up to this point because he wants to remain in the field; he’s a fighter and will remain one for as long as he is able. Before long though, that ability will come to an end and Blonsky and General Ross are both aware that its onset has already begun. This is where the Super-Soldier serum comes into play. Comic book aficionados will recognize this concoction all too well for giving scrawny Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, his physique and physical abilities. When Hulk and Blonsky meet after Blonsky has “taken” the serum, the contents of that special sauce are responsible for one of the most entertaining hand-to-hand combat battle scenes I have witnessed in a film.
When Blonsky becomes the Abomination in the third act of The Incredible Hulk out of a growing power lust and desire to be the man he used to be, the film loses part of its edge. Watching two CGI creatures duke it out is not as fun, breathless or as entertaining as watching a real human fight a CGI creature. Think Éowyn versus the Witch King’s Dragon at the end of the second act in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Both scenes are extremely cool and well done. Notwithstanding this hiccup, there are those special moments in The Incredible Hulk that enable it to stand at the upper echelon of the films based on comic books. One involves Banner fixing a machine in a factory; another is when Betty Ross screams “DAD!”, while the remainders are those segments that I have previously alluded to.
Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk pays homage to its roots much like Rob Zombie did with his remake of Halloween, only with better results. Except for the title sequence and the montage imagery, all of The Incredible Hulk is a construct of screenwriter Zak Penn and Edward Norton’s minds. The Incredible Hulk is original and stands on its own two legs, a newborn that learned to run before it walked, unlike Ang Lee’s more metaphoric Hulk. The Incredible Hulk is a crowd pleaser, was designed to be so, and delivers for both the purist and the novice.