I struggle to find the incredible in The Incredible Hulk, the 2008 feature film by Transporter franchise director Louis Leterrier. Don’t get me wrong, there are memorable moments by Edward Norton(Bruce Banner) and I was happy to see William Hurt as the by-the-books career serviceman, General Thunderbolt Ross – though admittedly fresh from seeing him in The Doctor makes for a bit of a bias influence. But in the end the film feels heavy-handed with unsettling liberties taken to the original character and story. I wanted to like this film if for no other reason than the dismal job Ang Lee did with his version, aptly called Hulk in 2003. Where I think Lee’s film failed was his reliance on a CGI hulk that came across as artificial and emotionally detached. In short, it was difficult to feel anything meaningful about the computer hulk – I’m reminded of the ground breaking film Final Fantasy and while I liked that film, I think Hironobu Sakaguchi experienced similar problems connecting audiences with characters created entirely by a computer.
Where I think this film was successful, perhaps to the bane of some, was in the filmmakers focus on building the story from the character out. There is a well done credit sequence for this film that effectively provides the back story for the film and as soon as we get into the story we have all the information we need to follow the principle character. However, the movie’s star, Edward Norton, was my original draw. Die hard action flick enthusiasts might take an exception to the lengthy story and character building, I mean lets face it in this version of the Hulk we don’t actually see said green meanie for quite a spell. While I found the idea of building the world up from the ground refreshing in a comic book adaptation, think Spiderman and X-men which have successful franchises, I feel that there is an imbalance between story and action here. When we finally enter the big money shots deep into the second act, it is as though the director had a box of fireworks that he had been saving for some grand finale only to realize that time is running out and he better set them all on fire or risk having to wait another year to show them off. The result is an onslaught of special FX violence the likes of which drone on without reprieve until finally things look resolved. I would have preferred balance over the kitchen-sink-of-FX approach but that’s just me.
Edward Norton first caught my attention back in 1996 as the altar boy-turned-killer in veteran television director Gregory Hoblit’s feature film Primal Fear. It is safe to say that Mr. Norton was amazing in that film and stole more than one scene from star, Richard Gere. Norton would go on to star in back to back roles in American History X in 1998 and Fight Club in 1999 alongside heavy hitters Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter; a move that put him on the radars of audiences and critics ever since.
My biggest complaint about the film has to do with the franchise. We have to keep in mind that the Hulk character has yet to find the kind of success other more notable characters have in the Marvel house.
In 1976 there was a television show that ran for 82 episodes called The Incredible Hulk. In 2008, there was a film adaptation of the series directed by Louis Leterrier, who helmed The Transporter in 2002, Danny The Dog and The Transporter 2 in 2005. His $150 million dollar ode to the television series earned almost $250 million dollars at domestic and international box offices. Leterrier’s version follows Ang Lee’s troubled interpretation in 2003 – receiving grades of C and lower, Hulk was panned by fans and critics alike for straying too far from the beloved, though box-office-success challenged Marvel comic book character that first appeared in the early 60’s.
I can’t see this review changing the hearts and minds of avid action flick aficionados or even deterring the most hardened comic-book-turned-feature-film fans from seeing something else. While I don’t think all is lost in The Incredible Hulk, I do feel that there are quite a few holes in the production that have me perplexed. If you’re either of the aforementioned filmgoer, then you have to watch this film if for no other reason then to embark on yet another high budget thrill ride of action, devastation, and special effects.