Louis Leterrier | 114 mins | cinema | 12A / PG-13
Now here’s something I didn’t think we’d see: a sequel to Ang Lee’s disappointing 2003 version of the Hulk, Marvel’s big green superhero-monster-thing. It’s not precisely a sequel though — for those who’ve somehow missed the behind-the-scenes goings on, this one has an all-new cast and crew, led by Hulk-fan Edward Norton on both leading man and (uncredited) writing duties. But does that mean it’s any better?
I think you’d be hard pushed to deny that this version is more entertaining. From the off it strikes a good balance between plot, character development and action. It doesn’t try to dig as far into the hero’s psychology as Lee’s film, but as that crippled the earlier attempt it’s for the best. Norton is a more appropriate Banner than Eric Bana was, achieving drama, humour and action with aplomb. In fact, even though there’s notably less of it, it seems Leterrier and his cast are as adept at crafting dramatic scenes as Lee and his lot were. They’re certainly better at action sequences, of which there are a good number and all well executed. Attempting an athletic chase over rooftops and through small streets so soon after Casino Royale and The Bourne Ultimatum did similar things to such acclaim seems a bold move, and while Hulk‘s version isn’t as memorable it doesn’t suffer unduly from comparison. The final monster-on-monster punch-up is immeasurably better than the first film’s bizarre climax, but the real stand out for me was the battle on the university campus. All of this is helped by vastly improved CGI. No longer is the Hulk an oversized action figure, but instead has weight and grit, and is altogether more believable. You’re never going to be convinced he’s real, obviously, but this time round they’ve made him more than close enough.
In terms of being a sequel, The Incredible Hulk pretty much has its cake and eats it. It makes good use of all the benefits of being Film 2 — it’s not an origin story, it doesn’t waste too much time introducing the characters — but without a dependence on the poor first film — new actors and a modified origin story distance it, so the main plot grows out of the basic ‘facts’ of Hulk’s origin rather than specific incidences from the first film. In fact, those who were lucky enough not to see Lee’s Hulk may well assume the opening credits’ origin story recap is just a retelling of the first film — and there’s no need to inform them otherwise. As well as dispensing with all the first film’s “evil dad” stuff, the version of the origin story here is apparently highly in debt to the ’70s live action Hulk TV series. In fact, there are also numerous nods and cameos to that version throughout (check out the IMDb trivia page for more).
Considering I did as much for Marvel’s other 2008 blockbuster, Iron Man, I feel I should make some comment on the brief franchise-building coda. Unlike Iron Man, however, Hulk doesn’t bury its scene after 10 minutes of credits, much to my joy. For those who don’t know, the brief scene sees Tony Stark — yes, Iron Man himself, naturally played by Robert Downey Jr — have a brief chat with General Ross about the problem of the Hulk. It’s initially immensely fanboy-pleasing, but is allying such a cool, likable hero as Stark with the despicable General Ross such a good idea? Of course, we’ll find out just what the Marvel planning bods have in mind come 2011.
In the end, this sequel is unquestionably superior to Hulk — who’d’ve thought a near-unknown director, whose major previous credit was the fairly risible Transporter 2, could best Ang Lee? The Incredible Hulk is a good blockbuster in its own right, requiring no need to have suffered the previous film, and there’s even room for a sequel. Now there’s something I didn’t think last time.