The Incredible Hulk (***)
The Incredible Hulk washes away Ang Lee’s eccentric and despised Hulk (2003) and puts in its place a competent franchise. Audiences who enjoy blockbuster superhero films—the predictable yet engrossing plot arcs, the populist tropes of heroism and individualism—will connect with this reworking, which takes no risks yet gets the job done without any major guffaws. And comic book aficionados (who no doubt already know this) will be thrilled by The Incredible Hulk’s teasers, which tie its narrative to that of the recent Iron Man, predicting in-development Marvel Studios projects about Thor, Captain America and, eventually, The Avengers (the writer for which is slated to be Zak Penn, who wrote The Incredible Hulk along with lead Ed Norton).
The Incredible Hulk’s proficiency does not make it stimulating, however. This is unfortunate (at least for a critic), for the best, most memorable superhero movies are the ones that add some intellectual provocation to their spectacle. At first, The Incredible Hulk seems up to the challenge: not bothering with the tale of the Hulk’s origins (which are given synoptically during the credits), the film begins in a Rio de Janeiro favela where Norton’s Bruce Banner is hiding out from glowering U.S. General Ross (William Hurt) and his newly hired maniacal henchman Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth, in a tedious, ridiculous performance), who want to harness Banner’s freakish powers for the military. The labyrinthine environment of the slum is pure cinema—recalling Pépé le Moko (1937) or the Bourne franchise—and Banner’s undercover job (working in a factory bottling radioactively hued pop) is a sly dig at globalization. But this is as far as The Incredible Hulk goes. When Banner leaves Rio, it’s pretty much a series of chase and fight sequences until the end of the film.
What The Incredible Hulk needs is allegory, something Ang Lee’s Hulk had too much of. It is a wasted opportunity, though, to re-envision the franchise without this, especially since the new film trades Lee’s hunky Eric Bana for the slight, nerdy Ed Norton. But the semiotics of Norton’s physique are really all The Incredible Hulk has to do with the original comic’s themes of unleashed id, of the meanings and effects of power, of the fine line between rationality and irrationality. It is astoundingly weird, actually, that a movie about a skinny braniac who, when angry, morphs into a giant green thug, can be so clueless about its dependence on metaphor.
The Incredible Hulk is now playing at SilverCity Yorkdale (3401 Dufferin St.), Rainbow Cinemas Market Square (80 Front St. E.) and AMC Yonge and Dundas (10 Dundas St. E.).