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The Incredible Hulk Review — A Stark Contrast to Iron Man

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Let me answer the question everyone’s asking right off the bat: Yes, The Incredible Hulk is better than 2003’s Hulk, Ang Lee’s lugubrious art-house take on Marvel’s classic comic book character. But don’t let those recently re-cut trailers featuring Robert Downey Jr.’s cameo as Tony Stark dupe you: The Incredible Hulk is nowhere as good as Iron Man, and Ed Norton’s tormented scientist isn’t nearly as thrilling as Downey’s reformed bon vivant.

Why compare the two movies or the two actors? Because it’s impossible not to. Not only are they both Marvel properties,  the comic book giant is setting up the title characters to appear in the 2011 superhero epic, The Avengers, as evidenced by Downey’s Hulk cameo (and Samuel L. Jackson’s appearance as Nick Fury at the end of Iron Man). The films also feature similar premises: Scientists, whose work is coveted, co-opted and corrupted by the U.S. military complex, try to turn around the situation for good. So why does one flick work so well while the other founders? For starters, unlike Stark — whose transformation from unprincipled playboy to tortured hero is as exhilarating as any of Iron Man‘s action sequences — Bruce Banner (Ed Norton) has nowhere to go. Oh, he can cover a lot of ground once he turns into the hulk — at one point he gets from Brazil to Guatemala in a few giant leaps — but emotionally speaking, Banner starts and ends as an incurable sad sack. Let’s face it. Watching an actor brood for two hours, even one as talented as Norton, doesn’t make for gripping cinema.

The storytelling is serviceable: X3 and Elektra scribe Zak Penn wrote the script (with an assist from Norton); Transporter
director Louis Leterrier is at the helm. The Hulk’s background is explained in a brisk opening montage: Well-meaning but overconfident scientist Banner experiments on himself; unwittingly unleashes his new
angry side on his colleague/girlfriend, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler); then retreats to South America to protect the innocent and evade Betty’s father, Gen. Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt), a heartless military drone hoping to use Banner’s discoveries for his own evil ends.

Banner spends most of the movie on the run from the bad guys, including the general’s henchman, Emil
Blonsky (a scenery-chewing Tim Roth) while he searches for a cure. Throughout, there are a number of fanboy in-jokes, such as cameos from Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno, and the late Bill Bixby; and the origin stories of an array of Hulk supporting characters, including Doc Samson, the Leader and Abomination. There’s never any doubt that screenwriter Penn is a tried-and-true comic book geek. But this works both for and against the film. He and Norton effortlessly incorporate a lot of comic lore, dispense a number of amusing
one-liners, and keep the story moving yet they also seem to be slaves to clichés (Kissing in the rain? Really?!), and defiers of logic (How does Banner reenter the U.S. with no money and no passport?
Even with the Hulk protecting her, how does Betty escape all harm after being engulfed by flames?). Much has been made of the fact that Norton was unhappy with the final cut, but it’s hard to imagine a different, smarter edit elevating the movie to the heights attained by Iron Man.

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