The Incredible Hulk
With a strong cast, plot and action, The Incredible Hulk is another resounding Marvel Studios success. There is not much to mine here—a scientist is poisoned in an experiment and he's triggered by anger to become a raging green hunk of muscle—but what's there to be made is simple and well done.
Edward Norton (The Painted Veil, American History X, The Illusionist), a chameleon who is Hollywood's best actor, adds depth to Marvel's catalog, much as Robert Downey, Jr. enhances Iron Man. The picture opens with a set-up montage that mirrors the opening credit segment of the CBS television series of the same name. Look for clever nods to TV show actors Lou Ferrigno and the late Bill Bixby.
As the afflicted scientist, Mr. Norton flees to South America, where he adopts an adorably alert dog—brace for some tough-to-watch animal cruelty, though not as gratuitous as the dog's death in I Am Legend—studies Portuguese and corresponds with a mysterious fellow scientist about curing the condition. The opening shot of the Latin American urban hillside is impressive, drawing the viewer into his shadowy existence.
With his pointy-eared canine pal, Mr. Norton's expatriate, who is kind, affectionate, and demonstrative, works to soothe and control his explosive alter ego and he is both fastidious and fallible. When he's cut, he bleeds, and working in a Third World bottling plant doesn't help. The intelligent scientist, whose handicap was caused by an irrational drive to reshape man as a weapon, is a prisoner of the mind/body dichotomy; he must contain and transform himself through exhaustive, diligent restraint.
Mr. Norton, blending passion and reason for the perfect sinewy scientist in love, is neither too tortured nor too empty. More surprisingly, Liv Tyler is effective as his former lover, whom he inadvertently injured in the Hulk's initial outburst, and William Hurt is outstanding as her military general father. Tim Roth as a heinous, power-lusting Russian, hulking in his own way, also hits the mark.
Hurt mimics gruff Sam Elliott in the same role from Ang Lee's uneven 2003 version, adding a sinister edge without camping it up to Nick Nolte proportions. Tyler's not plausible as a college professor but she is convincing as an intelligent young woman in love with a man who is worth admiring and the romantic angle strengthens the story. As she stands back in horror during one of the Hulk's eruptions, her malicious father declares: "now she'll see."
That sort of psychological subtext runs throughout The Incredible Hulk, which is bogged down in the usual mad scientist stuff of the genre. Mr. Norton's interloper seeks to destroy evidence that, as one villain points out, could be used to advance human progress, and the movie's more comfortable reflecting Mr. Norton's seriousness than when it goes for the joke, though there's plenty of good humor.
With Roth's monster in the making lurking on the battlefield—action scenes are pulsating, with an Atlas Shrugged-like Project X soundwave scene that's particularly powerful—and Hurt's menacing militaristic authority, Mr. Norton's sensitive thinker must stay on the move, a godlike man alone against the world, struggling with battle fatigue and flashbacks and the pressures of stealing Promethean fire.
A thrilling, if thoroughly B-movie level, climax plays out in the streets of New York City, repudiating any earlier anti-science sentiment—the Hulk can be controlled—and paving the way for an expansion of Marvel's burgeoning superhero universe, which is not entirely heroic. With romantic love, breathtaking transformations (this Hulk is made of bulk with a touch of Kong) and riveting comic book action, The Incredible Hulk is wholly entertaining and positively credible.