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The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Director: Louis Leterrier

review by Alasdair Stuart

Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is a man on the run from both himself and the US Army. Whenever Banner gets angry, he becomes the Hulk, a ten-foot tall, green-skinned creature whose rage is seemingly boundless. To General Ross (William Hurt), he represents both a monumental threat and an opportunity. To Banner, the Hulk is his id run wild, and to Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a Special Forces' operative at the end of his physical usefulness, the Hulk is a chance to regain former glories...

Effectively wiping the slate clean with regards to the 2003 Ang Lee directed version, Hulk, this is, like Iron Man, very much a Marvel Studios movie. There's the same sense of streamlining here, the same unusual and interesting philosophy behind the casting choices and the same sense of authority, for want of a better word. Regardless of the success or failure of their previous films, Marvel has claimed ownership of every movie they have from hereon in, and the effect is an instantly positive one.

Every level of the casting lifts the film, with Norton, Roth and Hurt the standouts. Norton's Banner is a shy, desperate, traumatised figure and some of the film's best moments come from his horrific flashbacks to his actions as the Hulk. Played with a quiet intelligence and desperation by Norton, this is a Banner very much in keeping with that of the TV series, a point borne out by the use of 'The Lonely Man' theme on several occasions. It should also be noted that there are nicely handled cameos from both the late Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno (who also provides the voice of the Hulk), anchoring the film very much to that version of the story.

Ranged against him, Hurt plays 'Thunderbolt' Ross as a surprisingly effective, straight-ahead character. His job is to build weapons, Banner's a weapon and as far as Ross is concerned the story starts and ends there. He has some nice moments of gruff humour, muttering aloud about where Betty finds her boyfriends after a confrontation with Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell, also excellent). The added irony in this case, stemming from the fact that Samson also becomes gamma-enhanced later in the comics.

Roth though is the real standout. He looks like he's wandered in from a Michael Mann film, a calm, precise, small man who is as perceptive as Banner is intelligent. His scenes with Hurt are fantastic, and the gradual transformation of Blonsky is both a neat bit of horror and ties Banner's experiments to the super-soldier serum, a concept at the heart of Captain America, itself due for a film in the next couple of years. There's a hunger, a quiet anger to Blonsky that makes him a real threat and powers Roth's scenes along to great effect.

Further down the cast list are some equally impressive turns. Liv Tyler's Betty Ross is an almost impossible role to bring something new to, but Tyler manages it, giving Betty a very physical, very compassionate presence in the film. She has one of the best scenes in the film, literally talking the Hulk down and is an excellent foil for Norton throughout. Of the others, Ty Burrell impresses as Leonard Samson and Tim Blake Nelson's wide-eyed, optimistic Samuel Stern is huge fun and promises to prove an excellent foil in the next film.

Louis Leterrier's direction is spot on here, like Jon Favreau's on Iron Man, seemingly content to let the story do the work. He has a good, open approach to action too, and the Culver University fight in particular is as epic as it is brutal. There's a seamless mix of real and virtual effects, and this, combined with the real weight and heft of the Hulk and the Abomination in the closing scenes, marks the film out as something more than simply an effects showreel.

If there's a problem here it's that the subject manner is by definition darker than the banter-heavy Iron Man. That being said, the film never resorts to navel gazing or introspection and the running time flies by. All in all, this is a smart, assured reboot and another feather in Marvel's cap.
Incredible Hulk

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