Latest 'Hulk' Something Less than Incredible

The Hulk i i

Ho-hum Hulk: Marvel's monster appears to have feet (and other features) of clay. Rhythm & Hues/Universal Studios/Marvel Studios hide caption

itoggle caption Rhythm & Hues/Universal Studios/Marvel Studios
The Hulk

Ho-hum Hulk: Marvel's monster appears to have feet (and other features) of clay.

Rhythm & Hues/Universal Studios/Marvel Studios

The Incredible Hulk

  • Director: Louis Leterrier
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy
  • Running Time: 114 minutes

Rated PG-13: Things get chased, thrown and blown up. Also: scary sci-fi images, plus some suggestive bits.

Ed Norton stars as 'The Hulk' i i

Super-zero: Amid all the special effects, it's dweebish Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) who feels underanimated. Universal Studios/Marvel Studios hide caption

itoggle caption Universal Studios/Marvel Studios
Ed Norton stars as 'The Hulk'

Super-zero: Amid all the special effects, it's dweebish Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) who feels underanimated.

Universal Studios/Marvel Studios

We understand that losing our temper is not a good thing. We frown at road rage. We decry fistfights at basketball games. We tut-tutted at Howard Dean for his infamous campaign scream.

But as soon as we get into the id-friendly darkness of the movie theater, different rules apply.

Which explains why it's especially cathartic to watch The Incredible Hulk, a big screen rage-a-thon in which dweebish Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) tries his best not to suffer nuclear meltdown and turn into the titular monster.

Us? We're all rooting for him to lose it.

After all, it's quite the spectacle when he transforms into a 9-foot-tall, vein-popping mutant who can withstand bullets and hurl SUVs across the screen like Frisbees. (Don't we all secretly yearn for that kind of temporary metamorphosis in some of life's more frustrating situations?)

Unfortunately, that guilty pleasure is one of the few pleasures of any kind in this latest dramatic showcase for the Marvel Comics character. (There was the Lou Ferrigno TV show in the late '70s, and Ang Lee's underappreciated Hulk in 2003.) For the most part, Louis Leterrier's adaptation is all brawn and no brain.

Now, we don't expect Hamlet out of our summer blockbusters. (Hamlet 2, perhaps, but that's a different animal.) But it's hard to feel empathy for a character whose main activity is flight — in this case, from the manipulative Gen. Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), who wants to exploit Banner's gamma-enhanced powers.

Who's Banner? What's percolating in his heart and head? Sure, he's in love with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), the general's daughter. But how did they get together? What do they treasure about each other? We only get longing stares between them — and one comically romantic scene in which Banner has to curtail his passion so he doesn't slip into, uh, Hulk overdrive.

Speaking of overdrive: The Hulk, once Banner does lose it, comes across as an oversized Claymation destroyer with cartoonish features, rather than as a compelling creation with a heart. As Emil Blonsky, who undergoes gamma radiation so he can destroy the Hulk, Tim Roth is an over-the-top villain with no grace notes. And Robert Downey Jr.'s cameo appearance as Tony Stark (of Iron Man) only reminds us of that movie's infinitely better fusion of character and entertainment. This Hulk? It's no smash.

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