Wow, so we're only five years between comic movie reboots now, huh? Ang Lee's previous take on the famous character, 2003's 'Hulk,' made a respectable amount of green at the worldwide box office, but failed to engender the kind of commercial and critical enthusiasm needed to kick-start a new franchise. So here we are, a mere half-decade later, and Universal -- taking note of the huge grosses that greeted franchise reboots such as 'Batman Begins' and 'Casino Royale' -- decided to give the ol' green guy another try. And out popped Hulk v2.0, aka 'The Incredible Hulk,' basically a popcorn-movie version of Lee's angst-ridden, existential take.
After a quick opening recap that fills us in on the Hulk's origins, we meet Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), who is now living in South America doing manual labor in a soda factory, and taking anger management classes. (Seriously.) Hoping to cure himself of his "condition," he chats up the mysterious "Mr. Blue" on the Internet. Unfortunately, Bruce soon has an accident at the soda plant, and a drop of his blood ends in contamination and death. That brings Bruce's whereabouts to the attention of General "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt), who sends out a troop to capture him, lead by the villainous Maj. Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth). That's when Bruce gets angry, the Hulk emerges, and the military's plan goes horribly awry.
Unlike Lee's version, 'The Incredible Hulk' is not content just to give us one Hulky monster. In a nod to dumb summer movie plots (and, if I'm not mistaken, a swipe from the 1982 B-movie fave 'Swamp Thing'), Blonsky becomes so enamored of the Hulk's strength and power that he convinces Thunderbolt to experiment on him with a new serum, eventually leading him to Mr. Blue. Meanwhile, Banner returns to reunite with his old flame Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), who helps him track down Mr. Blue. With Blonsky on his way to becoming his own Abomination, Banner will have to team with Ross and any allies he can find while the military closes in if he is to defeat Blonsky.
'The Incredible Hulk' offers a better balance of comic book elements than Lee's 'Hulk.' There is enough melodrama for Bruce to give the character depth and gravity, but it's not so overdone that it drains the movie of life. Blonsky is also a fun villain (especially thanks to Roth's energetic and witty performance), and Tyler makes a fine Ross. 'The Incredible Hulk' also wisely drops the meany-daddy storyline of Lee's 'Hulk,' which left the movie so inert and talky there was little room for action, adventure, or excitement. Streamlined and commercialized -- but not dumbed-down -- 'The Incredible Hulk' seems like the movie Lee was trying to make the first time around.
Directed by Louis Leterrier ('The Transporter'), 'Incredible Hulk' is effective both as a comic book movie and an action film. Though much controversy was generated at the time of the film's summer theatrical release regarding various cuts of the movie (reports pegged Norton as the bad boy, suggesting the actor overstepped his bounds and demanded creative control over the editing), the 114-minute cut here is lean and mean. The dramatic and story elements are balanced throughout with the action, so we get just enough of both to hold our attention. And refreshingly for a comic book flick, this one is not overlong, as is often the case these days with excellent but still rather bloated movies like 'The Dark Knight.' This 'Hulk' has little fat, yet the film also doesn't feel undernourished. Whatever additional elements were snipped from Leterrier's claimed "director's cut" (and judging by the deleted scenes included on this Blu-ray, they aren't many), perhaps for once the studio (and Norton?) had the right idea.
Though some eyebrows were raised in the fan community when Norton was cast (much as they were with Robert Downey Jr. and 'Iron Man,') he makes a fine Bruce Banner. The actor's natural intensity gels well with the character's innate dual-nature -- Norton always seems ready to explode in some sort of on-set tantrum, as does Banner into the Hulk. Though I liked Eric Bana in Lee's 'Hulk,' he never seemed to convey a true sense of danger or unpredictability. Norton is equal with the inner turmoil, but much better with the rage. While I still may prefer Bill Bixby to both of 'em (hey, I'm a child of the '80s) Norton proves more than capable.
Is 'The Incredible Hulk' a great comic book movie? No. It doesn't transcend the form, or even try, as did 'The Dark Knight' or, to an extent, 'Iron Man.' It's not ambitious film, but it is a well-crafted and more than competent one. It wants to do nothing more than honor the Hulk origin, and give us plenty of thrills and action to munch popcorn to. On that level, it succeeds, and if the film's decent (if not gangbusters) box office doesn't appear to justify a sequel, at least we can rest easy that after two tries, Hulk was done justice on the big screen.
Universal presents 'The Incredible Hulk' on Blu-ray in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video (at 2.40:1). It looks absolutely fantastic -- this is reference-quality transfer in all respects.
The source is pristine -- 'Hulk' looks as shiny and glossy as you would expect from a brand-new Hollywood blockbuster. Blacks are spot-on and contrast is excellently modulated -- there's none of the overdone whites or digital fleshtones that so often mar new release Blu-rays. The image is vivid and natural, with a wonderful sense of three-dimensionality and exquisite detail. From close-ups to wide shots, the image never looks anything less than finely textured and sharp. Colors are bright and bold, but as clean as a whistle and with accurate fleshtones. The encode is also first-rate, with no edge enhancement, motion jaggies, or other artifacts. At times, some of the film's CGI can look a bit blurry and not up to par with the rest of the film, but this is inherent to the material so I can't fault this transfer for that. 'The Incredible Hulk' earns a perfect five-star rating.
'The Incredible Hulk' is also a powerhouse of a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit). This film has A-plus sound design, with the Hulk stomping all over the place to smashing effect.
Surround use is a highlight. The "wall of sound" effect in the rears is in full force, with clarity and heft that sounds terrific. Transparency feels seamless, with sounds hard to localize as they bounce from channel to channel, and from front to back. Minor ambiance is sustained and inventive. The score is also wonderfully spread out, giving 'Hulk' an almost constant rear presence throughout. Dynamics are top-shelf, too, with expansiveness between highs and lows very wide, and low bass up there with the best I've heard on a Blu-ray.
Unfortunately, ratcheting the audio down a notch is uneven dialogue balance. Action scenes frequently overwhelm, so I either had to adjust volume or flip on the subtitles. That's a shame, because otherwise 'The Incredible Hulk' would have scored as high for audio as it does for video. Otherwise, this soundtrack excels.
Universal has put together a good package of standard extras for the DVD and Blu-ray of 'The Incredible Hulk.' The majority of the video materials are also presented in full 1080 video, and offer the same subtitle options as found on the main feature.
'The Incredible Hulk' is probably a movie that didn't need to be made, but against all odds it has turned out better than it had any right to. It's a fun popcorn comic book movie, and certainly far more entertaining than Ang Lee's ambitious if dour 2003 version. This Blu-ray looks and sounds magnificent, and has some spiffy extras and exclusives to boot. 'The Incredible Hulk' is definitely worth a rental, and fans of the film and character should pick it up without hesitation.