The Incredible Hulk
Ang Lee's 2003 film, Hulk, was by most accounts, a disappointment. While it has its loyal following that are enchanted by its Freudian-analysis and dream-like qualities, most of the public got the anti-thesis of what they wanted from a superhero film, especially in the wake of Spider-Man and X2. Watching Louis Leterrier's attempt at a redo, it's clear that The Incredible Hulk is the film everyone wanted (myself included) but it does make me slightly wistful for Lee's noble failure.
Incredible Hulk, is an incredibly fast film, clocking in at under 100 minutes; a massive feat considering most superhero flicks tend to hover in the 120 to 150-minute range. Leterrier gets us up to date on everything we need to know about Bruce Banner, his origin, and that we're divorced from the 2003 version, all in the span of the opening credits. We're then transplanted to Brazil where Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is trying to remain as incognito as a white guy can in that part of the world (hats pulled down low help). Banner is communicating with a mysterious "Mr. Blue" who can perhaps find an antidote and stop Bruce's outbursts. The film goes a little Speed and gives Bruce a heart-rate monitor that can't go above 200 beats per minute or else it's time for the angry green guy to come out and play. But at it's core, The Incredible Hulk is a fugitive flick with chases that result in the title character eventually rising to the surface. There are no deep examinations of repressed rage or parental neglect. If the film does have a theme (and it tries very hard not to), it's an odd meditation on manliness, where the primal, pre-modern man is the enemy (embodied by The Hulk, Emil Blonsky/The Abomination, General Ross) and the post-modern, sensitive, touchy-feely, and practically impotent guy (Bruce can't have sex because it would push him past 200bpm) is the hero. Then again, the film doesn't engage us on this subtext; it engages us when Hulk Smash.
And oh does Hulk Smash. Mr. Leterrier knows how to direct his action. The film only has three set pieces but it does all of them very well. He's very good at capturing the transformation because while we all know that Dr. Jekyll is about to transform into Mr. Hyde, it takes talent to make us get giddy every time we see it. Writer Zak Penn has also cooked up a great antagonist in the baddie of Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth in a sneaky-but-brilliant casting move). Blonsky's got no grand agenda beyond testing his personal strength against the Hulk and while we don't want him to win, you have to give it up for a guy that approaches a giant green monster, looks up and asks, "Is that all ya got?"
What stops Hulk from being a superhero debut (or redux, depending on how you look at it) on the level of Iron Man or Spider-Man, is that it doesn't take any chances. It knows exactly what the audience wants and does its best at giving it to them. Unfortunately, this leads into a few tiresome winks with cameos by Lou Ferrigno, old television footage of Bill Bixby, that incredibly sad walking away song from the television show, and so forth. I think it's nice that they pay homage to the character's history in media, but it just doesn't play as smoothly as I'd like.
This is the film Universal wanted in 2003. They wanted a film that could start a franchise and if it doesn't happen this time around, it won't be the fault of the film.