- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

“The Incredible Hulk” is a two-hour apology for director Ang Lee’s 2003 interpretation of the big green guy.

Dumbed down and pumped full of action, this new “Hulk” is the polar opposite of Mr. Lee’s introspective take on the Marvel Comics hero.

That’s mostly good news because the Hulk lacks the teen angst of Peter Parker and the fascinating powers of, say, the Fantastic Four. Treating this source material like the pulp it is, not an existential drama, makes sense.

The opening credits serve as the new origin story, quickly depositing us into the life of gamma-radiated Bruce Banner (Edward Norton). Our hero has been living in Brazil, working anonymously at a bottling factory, for the past five years. He’s trying to stay far away from the stresses that lead to his anger-management woes.

However, the U.S. military, personified by Gen. “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt), won’t leave Banner alone. After all, what’s a bigger, deadlier weapon than an angry Hulk? An accident leads Ross and his No. 1 soldier, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to Banner’s bottling plant. In the first of many chase sequences, Banner stays one small step ahead of the military, all the while glancing at his heart-rate monitor to make sure he doesn’t lose his cool.

Although Blonsky may seem like a poor match for the Hulk, he’s getting mysterious injections under Ross’ supervision that mimic the radiation bath that previously transformed Banner.

Meanwhile, Banner re-connects with his old girlfriend, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), the estranged daughter of the hard-nosed general.

Director Louis Leterrier (“Transporter 2”) isn’t a visionary like “Spider-Man’s” Sam Raimi or “Batman’s” Tim Burton. His “Hulk” is frequently inelegant, stumbling over his cameo requirements and fan-boy shout-outs. But he’s also lean, mean and focused like a laser on bare-boned entertainment.

The film’s signature action sequence, set at a fictional Virginia university, is everything a comic-book film should deliver. If only the other action sequences were choreographed with equal precision.

Mr. Leterrier has the advantage of having Mr. Norton at his disposal. The actor instantly finds Banner’s tortured soul within. Even when the plot takes ludicrous turns or serves up the stereotypical mad scientist (Tim Blake Nelson), Mr. Norton keeps “Hulk” grounded.

While Jeff Bridges added class to the recent “Iron Man,” Mr. Hurt nearly suffocates whatever dramatic heft “The Incredible Hulk” musters. Sure, he’s weighted down with generic dialogue better suited for a cartoon bubble, but he fails time and again to render Ross as anything but a walking plot device.

This new “Hulk” delights in discarding Mr. Lee’s indie trappings. We get the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, riffs on Hulk mythology and even a musical refrain swiped from the late 1970s “Hulk” television series. The script, hardly a model of humor or insight, does manage a wry spin on that show’s famous line, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Humor is in short supply elsewhere, one reason this “Hulk” is no “Spider-Man.” Still, the comic-book faithful will be glad this reboot also bears little resemblance to the first “Hulk” feature.

..1/2

TITLE: “The Incredible Hulk”

RATING: PG:13 (Cartoon-style violence, a sexual situation and some adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Louis Leterrier. Written by Zak Penn and Edward Norton based on characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

WEB SITE: http://incrediblehulk.marvel.com

maximum rating: four stars

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