It's no real mystery that
Ang Lee's Hulk
failed to set the box-office alight. What do you expect when you hire the director behind films like The Ice Storm and Sense And Sensibility to adapt a comic-book about a big green ball of rage? You get what you pay for. For Hulk 2.0, Marvel have realised just that, and in hiring the director of the Transporter series, made clear their intentions from the outset. Louis Leterrier's Hulk is everything Ang Lee's wasn't. It's big, it's loud and it's stupid - in other words, it's everything a Hulk movie should be. Sometimes dumb is better.
With 21st century audiences already Hulked out, there's no need for the kind of origin story that new superhero franchises are usually saddled with. Bruce Banner (Norton) gets angry, turns big 'n' green - we get it. Instead, we're treated to a solid 45 minutes of pandering (read: grovelling) to fans of the comic in the form of numerous nods to the original series and plenty of in-jokes. There's the Lou Ferrigno cameo; the Bill Bixby appearance; the TV theme tune subtly woven into the score; not one but TWO jokes about stretchy pants. The Incredible Hulk is a love letter to the fans, scrawled in big green crayon, wrapped round a brick and hurled through the window of your local cinema.
Then, of course, there's the action that Lee's version so sorely lacked. It's ridiculously over the top, almost to the point of embarrassment. William Hurt's General 'Thunderbolt' Ross directs the carnage, refusing to give up until Hulk is down and audiences are satisfied. "Tell the jeeps to get their asses in there!" he yells in one melee. Twisted metal ensues. "Where the hell are the cannons?" he bellows. Hulk is pinned by sonic waves but to no avail. "Where's that goddamn gunship?" he barks, before a gun-laden chopper zips over the horizon and unleashes hell on their big green target. It's a cacophony of gunfire, explosions and screaming. And it's bliss. The final battle, with Tim Roth's mutated Abomination, suffers a little from Van Helsing syndrome - two large CG creatures kicking the SFX out of each other - but otherwise, Leterrier scores an A for action and an F for subtlety.
We always knew Hulk was going to be the star of the show, but we had no idea he'd written the script as well. The cost of the carnage is a screenplay that wouldn't faze a five year-old. "How are you feeling?" asks Ross of Roth's newly-injected super soldier. "Pissed off and ready for round three!" comes the unconvincing reply. Ed Norton recently had his co-writing credit rescinded - we can only hope for his sake that he was the one that removed it.
Norton makes for an odd leading man. Never the most charismatic A-lister, there's always been something sinister lurking deep behind those beady eyes - see Fight Club, American History X and Primal Fear for perfect examples. Unlike Eric Bana's interpretation, Norton's Banner is awkward and unathletic; hardly the stuff action heroes are made of, but in keeping with the character's origins. Watching him run across the Favela rooftops in the impressive opening isn't exactly like watching Jason Bourne; being witness to his Hulk-outs is a lot like watching a constipated man attempt to do his business. (I imagine).
The screenplay - which allegedly went through several re-drafts courtesy of Norton - poses a lot of questions that the movie doesn't have time to answer. How does Banner, broke and naked, manage to get from Brazil to America in a matter of days? And why does he switch from tormented yet gentle genius to suicidal superhero in the blink of a gamma-infected eye? Why, to shoehorn in another exploding helicopter and the infamous 26-minute final punch-up, of course. I know we lusted for action, but a little logic wouldn't have gone amiss either.
But, as we said, you get what you pay for: this is undoubtedly a Hulk film from beginning to end, the absolute polar opposite to Ang Lee's more meditative approach. Every minute of its 114 minute run-time is dedicated to pleasing the fans - from the "You wouldn't like me when..." joke to the crowd-pleasing last reel Tony Stark cameo. This might alienate some regular, cerebral cinemagoers, but the big four-letter word on the poster is a dead giveaway - this ain't Baudrillard. It's disposable fun, best summed up by Banner himself when asked how he feels during his transformation: "There's just too much noise... it's difficult to remember anything at all." That's about the size of it, folks. Ali