In Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk, Dr. Bruce Banner spent more time brooding than smashing and his big final battle consisted of ... transferring his rage to his jellyfish dad. The general consensus: Less sulk, more Hulk.
You can’t fault Marvel Studios and director Louis Leterrier for giving the people what they want, even though they’re only half-right. The Incredible Hulk, a reboot of Lee’s film, makes smashing its top priority — but does so at the expense of character development, dialogue, and plot (you know, the “boring” parts). But for the audience to invest in a fully CG protagonist that speaks five words of dialogue the entire film — one of which is “smash” — there has to be more going on when ol’ Jade Jaws is stuck inside puny Edward Norton.
You can’t fault Norton, though. His additions to Zak Penn’s script — mostly characterization and meatier dialogue — make up the 50 to 70 minutes cut from the movie to reduce time between smashings. While Leterrier knocks the action scenes out of the park (the battles are cleverly staged — although CGI fatigue sets in during the final 20-minute slugfest), everything else feels truncated and oddly paced. Norton’s natural intelligence is a good fit for Banner, but his relationship with Betty Ross (Tyler) is underdeveloped despite the easy chemistry between them. Perhaps they’ll go deeper in the inevitable sequel (Hulk II: Norton Gets Final Cut).
Speaking of sequels: In many ways Hulk is an (un)official sequel to Iron Man, firmly setting itself in the same cinematic universe. (Spoiler alert!) Hulk’s final scene doesn’t even belong to Banner, it belongs to Tony Stark: Robert Downey Jr. drops in to tease the possible Avengers movie hinted at in his own film. In comic books these are called “crossovers,” and they tend to gobble cash like Galactus. Time will tell whether or not the formula will apply to movie tickets, but a true onscreen Marvel Universe is an exciting prospect that every comic-book nerd (myself included) has dreamed of.
However, Shellhead’s cameo ultimately steals Hulk’s thunder: Instead of “The End,” we get “To Be Continued,” and Hulk doesn’t engender much excitement for more smashing on its own. But the thought of Captain America, Iron Man, and the other Avengers in a big-screen adventure? That’s more than enough to stay tuned until next issue.