Five years after Ang Lee attempted a stylistically and narratively daring reimagining of what a comic-book movie could be (an example that tanked disastrously at the box office), the big green gamma-guy returns to the screen in a purer, more unadulterated, vastly more entertaining form. Ang Lee's big, bigger, biggest screen version of Stan Lee's comic-book character was ambitious to be sure, but its overly expository storyline and unnecessarily Jungian subtext (not to mention Nick Nolte's crazy-brilliant performance and the presence of a giant, killer poodle) rendered it an instant one-shot experiment. Ultimately, it was an honorable attempt but one which, viewed today, just doesn't feel like part of the Marvel Comics multiverse. Leterrier and screenwriter Zak Penn (whose script was, in turn, rewritten by star Edward Norton) is only the second shot in an upcoming fusillade planned by Marvel Studios. Already, The Incredible Hulk
follows on the repulsor heels of Iron Man
for the studio's boffo summer 2008 releases, and for all intents and purposes, Stan Lee will also most probably own the next five summer movie seasons. Suddenly, the Hulk feels really, truly incredible. That's thanks to two key aspects of the film: Norton's performance, which recalls, in all the right ways, the peripatetic Samaritan-cum-golem of the televised characterization and the seamless inclusion of brief yet integral snippets of Marvel Comics mythology into the film's main tale. (Many of these, including the blink-and-you'll-miss-it mention of old school Marvel cold warrior Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
and the accidental origin of Nelson's sidebar sci-guy character as the future Leader, should be filed under Fanboy Money Shots, but still, they're smart, forward-thinking touches.) But most importantly, Leterrier's film begins with one helluva bang (courtesy of Stark Industries, natch) and, like the Hulk's alter ego, Dr. Bruce Banner, it never stops moving. At the film's core, under its rippling CGI/motion-capture musculature, lies the classic dramatic crucible of unrequited love, unaided and unabetted by the necessity of constant flight and persistent pursuit. Norton's necessarily repressed genius pines for but cannot safely be with his one true love, Betty Ross (Tyler), not only because any uptick in his heartbeat might trigger the beast within, but also because (wouldn't you know it) she's the daughter of scheming military brasshole General "Thunderbolt" Ross (Hurt), who dreams, Mabuse-like, of creating an army of hulking super-soldiers. Hurt gives Ross a genuine streak of humanity beneath all that hardcore hawkishness, but it's clear from the outset that both Ross and Roth's cannily-played character Emil Blonsky (here repurposed from his comic-book incarnation as a KGB agent to an aging British SAS commando with an unslakable thirst for battle) will be antagonists for the duration. All of this will mean nada to audiences who don't go in for comic book-based filmmaking, of course. If you don't know who Tony Stark is or who The Avengers
might or might not be, you could be better cinematically served by rewatching Peter Parker in Ang Lee's The Ice Storm
. And, too, if you don't care to consider why movies of the Stan Lee stripe may be so singularly freighted with pop-culture import in a world where heroes – super or otherwise – are in increasingly short supply, well pal, you obviously don't know Jack (Kirby). As of right now, it's Marvel's universe. We just live in it.