Big Smash 

'The Incredible Hulk' is brainless fun--and little else

I am a big fan of Ang Lee's Hulk, which was released in 2003. All the talk about how that Hulk was "baby-faced" and the movie was boring irritates me. The Hulk looked great, and the special-effects artists did a nice job of integrating some of lead Eric Bana's features into the big green guy.

Yeah, I still don't know what that ending was, with the big Nick Nolte-bubble thing, but I don't care. When the Hulk soared through the air during his jumps, that was awesome.

Now we get The Incredible Hulk, a franchise reboot that doesn't want to make you think, as Lee did with his effort. (God forbid!) This is a more straightforward action pic, starring another great actor, Edward Norton, as the emotionally conflicted Bruce Banner. The movie is pretty much a take-it-or-leave-it affair: It's not bad for a summer no-brainer, but it's definitely not the vast improvement on the prior film its producers would like you to believe it is. It's pretty good, yet unremarkable.

The film starts in Brazil, where Banner has gone to chill out. He's practicing some breathing exercises designed to keep his blood pressure low, and he's counting the days "without incident." He's working in a soda factory, where he cuts his finger, contaminates a bottle and winds up getting his potentially green ass located by the evil Gen. Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt). The military comes after him, and Banner gets angry from time to time, resulting in Hulk episodes.

Banner eventually makes his way back to the United States and into the arms of Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, who is having a pretty good year). They play some sex games, but due to the fact that Banner tends to wreck clothes and smash things when he gets too excited, they can't go past second base. They eventually find themselves on the run, chased by Gen. Ross and nasty soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth).

Blonsky allows himself to be injected with some Hulk serum. He takes just a little at first, and has a not-too-successful battle with the Hulk while looking like Tim Roth. After a goofy scientist (Tim Blake Nelson) gives him a whole lot more, he turns into a nasty-looking thing that battles the Hulk in the film's final showdown. Roth generally makes a good villain, and this film doesn't deviate from the norm.

Norton is good. Hell, the guy is always good. Word on the Internet says that Norton is peeved over the final cut after a lot of his script additions wound up on the cutting-room floor. Say this for Norton: He might be right to be a bit upset. The final movie zips by with very little depth. Norton and director Louis Leterrier each had something different in mind, and I imagine we'll see the different versions on some DVD one of these days.

How does the Hulk look this time? Pretty cool, I guess. He's uglier than the last time, and the artists have done basically nothing to retain any of Norton's features in the full-blown Hulk. I absolutely love the fact that the Hulk is voiced by Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk alter-ego to Bill Bixby's Banner (say that 10 times fast) in the TV show. Ferrigno also makes a cameo, as he did in Lee's version, as a security guard.

Other fun nods to the TV show include the appearance of light green eyes before the Hulk's transformation, the sad piano music that often accompanied Bixby as he walked alone, and a clever cameo by the late Bixby. There's also a fun play on that old "don't make me angry" saying.

As it stands, I like Lee's version better. He made a movie with some meat on it, while this one is the equivalent of a fun wrestling match with master thespians. I am in no way complaining; I had fun watching it, and I look forward to seeing it again someday on my Blu-Ray player. I just hope Norton and his director both get to tinker with it a bit.

Hulk smash ... and that's about all he manages to do.

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