MOVIE REVIEW- Going green: Remake gives deja Hulk

a still from this week's filmWould you let one bad movie stand in the way of a potential billion-dollar franchise? Neither would Universal Pictures and Marvel Comics, so they've attempted a cultural lobotomy on the order of "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" to make the world forget Ang Lee's The Hulk.

Fads have limited shelf lives, or at least cyclical popularity, so while movies based on comic superheroes are hot, five years is enough to wait for a second attempt at making a blockbuster of The Incredible Hulk. Is it better than the first?  Yes. (Oh, sorry. The Hulk never happened, so there's nothing to compare.) Is it in a league with Iron Man or the first two Spider-Man films? No.

Edward Norton is as good an actor as Robert Downey Jr. when he gets the right role, but Bruce Banner isn't it. During the opening credits, we get glimpses of the experiment that injects him with gamma rays and goes horribly wrong; then we join him in a Brazilian favela after 158 "days without incident." He's working in a juice bottling plant and worries when he cuts his finger about any blood getting into the juice. (Cue the movie's best inside joke when it does.)

(Speaking of inside jokes, the late Bill Bixby, the 1970s TV Hulk, is represented by a clip from another TV series, while '90s TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno voices the Hulk and reprises his role as a security guard from the non-existent 2003 movie.  Wild horses won't drag info on the final cameo from me, even though you've probably heard about it already.)

Bruce's experiment was supervised by his girlfriend, Dr. Elizabeth "Betty" Ross (Liv Tyler), a cellular biologist whose father, General Ross (William Hurt), is hoping to turn Bruce into a "supersoldier," a weapon he can duplicate. After the Hulk incident in the lab, Ross starts searching for the fugitive, who is secretly corresponding with someone in New York who hopes to cure him.

The general wants Bruce cloned, not cured. Tracking him down in Rio, Ross sends troops, including commando Capt. Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), with orders to "tranq him and bring him back."

Despite the anger management lessons he's been taking, when the Hulk is attacked, tranquilizer darts and bullets just bounce off him. He's only about 10 feet tall, but his shoulders are almost that wide. In closeups, especially, he looks grainy and disproportionate.

After the first of three overlong action sequences, Bruce makes his way back to the States and almost back to Betty's arms, but he can't consummate the deal because any kind of excitement– not just anger– makes his red cells green.

General Ross envisions a Hulk vs. Hulk scenario and starts pumping gamma rays into Blonsky. You needn't be intelligent enough to read comic books to know that will end badly, but if you do read them you probably know Blonsky will become the Abomination and have a showdown with the Hulk in Harlem (perhaps an attempt to compensate for the shortage of African American actors in the rest of the movie) in the final overlong action sequence.

The other overlong action sequence occurs when Bruce and Betty are reunited on the Virginia college campus where she works [though it wasn't filmed in Virginia, and there's no "Culver University" in our fair state–editor]. They become lovers on the run, starting with a scene that must be intended as an homage to King Kong. The road leads to New York, where they meet Bruce's correspondent, the "more curious than cautious" Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson).

In an interesting detail the earlier film left out, Bruce buys the biggest stretch pants he can find so he won't be naked when he expands to Hulk size.

French director Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2) does a good job with the action but doesn't know when to quit and doesn't come up with many new ideas. Even after five years– or longer for the TV series and made-for-TV movies– there's a been-there-done-that feel to much of this enterprise.

The effects are OK, the acting is OK, the screenplay is better than the one for Lee's film. The Incredible Hulk should please the hordes of young men and teenage boys who seem to want to see the same movie week after week under a different title, as long as it's loud and features plenty of CG mayhem.