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Hulk sulk

The new version keeps his pants on
By PETER KEOUGH  |  June 10, 2008
1.5 1.5 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk | Directed by Louis Leterrier | Written by Zak Penn and Edward Norton based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby | with Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, and William Hurt | Universal | 119 minutes
After two hugely budgeted adaptations in five years, my biggest question about the Hulk remains: what’s with the pants? How is it that when a guy with a 28-inch waist blows up to the size of a Cadillac Escalade, the pants remain intact? “Stretchy” material doesn’t explain it.

There are other questions. Like, why make this movie? Ang Lee took a stab at it and couldn’t get the job done, losing millions in the process. But then, Louis Leterrier is no Ang Lee. Not for him the Oedipal angst that makes the last half-hour of Hulk play like Paradise Lost. No, for Leterrier, whose previous work includes Transporter 2, the Hulk doesn’t come alive until he utters the immortal words “Hulk Smash!” and the rest of the cast can stand around, stare at a green screen, and murmur, “Oh my God!” (Liv Tyler is especially good at this.)

Tedium aside, The Incredible Hulk opens, like all great epics, in medias res, leaving everyone but fans of the comic book scurrying to fill in the background. Mild-mannered Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) rises from a lotus position in his dank room in a sprawling Rio de Janeiro favela and goes to work at a bottling plant. Now, if a pale gringo who not only is suffering from an anger issue that turns him into a monster but also is being pursued by the US military were looking for somewhere peaceful to live anonymously, what better place than a densely populated and violent Brazilian slum?

All the same, they track him down, and Banner creeps northward (actually, when Banner flees his pursuers as a human, Leterrier achieves a kind of Jason Bourne–like excitement), clutching his pants and stopping off at odd spots like Chiapas (another oasis of calm for someone with delicate nerves). His goal: to return to the college campus where the fatal gamma-ray experiment that turned him into the Hulk took place, find the data, and send them to the mysterious “Mr. Blue” (met, I presume, while trolling a mad-scientist on-line chat room) and hope he comes up with a cure. And maybe, if his heart rate doesn’t spike, get it on with Betty (Liv Tyler), the daughter of General Ross (William Hurt), the loony Army researcher who got him into this fix in the first place.

But that’s beginning to stray into Ang Lee territory. What’s important is that General Ross will stop at nothing, not even at Tim Roth as an unconvincing Rambo-like commando, to get Banner back into his clutches so he can use his blood to create an army of super-soldiers. Hulk smash! Sounds kind of like Iron Man? Well, just wait until the film’s last scene.

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