Edward Norton becomes <em>The Incredible Hulk</em> in this second recent attempt to bring mean and green to the big screen.

Admittedly it’s a better film than Ang Lee’s venture into comic-book-as-paternalistic-metaphor land five years ago. But The Incredible Hulk suffers from the same problem that’s dogging every superhero adaptation, from the once-sublime Sam Raimi Spider Man films to the potentially corruptible new Batman run: hyperbolizing the hyperbole.

I guess the idea of super-powers in an imperfect world governed by absolute mortality wasn’t enough; these films want to clash the titans, as if the only good movie was a tribute to Godzilla films. In this instance, the bloat is made apparent by a little inside joke. Somewhere in the second act, Bruce Banner, played serviceably well by Edward Norton (World’s Most Powerfully Overrated Actorman), tries to sneak into a top-secret laboratory posing as a pizza deliveryman. The night watchman he bribes with a medium pie is played by Lou Ferrigno, whom you may recall as playing the monster to Bill Bixby’s Dr. Banner on TV. Instead of making us chuckle knowingly, however, the loving salute underscores exactly what’s missing from the aggressively huge cinematic version of Hulk. What we loved about watching Bixby and Ferrigno were the daily life traumas (flat tires, dealing with a sadistic boss) that turned a meek doctor into a raging, powerful id. We could relate.

What all these blockbuster comic movies do is replace the pleasures of the original pulp texts with mere spectacle generated by computers for special effects nerds. I’m not saying there isn’t any fun in this new Hulk. But most of the joy comes from the corny moments-Norton necking with Liv Tyler and the only slightly caricatured academic played by Tim Blake Nelson.

The rest is a noisy, destruction-filled romp with an anti-Hulk borrowed from the Hong Kong sets of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But even here simple pleasures have been overlooked in the pursuit of grandiosity. Not once does Banner simply turn into Hulk before our eyes, a fact that would have been unthinkable in a 1940s werewolf movie. The directors have no taste for the magic-that would take some thought. This Hulk just want to smash box offices.


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