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The-Incredible-Hulk-edward-norton-1756888-1260-535A few years ago it looked like director Ang Lee had ruined The Incredible Hulk franchise. His version of the big green guy’s origin story,  Hulk starring Eric Bana, started strong with a promising $62 million take on the opening weekend only to plunge to $18 million, and then to $8 million on the two subsequent weekends. Superheroes, especially ones as beloved as the Hulk are expected to rake in super bucks, so when Lee’s vision of the character fizzled it looked like Bruce Banner’s alter ego would be best remembered for the comic books and the cheesy but fun television series starring Bill Bixby.

Marvel, however, had different ideas. After a five year break they’ve brought him back, bigger and greener than ever and ready to do battle with Iron Man for supremacy of the summer’s box office.

The new one starts all over again as if Lee’s Hulk never existed. When we first see Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) he is living in South America, a fugitive from the US Army—namely General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) and mercenary Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth)—who desperately want to turn the Hulk technology into a weapon. Banner, meanwhile, is desperate to find a cure, or at least a way to control his angry outbreaks.

After a nasty one-on-one confrontation with the Hulk Blonsky volunteers his body to science, and is injected with Banner’s gamma ray formula. When the procedure transforms him into a power crazed giant fighting beast—“This is a whole new level of weird,” he says—it looks like the Hulk is the only one who can stop him. Add to that a Beauty and the Beast love story and you’ve got a story that is more or less true to its comic book origins.

The buzz on the internet for The Incredible Hulk was not good. Bloggers said Edward Norton as Bruce Banner was too slight, too much of an artiste; that the action in the trailer looked stilted and the hulking beast too cartoony. The buzz on the net was wrong; wrong like it was for Snakes on a Plane. The internet chatter pegging Snakes as a hit was off the mark and to paraphrase Mark Twain, “the internet reports of The Incredible Hulk as box office poison have been greatly exaggerated.”

It’s actually great fun; fast and furious with enough story to please the purists, enough action to entertain the eye and just enough humor to keep the actors from taking it all too seriously.
Norton (who also did an unaccredited rewrite on the script) acquits himself well in the lead role, bringing some dramatic weight to the character but never forgetting that this is a Saturday matinee kind of movie and also requires a light touch. There is an unexpected laugh out loud love scene and some nice in-jokes for the comic fans, but frankly, we like him better when he’s mad.

When he goes koo-koo bananas he turns into the nine-foot behemoth Hulk, and the transformation is pretty cool even if his arms and legs do look like giant pieces of boiled okra. The Hulk’s big action set pieces are what you’d expect—loud and frenetic adrenaline fueled special effect extravaganzas and quite effective.

The Incredible Hulk is a crowd-pleaser which should even play well to audiences unfamiliar with the big green guy, but will really thrill fanboys and gals with the revelation that this may be just one more step toward a multi-hero movie based on the popular comic The Avengers. That movie, featuring Captain America, Iron Man, Ant-Man and The Incredible Hulk is rumored to be set for a 2010 release, and would be, for comic book fans, a kind of Holy Grail of Superheroes.

Until then they’ll have to make due with just one superhero at a time, and for now, The Incredible Hulk will do just fine.

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