'Hulk' is just short of being incredible

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2008

M arvel Studios is on the verge of something huge. And by "huge" I don't just mean the box-office cash flowing in by the truckload from "Iron Man" and now "The Incredible Hulk."

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Courtesy Of Marvel Enterprises
Courtesy Of Marvel Enterprises

Yes, the two summer releases are raking in money for Marvel, but they might end up as just pieces to the puzzle of a looming masterpiece. What better way to build hype and excitement in advance of a film (can you say, "The Avengers"?) than to make two excellent blockbusters, tie them together, and not so subtly hint that something even bigger is in the works? As Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. cameo alert!) tells General Ross (William Hurt) at the end of "The Incredible Hulk," there is a team being put together.

For now, though, that team - whomever it might consist of - is still a ways off. What we have so far are two possible ingredients to that future project, and if they are any indication of what's to come ... oh my! "Iron Man" was fantastic, and "The Incredible Hulk" is only just short of being incredible. If I loved "Iron Man" enough to marry it, I loved "Hulk" enough to at least consider proposing.

"Iron Man" rested largely on superb casting. "Hulk" succeeds more because of a great script and adept direction.

Screenwriter Zak Penn writes as if he's had some experience bringing comic books to the silver screen. And of course, that's because he has. In fact, you could argue Penn's experience in this genre is borderline ridiculous. His credits include "X2," "Elektra," and "X-Men: The Last Stand." Oh, and don't tell anyone, but he's also rumored to be in charge of writing - drum roll please! - "The Avengers." So it should come as no surprise that he makes the story of "The Incredible Hulk" interesting and easy to follow.

As has become the norm with these Marvel pictures, the opening credits actually serve as a sort of place-setter for the story you're about to see. So pay attention. These credits, for example, show you why Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is living a lonely and impoverished life in Brazil. Essentially, Banner had been doing work for the military. Sure of what he had accomplished, he chose to test a serum on himself. Oops.

Suddenly Banner finds himself transforming into the Hulk anytime he gets too excited, angry, or agitated. And when he realizes the military wants to turn whatever's in him into a mass-produced army of super soldiers, Banner runs.

The love interest part of the story, always a candidate to be unnecessary and annoying, is perhaps Penn's greatest achievement. Banner, you see, is in love with Betty Ross (the General's daughter). Penn's script makes their love story worthwhile and captivating, and that's saying something when you're there mostly to see Hulk smash things.

I felt more than a little girly when tears welled up in my eyes during Banner and Betty's rainy embrace after years of being kept apart.

Don't let me make you think "Hulk" is a sappy romance, though. It's an action film through and through. Unlike Ang Lee's 2003 version, there aren't long stretches of time without Banner becoming the Hulk and throwing tanks around like beach balls.

The guys will love it, and the girls will like it more than they think possible.

And if there eventually is a movie about the team Tony Stark hints at? Oh my.

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