Dir. Louis Leterrier
(PG-13) ★ ★

That’ll teach them to impugn the good name of Ang Lee.

One thing is striking about The Incredible Hulk, a reboot of the oft derided 2003 version by Lee: Bullets don’t work on the Hulk. Neither do most cannons or rockets. They have never worked and never will work. The creature is impervious. But gosh darn it, the military keeps shooting it with bullets, rockets, and cannons, causing untold property damage and endangering the lives of countless civilians. During a battle at a well populated college campus, the army breaks out something clever: They batter the creature with sound waves, but only after unspeakable destruction by other means. A sane army commander might have opened with the sound waves and not used any firearms at all; the danger of ricochets off the Hulk’s skin alone is an irresponsible risk, especially when you already know that bullets don’t work.

How about containment? It is difficult to find Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), a mild-mannered scientist who is good at hiding from the US government, but when they track him down and he turns into the Hulk, isn’t it a smarter idea not to shoot at it, but rather to disengage and follow it until it calms down and becomes mild-mannered Bruce Banner again? By sending a tank after it, you further endanger the populace, because the Hulk will pick up the tank and throw it at the populace.

This is the kind of movie where characters don’t exhibit common sense because common sense would negate the action. If the army guys realized that violence was counterproductive, they would catch Bruce Banner, stuff wouldn’t blow up real good, and there wouldn’t be a movie. Or at least, there wouldn’t be this movie. If this is what comic book fans had hoped for when Lee made his Hulk movie, they should raise their standards. From a summer that gave us The Dark Knight, this just doesn’t cut it.

The film opens with a helpful montage that establishes the premise without subjecting us to prolonged exposition or an origin story. Bruce is a scientist. He tested an experiment on himself. The experiment backfired, and thus the Hulk was born; he turns into the beast whenever his pulse reaches two-hundred beats per minute. In hiding in South America, he searches for a cure while spending his days working at a soft drink bottling plant. The government tracks him down, the Hulk is unleashed, and they fire lots of pointless bullets and cause lots of pointless damage. Repeat as needed to fill 112 minutes.

Leading the hunt is General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt). Among his troops is Major Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), whom Gen. Ross imbues with some of the same radiation used to create the Hulk, to level the playing field. But Blonsky becomes power hungry and wants more and more radiation until he becomes an abomination called, well, Abomination. Ross’s daughter, Betty (Liv Tyler) is sympathetic to Bruce — she is his ex-girlfriend and aids him as he evades capture.

The film is directed by Louis Leterrier, whose only previous credits are the action films Transporter 2 and Unleashed. Here he demonstrates a grandiose, adolescent sensibility that pumps up the action even where it needs no embellishment. Note the silliness of the college campus scene, where trucks and Humvees are shown leaping through the air even though the terrain is mostly flat. Note also the shaky, Cloverfield-lite camerawork at the beginning of an attack scene in New York City.

Leterrier is partial to rain-soaked romantic tableaus, which include an overwrought reunion between Bruce and Betty on a bridge. But his romanticism is so pronounced that he misses the obvious. At one point, Bruce and Betty need money, but can’t use their credit cards or access bank accounts for fear of being found, so Betty sells a precious necklace given to her by her mother. Yet in the next scene, we see her taking a picture of Bruce with a compact digital camera. This doesn’t seem strange to either of them. If in need of fast cash, I think most of us would sell mass-market electronics first and hold on to priceless heirlooms. (My first impulse is to blame it on product placement, but we never get a good look at the brand, and any company worth its salt would make damn sure we know exactly what product Betty is selling out her mother for.)

Ang Lee’s Hulk was five years ago, too far back in my memory to fairly make a one-to-one comparison, but I remember that it was better — problematic but thoughtful, adult. Leterrier’s film was not made with adults in mind. It has no ideas. It’s goofball action spectacle, but even the action flounders because the combatants are simpletons (see above: bullets). Lee’s film wasn’t great, but remaking it this way is like reinterpreting a Monet with an Etch-a-Sketch.

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