Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is a genius on the run. Where does a genius on the run hide? In a soft drink bottling plant in Brazil, of course, and it's there that "The Incredible Hulk" opens.
This movie is aided by the fact that Marvel is now making its own movies—like this year's great "Iron Man." Here we see a more Marvel-esque vision of the Hulk and not some studio trying to make a movie that matches a demographic. The previous Hulk movie didn't match the Hulk of the comics, and not knowing the character hurt the movie.
Now, we enter at a time when Banner already has the Hulk within. There is no origin story; that's told as part of the backstory in the context of the movie. Banner is hiding from the army, and specifically from General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt). Ross was using Banner's research into gamma radiation in hopes of creating a "super soldier."
Ross—with his pride, career and reputation on the line—creates a team to go after Banner, and one of the soldiers involved is Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth). Blonsky is a hard case who stays in the ranks of attack team members in order to fight. He lives for violence. When Blonsky discovers that Banner can transform into the Hulk, he wants what he thinks Ross gave to Banner. Ross provides Blonsky with a serum that transforms Blonsky into a better fighter, but it is not what Blonsky wants. He wants to be like the Hulk.
Even as Blonksy relishes violence, Ross operates without concern for others and is not afraid of collateral damage, even to his family. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) is the general's daughter, and she was one of Banner's co-researchers. She loves Bruce and wants to help him, but this puts her at odds with her father. This family is in splinters as if the Hulk had smashed it.
In a summer of comic-book movies, "The Incredible Hulk" aims for a particular audience: the comic-book fan who knows the ins and outs of the Marvel Universe. This movie has many a tip of the hat to the comics that spawned it. There are connections left and right to a universe that is being created to make more movies. And for the fanboys and fangirls who have invested in the comic universe created by Stan Lee (who makes another cameo), Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others, this is just the appetizer they need.
For those who have not made that investment, there is much to see here of interest. Bruce Banner is a character full of pathos. He hates his power. What he wants is to be rid of it. It is touching to see not what the Hulk does, but what the Hulk's aftermath does to Banner. When the power of the Hulk subsides, Banner ends up being nearly naked, miles from where he started, penniless and having to begin again. Banner has no resource but the power, and he wants it gone. The power is great, but uncontrollable.
"The Incredible Hulk" provides all the thrills of a good summer popcorn movie. There are battles and lots of special effects. Underneath, however, other things are happening. There is the struggle of a family, a man searching for release from a curse, and a larger story yet to be told.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content.
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writer: Zak Penn
Cast: Bruce Banner: Edward Norton; Emil Blonsky: Tim Roth; General Ross: William Hurt; Betty Ross: Liv Tyler; Samuel Sterns: Tim Blake Nelson; Dr. Sampson: Ty Burrell.
The movie's official Web site is here.
Read more of our coverage of comic-book, graphic-novel and superhero movies:
Faith and Values in Summer Superhero Films
"V for Vendetta"
"A History of Violence"
"X2: X-Men United"
"Men in Black II"