It Isn't Easy Being Green
Like its protagonist, the movie is divided into two, and the preliminary hide-and-seek between the US Army and Bruce Banner in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro is a lot more exciting and engaging than the blockbuster CGI fest of the second half. A bigger problem is that the human characters aren’t much more appealing than the CGI creatures. Throughout, Edward Norton plays Bruce Banner much as he played ‘John Smith’ at the beginning of Fight Club: mousily quiet and severely repressed. It’s a good take on Banner’s predicament and works well in the opening sequence, but doesn’t develop into anything interesting and lacks Fight Club’s knowing irony. Partly, this is because the nature of the beast means that the lead actor always disappears when the action starts, but in between CGI rampages Banner remains an enigma, and although he’s a scientist, he shows little interest in what it means or feels like to become the Hulk; although Betsy Ross’s new flame is psychiatrist Leonard (who in the comic books was briefly Banner’s psychiatrist, before a dose of Hulk serum transformed him into Doc Samson), the movie misses the chance of a meaningful conversation between him and Banner.
Some nice moments hint at the bones of a better film underlying the blockbuster flab: Banner and Betsy Ross start to make love but can’t follow through because Banner’s arousal might trigger the Hulk; a brief, punchy scene ends with Betsy Ross letting rip at a crazy New York taxi driver, something Banner can’t allow himself to do; a Beauty and the Beast idyll between Betsy Ross and the Hulk references both Frankenstein and King Kong. But these are few and far between, and although there are enough nods to the myth to satisfy fans, and director Louis Leterrier (who scored a hit with The Transporter) gives the action scenes a gritty and visceral feel, especially in a chase through the alleys and rooftops of the favelas, the plot, like one of the episodes of the '70s TV series, doesn’t really have anywhere to go. Instead, a couple of moments that have nothing to do with the movie’s story, including a brief walk-on by another Marvel character, aim us towards the next in the series. Let’s hope it’s a lot meatier than this.