Marvel Mush

The Incredible Hulk
Running Time 114 minutes
Written by Zak Penn
Directed by Louis Leterrier
Starring Edward Norton, William Hurt and Liv Tyler

Five years have passed since the first big-screen Hulk wasted the reputation of director Ang Lee on a computer-generated comic strip nobody wanted to see. That film suffered punishing reviews and a devastating 70 percent drop-off in attendance in the second week, from which it never recovered. But you can’t keep an old, green, 10-ton Brussels sprout down for long. It’s too early to predict if The Incredible Hulk, the CGI sequel, will sink to that same level of box office infamy, but take it from me: You’ll have the DVD by Labor Day.

If you didn’t waste your allowance on the Marvel comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby 46 years ago, or if you were lucky enough to miss the first film adaptation, this sequel stages a brief opening-credits prelude in flashbacks, showing Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, replacing Eric Bana) working on a top-secret scientific research project for the U.S. military, supervised by a demented Army general (William Hurt) who is also the father of Bruce’s girlfriend, Dr. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, replacing Jennifer Connelly). The experiments goes horribly awry in a near-fatal laboratory explosion that leaves Betty without a scratch and Bruce infected with gamma-ray poisoning. Now he’s a mild fellow working in a soda-pop bottling factory in Brazil who turns the color of spinach when his blood pressure rises. Then watch out. Make him mad and he rips his clothes off and morphs into an incredible Kilimanjaro of a hunk—er, hulk—with veins that look like the Amazon River flowing through thighs the size of California redwoods. No wonder Bruce is in Brazil incognito, practicing anger management with a Portuguese guru by working his diaphragm. But the diabolical conservative, right-wing general with the locked jawbone and voice of cold steel (Mr. Hurt, hamming it up all over the place in a witty impersonation of Dick Cheney) wants Bruce captured so he can surgically remove his data bank, replicate it, and turn it into a weapon of mass destruction. (Create more powerful Hulk monsters and the U.S. military could conquer the world!) Bruce doesn’t want to be the Incredible Hulk. He just wants to be the Incredible Ed Norton. But when his eyes turn to neon and his biceps pop his chains like rubber bands, wherever he lands makes a hole so deep you can see Beijing.

After a drop of his radioactive blood lands in a bottle of carbonated fruit juice imported to the U.S., Bruce flees Brazil, wakes up naked in the jungles of Guatemala and wanders barefoot across Mexico to reach the Virginia college campus where Betsy works as a professor of cellular biology. She still loves Bruce, but he’s afraid of sex because there’s no telling what might happen if he got excited in bed. No matter. Liv Tyler has all the passion of mayonnaise.

Just when the déjà vu drives everyone to check their watches for how much running time is left, a villainous rival behemoth is introduced in the human form of a Russian-born guerrilla named Blonsky (Tim Roth), who performs radiation experiments on himself with the aid of an eye-rolling, scenery-chewing mad doctor (another corny over-the-top guest cameo by the dreadful Tim Blake Nelson) and turns into something worse than the Hulk. Imagine a T.rex with a head like a boiled peanut. The mayhem that follows is as rampant and recycled as a contemporary comic-book superhero with CGI can get—and twice as boring. Bruce’s goal: stay alive, keep running, and try not to turn into the Hulk. But war is inevitable; we get two King Kongs in battle instead of one; and the big finale by hack director Louis Leterrier is like Godzilla Meets Reptilicus, all staged in front of the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. For anyone who misses the days when monsters were played by real actors instead of computers, there’s a cameo appearance by Lou Ferrigno—who played the Hulk for years on TV—as both the voice of the Hulk and a security guard. Looking good, Lou.

It’s dismaying to think of all the wonderful performances Edward Norton has given in movies nobody ever saw. This one is high-octane slumming that will keep him in Bentleys for years.

rreed@observer.com