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Anger Management (Incredible Hulk)

An almost incredible Hulk?

Jun. 20, 2008
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At some point we’ve all felt as if we could explode in berserk rage and release the pent-up monster within. Maybe the moron on his cell phone who nearly ran you over at the intersection provoked the impulse? Or the numbskull boss dressing you down? How about the deceitful politician setting the world on fire to promote his own agenda?

Most of us have been socialized to show restraint, whether from an ethic of behavior or fear of punishment. The person without restraint is called psychologically dysfunctional, when he’s not the superhero called the Incredible Hulk.

Five years ago the Marvel comic was turned into a movie called The Hulk. The Incredible was omitted in what must have been an act of honest conscience on the studio’s part. It wasn’t credible and became director Ang Lee’s only bad movie. The new Incredible Hulk is helmed by Louis Leterrier, whose resume (The Transporter, Transporter 2) offered few reasons to hope for the best. Surprisingly, Leterrier approached the project as pure cinema, spinning a visually dynamic film conveying the narrative’s main thrust in swiftly edited (but not hyperkinetic) strokes. The CGI is more effective than five years ago, producing a nimbler monster that better fits the backdrops where he roams. The familiar origin story is told in a montage under the opening credits: An experiment at a government laboratory goes horribly wrong, turning Dr. Bruce Banner into the Angry Green Giant.

One of the best contemporary actors, Edward Norton, communicates pain, regret and concern with just a glance, bringing a calm center of gravity to his role as Banner. He’s hiding from the U.S. government in a Brazilian slum resembling a city of packing crates stacked on the cliffs overlooking Rio. Knowing that raised blood pressure triggers his transformation, he’s chilling out with a pet dog, an undemanding job at the soda bottling plant and a yoga instructor who tells him: “The best way to control your anger is to control your body.” Breath deeply, expel the anxiety as you exhale.

It’s hard to remain calm, however, when U.S. Special Forces raid your hideaway in an allegory of military overreach and shoot your dog. The G.I.s are armed with orders to bring Banner home—dead, preferably. The incident that caused Banner’s condition was an experiment in biological engineering, an attempt to produce a “super soldier.” General Ross (William Hurt) wants the husk of his altered genetic material; the person named Bruce Banner can be discarded.

The idea of breeding or producing “super soldiers” has been circulating for decades, even before the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby cartoon debuted in the early 1960s, and dovetails with contemporary concerns over genetic research. As the script makes clear, the experiment that produced the Angry Green Giant could save lives, but like nuclear energy, the technology poses grave danger. Healing sickness is not on the agenda of Gen. Ross, who operates without restraint and expects full obedience from civil authorities. For him, the project is meant to turn human DNA into a battlefield weapon.

To that end, he employs a serum to biologically upgrade his top commando, the steely-eyed Blonsky (Tim Roth). In the end, this hateful man isn’t a good subordinate but then, why should a biological superman—bulletproof, able to flip a Humvee as if it were a matchbox car, freed from human bonds—obey orders?

The screenplay by Zak Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand) has a few loose screws, even before the expected climactic set piece of fiery overkill and massive destruction on the streets of New York. But Penn successfully strikes some humorous notes, especially when the love interest, the general’s disobedient daughter Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), wonders about sex with the big guy. Understandably, Banner holds back, worried about his blood pressure. And then there’s the recurring riff about finding a good pair of stretch pants. The Angry Green Giant has a way of testing the mettle of any elastic waistband.


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