“Hulk SMASH!!!”

Wow. What a difference five years and a new spiffy production studio can make, huh? Well, that and an entirely new direction, cast, writer, director, etc. In 2003, Universal and Marvel released an often slow and confusing psychological mess of a movie, Hulk, and audiences were understandably unreceptive. Now, in 2008, under the direct production of Marvel Studios, comes The Incredible Hulk, a fast-paced, humerous, intelligent, fun behemoth of a summer action blockbuster. The movie is directed by Louis Letterrier and written by Zak Penn, who is no stranger to pen-ing Marvel movie adaptations (Elektra, Fantastic Four and X-Men:The Last Stand), and his obvious love, respect and knowledge of the source material shines thru each of the dazzling 114 minutes of this picture.

Unlike its predecesor, The Incredible Hulk jumps right into things at an electric pace and doesn’t let up. If you haven’t seen the previous film, or are somehow unaware of Hulk’s origin story, don’t worry about it, the opening credits sequence is a marvelous retell of the tragic accident that sends high levels of gamma radiation into Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) and transforms him into the monstrous Hulk. Everything we need to know is set up beautifully and calculatingly in this opening scene. We recognize the deep love between Bruce and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler). We understand the fear in the eyes of her father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt), when the Hulk destroys the lab and injures both Ross and his daughter. We see the deception and coldness as Ross forces Banner to leave Betty’s side. As the sequence ends, we cut to Brazil, where Bruce has been on the run and hiding from the U.S. government. He has been living with this curse, and trying to find a cure for it for five years while working as a bottle-factory worker.

After an accident sends a drop of Bruce’s blood into one of the bottle’s, a man in the U.S. drinks it and gets sick with gamma poisoning, catching the attention of General Ross, who sends an elite team to Brazil to attempt to capture Banner. Joining the team is an English soldier, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), who is along for the ride when Banner transforms into the Hulk and throws around the capture party like rag dolls. The look of this sequence is hauntingly beautiful. Hulk is in the shadows the entire time and we really only hear whats going on, but its more than enough to convey the savageness of Hulk and the feriosity in which he strikes down his attackers. After the Hulk/Banner escapes, Blonsky volunteers for an injection of General’s Ross’ “super soldier serum” (wonderfully setting up future Marvel movies) to help level the playing field against the Hulk. Oblivious to the possible harm it could cause to Blonsky, Ross allows it and seems obsessed with capturing Banner at all costs. It seems a little like Ahab searching for the white whale. You can tell that Ross was more than just injured when Bruce first transformed, he was scared, probably for the first and only time in his life, and he wants to face down the demon that instilled that fear in him.

Meanwhile, Banner returns home and is reunited with Betty. It’s one of the most touching scenes you could ever hope to see on screen. You immediately feel the connection between them, just by the emotion on there faces and we totally buy into the love they share. Where the General only sees the monster, Betty sees only Bruce and believes in him fully, even when he has transformed in the brute figure of the Hulk. We see this clearly when General Ross, Blonsky and another attack force attack Banner again and the Hulk surfaces. Ross believes Betty will finally see Bruce as the monster he is, but she only sees the man inside, the man she loves. Her compassion is all over Liv Tyler’s face in these scenes. You see the love she has for Bruce, and we begin to see that even the Hulk recognizes Betty and protects her as Ross orders an all out attack on the Hulk, which puts Betty in danger. He shields her from the onslaught and explosion, and holds an uncounscious Betty in his arms as he meets the eyes of General Ross and growls as he carries Betty out of harms way.

The rest of the film is just as amazing and keeps building to the ultimate clash between Hulk and the Abomination, who is the result of Blonsky’s desire for power and his lust for the strength Banner has. What’s also great is the difference in the way the two creatures fight. Hulk, thruout the film has a very distinct fighting style. Basically he’s a brawler, and he’ll use anything he can get his massive hands on to help win the fight. Abomination is all brute force and he tries to overpower Hulk. And we totally buy it all by this point in the film. The acting of both Edward Norton and Tim Roth and the characterization built up in the script has us invested. We don’t only see two massive CGI creatures dooking it out in the streets of New York, we see Norton and Roth…Banner and Blonsky.

That final battle, and the whole movie in general, is breathtakingly cool and got this geek’s blood pumping at just how amazing the world is where Marvel Comics finally has the ability to create a cohesive, unified movie version of the Marvel universe! This movie isn’t just the Hulk in a Hulk universe. No. The Hulk, like Iron Man earlier this summer, exists in a broad, grander Marvel universe that is finally being connected. The references are everywhere. S.H.I.E.L.D. is everywhere in this movie, as set up in Iron Man, and if you look closely, the military is using Tony Stark’s weaponry to combat the Hulk in the second battle with him. Then f—ing Tony Stark himself shows up in the movie too! And its Robert Downey, Jr. playing him! Words cannot adequetly express just how cool this is. Marvel Studios has managed the impossible. Tony Stark, from a FOX movie shows up in a UNIVERSAL Hulk movie!!! Add to that the set-up of Samuel Sterns’ (Tim Blake-Nelson) turn into a major Hulk villian for a possible sequel, the set-up of the super soldier program (and the now in production Captain America movie) and the slightest hint from Stark about forming the f—ing AVENGERS!!! I don’t know what we did to deserve this, but thank god and praise Jesus this day has come.

If I sound overly excited, its because I am. The movie is that damned good! It is a wonderful, and (if you forgive the pun) Incredible film and one that promises that the brilliance of both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk has only tipped the ice-berg of the great things to come. The script is there, the musical score is wonderful, the fast pace of the film keeps you invested, the action and visuals are amazing and the characters, thank god, are very well written, well rounded and extremely well acted. The movie is just an amazing experience, right down to the greatest phrase in all of comics…“HULK SMASH!!!”