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Should I Watch..? The Incredible Hulk
What's the big deal?
The Incredible Hulk is a superhero film released in 2008 and is based on the character Hulk created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. It is the second film to feature in Marvel's Cinematic Universe (MCU) following on from Iron Man (1) and is both a reboot and a sequel to the 2003 release Hulk (2) directed by Ang Lee. Criticism of Lee's film - which was more cerebral than action-based - led to Marvel reacquiring the rights to the character and producing this, their own Hulk-based movie. Director Louis Letterier was brought in to direct while Edward Norton replaced Eric Bana as Bruce Banner. However, critical reaction to the film was lukewarm and Norton decided not to return as the Hulk in future. Despite this, the film still topped the box office upon release but the future of the character, at least in a film of his own, still looks uncertain, although Norton's replacement in the role - Marc Ruffalo - has since made it his own in films like Avengers Assemble (3).
What's it about?
General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross meets up with Dr Bruce Banner, colleague and partner of his daughter Betty, to discuss a top secret military project. Based from a project used in World War 2 to create so-called 'super soldiers', General Ross claims that the procedure will make soldiers immune from gamma radiation. However, the experiment goes wrong and transforms Banner into a large, unstoppable green monster. The Hulk is then forced to flee the base before General Ross can capture him, leaving Betty heartbroken.
Now a fugitive, Banner is forced to evade Ross's men who are searching for him led by Emil Blonsky. As Banner gets ever closer to a cure via an online contact known as Mr Blue, Blonsky has a different idea - he injects himself with the same formula Banner was but he transforms into the villainous Abomination. As Blonsky begins violently destroying everything in his path, Ross is forced to concede that the Hulk is the only one that can stop Blonsky...
Bruce Banner / Hulk*
General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross
Emil Blonsky / Abomination *
Tim Blake Nelson
Dr Samuel Sterns
Zak Penn *
Release Date (UK)
13th June, 2008
Action, Adventure, Superhero
What's to like?
More than you might think - the CG shots of the Hulk and Abomination are quite impressive, looking and feeling like actual physical beings with veins bulging and muscles flexing. Combined with some impressive fight sequences that maintain an air of old-school realism, The Incredible Hulk dispatches the memory of Ang Lee's tortured drama and becomes the action adventure it should always have been. And like Iron Man before it, there is more than enough to satisfy fan-boy cravings. There are, for example, plenty of references to the 1970's TV show with Lou Ferrigno's cameo and vocal talents well used and even Bill Bixby himself appearing in archive footage. But other Marvel elements are in there as well - the Stan Lee cameo (which is one of his best), the hidden hints to future movies.
It also reinforces the fugitive element of the story, making Banner feel like a lonely outcast. You can feel the connection between this and the rest of Marvel's output, even without Robert Downey Jr's cameo in the now-traditional post-credits sequence. Opposite the disappointing Norton, Roth does a pretty good job as the power-hungry Blonsky even if they did have to change the character's origins to fit Roth's casting. He seems more than just a grunt with a grudge and gives the film a fairly decent villain. The film doesn't pretend to be an allegory or lace its dialogue with snappy one-liners - it's as solid and conspicuous as the Hulk himself.
- Director Louis Letterier wanted Mark Ruffalo for the part of Bruce Banner but Marvel insisted on Edward Norton. No surprise that when the part became available again, Marvel then chose Ruffalo.
- Liv Tyler accepted the role of Betty Ross without reading the script.
- Hulk has a total of six words in the entire movie and his voice was provided by Lou Ferrigno, the actor who played the Hulk in the 70's TV adaptation.
What's not to like?
The elephant in the room, however, is the hopelessly miscast Norton as Banner. He never convinces us of his internal turmoil or his desire to be rid of the beast within - he's just a guy on the run trying to keep calm. As the obvious centrepiece of the film, he is a weak lead - especially compared to Mark Ruffalo's portrayal in later MCU pictures. And because you know that Norton doesn't stick around, you never buy into the film as you do with the other Marvel movies. The story also isn't the strongest - the film feels about 15/20 minutes longer than it should be and sags quite badly in the middle.
There are also moments when the CG isn't so great. Take the scene when the Hulk and Betty meet up in a lonely, wet cave somewhere. Sure, the Hulk looks good and almost comically bigger than her as he should but why don't his feet make puddles when he walks through water? It's OK to look as good as Gollum from The Lord Of The Rings (4) but it is indicative of a lack of thought by the film-makers as to how it would look on screen. It feels... lazy compared with the meticulous attention to detail Marvel normally put into their pictures.
Should I watch it?
Given that you're probably already a fan of Marvel's output then I would say that The Incredible Hulk is a lot closer to the character than Ang Lee's interpretation. It benefits from Marvel's scrutiny and inclusion in its MCU but it isn't as fun as most other MCU movies and it never recovers from having the wrong leading man. Banner the character is simply not as engaging as Tony Stark is and despite all the high-tech visuals and comic book ambitions, it feels weaker than the rest of Marvel Studio's output. It's not as bad as pre-Marvel Studios films but it's the weakest of Chapter One.
Great For: Buddhists, the repressed, Hulk fans
Not So Great For: anger management classes, Edward Norton's CV, Ang Lee's own Hulk movie
What else should I watch?
The Incredible Hulk is definitely the weakest of the first chapter of Marvel's MCU so check out Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger (5), Thor (6) and Avengers Assemble which brings all the characters together in one movie and adds several more. Don't watch any of the later ones until you've seen Avengers Assemble because it won't make much sense otherwise. Ruffalo's performance as Banner & Hulk gets a second outing in Avengers: Age Of Ultron (7), implying that Norton's performance - and indeed, this film in general - has all but been forgotten about by the Marvel big-wigs.
Of course, there is a ready-made alternative already on the market. Hulk has become much derided since the release of this film but it is much less concerned with simply punching stuff and more concerned about the psychology of the character, the duality of Bruce Banner. Ang Lee's film might still have its action-packed moments but certainly less so than The Incredible Hulk. Personally, I reckon Marvel might need a third crack at it but they seem content to keeping the Big Green Guy among the supporting cast for now.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox