Film Review: The Incredible Hulk

hulk_outsideThe Incredible Hulk – Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth

Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) has been able to hold the monster at bay for a very long time. Hidden deep in a Brazilian ghetto, he studies breathing and other calming techniques while supporting himself as a handyman at a bottling facility. A small cut while he’s working results in a gamma-laced beverage making its way to America, giving Banner’s nemesis, General “Thunderbird” Ross (William Hurt), the clue he needs to hunt down the big green beast.

General Ross recruits British soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to apprehend the scientist. Blonsky and a squad of commandos chase Banner through the city until they corner him in the bottling plant and make him angry, causing Hulk to trash the place and jump to Guatemala. Fortunately, just before he got chased away, he made contact with someone claiming they could cure him. Needing medical data, he heads home, where he runs into his one true love, Betsy Ross (Liv Tyler). Then there is drama, explosions and the obligatory “Hulk smash!”

The Incredible Hulk is a movie that gets better with repeated viewings. When it first released, there was a lot of confusion around what it was trying to be. Fans were informed ahead of time that it was supposed to reboot the Hulk series after the disappointing Hulk just a few years earlier, but the script wasn’t an origin story and everyone knows that a reboot means the first film is an origin story. Then, at the end of the movie, Robert Downey Jr. shows up and makes some weird allusion to The Avengers. It was disconcerting trying to connect the movie to two other movies, especially considering the idea of a shared film universe was still a theory.

Now that we have seen the future, it’s easy to remove the earlier film from the equation. Viewed at an arm’s length, it’s easy to see why the film didn’t do very well. It’s also easy to see why it did so much better than the first.

Most of the backstory is told in an opening credit sequence. This was smart. It helped rewrite the origin that was told just a few years earlier without wasting valuable time actually retelling it. That left the bulk of the movie for a different kind of origin – the origin of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

That’s not to say that the script is full of exposition related to all things Marvel. Just the opposite, this story is very much a Bruce Banner “lonely man” tale. Lou Ferrigno suggested Norton due to his resemblance to the late Bill Bixby (star of the classic television series) and it was a genius casting decision. As Banner makes his way across South America, the theme from the television show can be heard and instead of feeling forced, it feels like it belongs. The characters are kept to a minimum, with most of the focus on the love story between Bruce and Betsy, or Bruce’s own internal struggles.

It’s in the details that you can really see the birth of the MCU. General Ross plays the exact role we expect him to play in an early Hulk story, but he’s repeatedly shown to be working directly for S.H.I.E.L.D. Instead of allowing this fact to get in the way by forcing neat S.H.I.E.L.D. references into the dialogue or extra characters into the script, he’s left alone to do his job. That will change, but they left it alone here and it works great. Another stand out connection is Stark Enterprises, which supplies Ross with the sonic cannons that end up not being a good idea. Subtle, but still obvious. Finally, making Banner’s “problem” a direct result of the super soldier initiative was the perfect MacGuffin for introducing a limitless number of new characters into the MCU. Mercifully, they only used it to introduce the one’s absolutely necessary for the story, as is proper for a lonely man tale.

Fans of the comic will also find some interesting tidbits buried throughout, whether in the names of the two students that film Hulk’s fight at the college, the many frames the director built that recreate classic comic panels, or the fact that mutant poodles were written out of the continuity.

The movie isn’t perfect. There are a few times the CGI doesn’t quite cut the mustard, particularly the rooftop scenes. I thought it could have been a little longer, with a little more lost wanderer at the beginning. Maybe show his last transformation, how he ended up in Brazil – just ten or so more minutes. Finally, it’s a little thing but it annoys me that the post-credits scene isn’t post-credits. I expect some consistency from Marvel, especially when it comes to something so signature to the product.

Okay, so maybe that last one can be overlooked. Overall, The Incredible Hulk was a great film with only minor faults. Any fan of the monster, or fans of comics in general, should definitely check it out.

The Incredible Hulk – Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth
Score: B

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