To me the character of the Hulk seems to be difficult to make a really good movie about. It’s basically Marvel’s take on Jekyll & Hyde but with the Hyde character being an giant green monster seemingly going on a mindless rampage every time Marvel’s Jekyll, Bruce Banner, turns into him. How do you make a good movie about a something which is mostly known for just being tremendously strong, impervious to most weapons and having a mere three word dictionary? Apparently to focus on two things: the man behind the Hulk and love. In 2003 director Ang Lee made the first real theatrical outing of the Hulk which turned out to be nothing short of a disaster. His idea of approaching a comic book movie about a green giant who smashes things was to make a two hour art-house movie with crazy scene transitions who look like comic book panels.
5 years later, after Marvel regained the rights to the property, they made The Incredible Hulk as the second movie of their “Marvel Cinematic Universe” which started with Iron Man. Unlike Sony who rebooted Spider-man just a few years after Sam Raimi’s Spider-man 3, they made the wise choice of not rebooting the property entirely but making The Incredible Hulk more of a loose sequel. It has an entirely new cast, but during the opening credits it just sums up everything that has happened so far. When you look at Sony’s approach it may seem like a bold choice, but it’s actually quite logical. We don’t really need to have another origin movie so shortly after the release of Ang Lee’s Hulk so why bother? Most people going to a movie like this probably already have some knowledge of the character and there have been a movie, TV-series and a long running comic book series so The Hulk might almost be the same household name as Batman.
In The Incredible Hulk Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is on the run for the military who want to extract the monster inside him so they can weaponize it. The man in charge is General Ross (William Hurt), father of Banner’s love Betty (Liv Tyler), who is scoping the globe trying to find Banner who has become an expert in living off the grid. But then a drop of Banner’s radioactive blood ends up in a bottle of juice at a bottling factory in Brazil, eventually poisoning somebody in the US. This sets off the military who try to take him out, but they fail as Bruce turns into the Hulk for whom the military is simply no match. Intrigued by the display of power by the Hulk is Emil Blonsky. He’s the team leader on the ground and gladly says yes when Ross offers to use the super-soldier serum on him. Yes the same serum that created Captain America but which they still haven’t recreated perfectly after all these years. Still not a match for The Hulk, Blonsky is so consumed with power he then uses Bruce Banner’s blood to make himself a truly worthy opponent: The Abomination.
Director Louis Leterrier, mostly known for the first two Transporter movies, brings a more kinetic approach to the material in a movie that tries to balance the tragedy of the Banner character and big action scenes in which a big green monster smashes stuff. With Marvel carefully looking over the shoulder it should come as no surprise that the tone of The Incredible Hulk is much better and consistent with its source material than Ang Lee’s attempt. This is a more coherent and entertaining picture than its predecessor. With the Abomination the Hulk is finally presented with a worthy opponent and luckily there are no mutated Poodles or Nick Nolte to be found in this picture. As with all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies The Incredible Hulk has a lot of small “easter-eggs” which add something to the experience, most notably the Stan Lee cameo, the Lou Ferrigno cameo and the inclusion of “The Lonely Man” theme song which was used in the old TV-series.
But while a satisfying movie, The Incredible Hulk is a step down from Iron Man of which the surprise success really upped the ante for this movie. There are a lot of small elements that seemingly go nowhere like the character of Dr. Samuel Sterns: a scientist who has been helping Banner for some time now anonymously and who’s revealed in the final act. The last we see of him is a shot of him on the ground after the Abomination, which he helped create, knocked him down with Banner’s radioactive blood pouring into his head wounds, smiling at the camera as his brain is clearly reacting to it. It’s obvious this is a set up for a villain role in a new movie but it has now been seven years since The Incredible Hulk has been released without any sign of a sequel in the near future.
Another weak link in this movie is Liv Tyler who gives a flat performance. Her Betty Ross is mostly used to be a damsel in distress so the Hulk can be humanized as he recognizes her and tries to save her every time she herself or her dad brings her in danger. This girl should really be aware of her own mortality. That could be said of more people as there were a lot of civilians just standing around two giant mutated monster beating the crap out of each other. What were these people doing there? When giant monster start duking it out; you run, plain and simple.
With Edward Norton Marvel took a risk that didn’t entirely pay off. His work on this movie is decent, but it’s not the kind of guy that is a team player so letting him portray a role that he would have take to on in possible sequels and in the Avengers wasn’t the smartest choice they made.
The Incredible Hulk redeems the character that was so wastefully used in Ang Lee’s Hulk and provides audiences with a high adrenaline action movie full of special effects that are much better this time, but there are a lot of moments, especially during the finally, it was obvious that everything portrayed on screen came from a computer. Such is the case nowadays with superheroes and villains flying, jumping and webslinging through the city generating the occasional damage to public and private property. Then again as Thor has proven, there seems to be a lot less on the line when the action takes place in remote small-populated areas.