The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The Hulk has never been an easy character to adapt to the big screen. The massive green monster with a heart may have had a successful TV series in the 70s and early 80s, but what followed was a different story altogether. After three TV movies taking place with the same cast as the TV show (all of which are terrible), and Ang Lee’s 2003 incarnation starring Eric Bana, it was deemed that Hulk riding solo in cinemas around the world was unadvisable.
It’s easy to see why Marvel wanted to take a stab at it. Their cinematic universe in its early stages, it made sense that the studio powers that be wanted to set up its building blocks, focusing on its more well-known characters before throwing them all together for the adventure that is The Avengers. On paper, it works, but seeing it fully realised doesn’t quite pull together a film worthy of one of the most popular comic book characters of all time.
Smartly bypassing another origin story, when the film starts Bruce Banner (Norton) has already taken a dose of the gamma radiation that created the monster in the first place - we see the fateful experiment in a series of quick shots during the opening credits – and is now living in Brazil, working in a bottling factory. He has no contact with those from his past, including ex-girlfriend Betty (Tyler) and General Thunderbolt Ross (Hurt), the man responsible for the experiments in the first place.
I must say, this does make for an interesting start. Banner on the run is far more exciting than Banner hiding around the lab at which he once worked, keeping his secret from the people in his life, which can become tedious and contrived. He spends his days working, learning Portuguese, and seeking the advice of a yogi, in an attempt to keep his heart-rate below 200bpm, the tipping point for turning into his alter-ego.
Ah yes, the 200bpm plot point. A particular pet peeve of mine, Banner can never raise his heart rate above 200bpm, handily monitored by a wrist watch. It is, quite frankly, ridiculous and limiting; we all know that when Banner gets angry, the Hulk reveals himself. To specify the reasoning of a small man turning into a big green hulk due to the fact that he was exposed to gamma radiation is overly complicating something so simply, and in this case, less is more.
It’s at the point of Ross’ soldiers locating Banner in Brazil that the film becomes a lot more paint-by-numbers. Banner returns to the USA, in order to meet with a scientist he has been talking with online, Mr. Blue (Tim Blake Nelson), to discuss a potential cure, whilst being pursued by Royal Marine Emil Blonsky (Roth), working for Ross. Characters now drift from location to location, without much happening until it reaches the end of runtime, and some are either left in the dust or have learnt nothing at all.
Edward Norton is miscast as the lead; a fabulous actor for sure, he lacks the warmth that Bruce Banner, whilst still himself, needs in order for us to connect to him. You get the sense that his heart isn’t in it, and it’s a dull portrayal of a wonderful character. Tyler does her best to work with what she’s given (very little, very damsel in distress), and Roth is appropriately aggressive as the power-hungry Blonsky, but I find Hurt’s Thunderbolt Ross a little hammy for my taste.
Upon re-watch, I am struck by how much destruction these characters cause. Hearing that Banner may be on a college campus, Ross all but storms the gates, the army’s vehicles driving over the lawns as though they were in a Fast & Furious movie, barely scraping by students, and the third act set piece is essentially the same as Iron Man – just two of the same bashing themselves together.
It’s hard to see that Marvel do this now, considering the backlash Man of Steel received when destroying half of Metropolis.
There are some nice moments, and a few interesting ideas. After saving Betty on the college campus, she and the Hulk share a moment sitting side by side overlooking a storm, and it’s a sweet touch to their relationship. There are also moments of Banner experiencing PTSD from being The Hulk, whether in a dream or in the shower, but these are never explored, and drift off just as most of the film’s characters do.
It’s always been at the bottom of my list in regards to the MCU; it’s not a hideous watch, but it is, to be honest, quite dull, with nothing really contributing to the rest of its universe (both the wrist watch and most of the characters have not re-appeared in future instalments). Easily avoidable.