The Incredible Hulk (2008) – The 2nd Marvel Cinematic Universe Film – Directed by Louis Leterrier – Starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno, and Robert Downey Jr.
Arguing is fun. People like to take sides and praise the merits of one position as they condemn the faults of the other. I get it. I often do it, and as long you choose your side honestly, there’s nothing wrong with it. This happens with movies, too, of course. People love to pit movies against one another and choose up sides. It’ll happen this coming summer, just watch. Before the summer’s out you’re going to see a whole mess of people be Avengers fans or Batman fans, and celebrating the Whedon approach or the Nolan approach to superhero movies, and generally getting all worked up and transforming the argument into something ridiculous.
Harmless. Or Overdone. Do what makes you happy.
People love to pit the two HULK movies against one another, too, and given that I spoke rather glowingly about the Ang Lee film, you might be expecting me to take a bunch of cheap shots at Louis Letterier’s film. Believe me, if the film was worthy of cheap shots, I’d have no problem dishing them out, but the truth is that I enjoy THE INCREDIBLE HULK every bit as much as Lee’s film, but for different reasons. Where Lee’s HULK is a movie about adult characters dealing with serious psychological issues of dysfunctional parent-child relationships, Letterier’s INCREDIBLE is a more classically-designed action film. The Hulk was almost an unwanted participant in HULK, but he’s the reason INCREDIBLE exists.
INCREDIBLE is not a sequel to HULK, but rather a reboot of the franchise that firmly brings the Hulk into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Blessedly, INCREDIBLE doesn’t give us another elongated origin story, choosing instead to give us a quick and dirty origin story in the opening titles. This new origin resembles the origin from the TV show, where Bruce is strapped in a chair and dosed with gamma radiation. (But different in that here he doesn’t self-dose the radiation and his transformation into the Hulk happens right away.) It’s not the only nod to the Bill Bixby TV show: a clip of Bixby from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father plays on Bruce’s TV, Lou Ferrigno makes an appearance, a student reporter is named McGee (the same name as the reporter from the TV show), and the beautiful exit theme from the TV show is used in the film.
As the film opens, Bruce Banner is in Brazil, working as a day laborer in a bottling factory and trying to learn to control his anger through meditation and martial arts training. He’s communicating with another scientist codenamed “Mr. Blue” and trying to find a cure for his gamma poisoning. He cuts his finger and a bit of blood ends up in a bottle that makes its way to Stan Lee’s house, where the Man drinks it and has some kind of reaction that alerts General Ross (William Hurt) to the possibility of Banner’s presence in Brazil.
Ross takes a hit squad to South America, and recruits British Royal Marine Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), who’s a bad-ass soldier that Ross looks at like he’s a weapon that exists for Ross to point and shoot. They take a run at Bruce but he eludes them for a bit, and then turns into the Hulk and disappears. Blonsky isn’t cool with this, and so Ross arranges for his newest pet to get a dose of the serum that Bruce had been working on that eventually turned him into the Hulk to give him a boost of super strength.
The Ross/Blonsky relationship in particular and the acting performances of Hurt, Roth, and Liv Tyler (as Betty Ross) are a good example of taking movies on their own merits. Hurt and Tyler do solid work, but they can’t hold a candle to Sam Elliott and Jennifer Connelly from HULK, but, this is a different movie, with different requirements. Here in INCREDIBLE, the relationship between Ross and his daughter never repairs itself.
After the escape in Brazil, Bruce decides he needs to come north to the United States and he goes to his old stomping grounds. He sees Betty but doesn’t approach her. Instead, he goes to his old pizza shop hangout and gets the owner, Stanley, to let him crash upstairs for a bit. Stanley is played by Paul Soles, who voiced Bruce Banner in the 1960s cartoon. Before long, Bruce walks out of the kitchen when Betty and her new boyfriend, Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell), are visiting. Betty sees him and chases Bruce down, taking him to the house she shares with Samson.
Leonard is a very small character in the movie, but his role is greatly expanded in the Deleted Scenes. As the movie plays, though, it’s a bit clunky. Betty instantly leaves Leonard behind to run away with Bruce, and they live on the run as Ross, Blonsky, and his hit team chase Bruce. They end up in New York, where Bruce meets with Mr. Blue/Dr. Samuel Sterns, who tries to cure him but only sorta does. Blonsky gets Sterns to hit him with a bigger dose of blood, which leads to Blonsky becoming the Abomination, which leads to lots of Abomination vs. Hulk action in the last act of the film.
The action is all fine, but the real hero of INCREDIBLE is the pacing. This movie constantly moves; introspection is largely handled off-camera. Leterrier has a really nice visual style – the camera seems to be always moving yet it’s never not where it needs to be. Norton is fine as Bruce Banner and INCREDIBLE is a fine film. INCREDIBLE does its work as being part of a larger series of films as there’s plenty of nods to other Marvel movies, including a final scene appearance from Robert Downey Jr.
INCREDIBLE HULK doesn’t have the lofty ambitions of HULK, but while its goals are smaller, it totally hits its marks and delivers a fast-paced, enjoyable film.