Directed by Louis Leterrier
Written by Zak Penn
It didn’t take very long for me to get to one of the three films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I had not seen previously. The Incredible Hulk did not interest me at the time, nor did the 2003, Eric Bana starring, Ang Lee directed Hulk, which I have no clue whether is better or worse than this film. And yet, Hulk is likely the most recognizable Marvel superhero to the masses prior to the MCU? I put that as a question because I honestly can’t tell. I’ve never been into comic books, and I’m sure devout followers of Marvel over the years would tell me Hulk is not the most famous, but I’m mostly referring to the public consciousness of these heroes. Hulk had a danggone TV show, and Lou Ferrigno was a recognizable celebrity as a result. Not sure any of the other superheros, other than Spider-Man who would join the MCU much later due to licensing rights, had the fame of Hulk. So for that reason, it makes a ton of sense that he would be second up in the rotation. Producer Kevin Feige led with a bankable star in Downey Jr., albeit one that had been out of the limelight due to rehab in recent years, and followed with a notable character sure to bring in a crowd. But did this strategy work? Well obviously after all these years and the MCU being a beheamoth, but creatively, I’m less sure.
After an experiment gone wrong, Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is exposed to lethal amounts of gamma radiation, which instead of killing him, creates an unstable condition which, when agitated, causes him to transform into a giant, raging, green monster called the Hulk. Estranged from his girlfriend, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and her father who helped spearhead the experiment, General Ross (William Hurt), Banner is bunkered in the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His talents are seriously underutilized as a common laborer at a bottling plant, but it enables him the calm, space, and time to find a solution to his problem. But an incident at the factory reveals his location to General Ross and his team, led by Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), which puts Banner once again on the run, seeking his ex-girlfriend and the help of a mysterious helper Mr. Blue (Tim Blake Nelson) in order to resolve the condition that has haunted him ever since.
As the MCU is just getting going with these films, origin stories will surely rule the day, but what really surprised me about this film, was that it’s almost not really an origin film. Sure, the opening credits include a montage of the experiment gone wrong, but by glossing over this and everything that came before it, I am not meant to fully understand who Banner was before, what his relationship with Betty and General Ross was, and what motivations they had to re-vamp this WWII era super-soldier experiment. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it certainly feels like shotty filmmaking by montaging over an important character element to the story. And even after the rest of the movie unfolds, it feels like a glaring omission. I guess I appreciate the attempt to deviate from a standard stock formula, but as we’ll learn the Marvel formula largely works (although some might disagree), and the deviation also fails to bring something new, fresh and groundbreaking to the table.
In my review of Iron Man, I talked about the choice of Jon Favreau as director, well here we get Louis Leterrier, who quite frankly I had never heard of before. Looking at his limited filmography, I learn he is largely an action director, which is even more mystifying given the look of The Incredible Hulk. It’s very dark and ugly during the action sequences and feels just like a rather poor looking film with little verve for action. Hurt’s Ross is the main villain in the film, but not truly in toe-to-toe action. Instead he is very clearly formed as a character whose appearance is straight out of a comic book. The action villain is Roth’s transformed “Abomination”, a hyped up Hulk-like character, and the details of the CGI for his character as well as Hulk’s, especially in the night time fight scenes, is headache-inducingly dark and ugly. It brings down the whole film. The day time visuals are much better, at times feeling like a dulled down version of Michael Bay, which made me ponder to myself: “What does a Michael Bay Marvel film look like?” I’m much more of a Bay apologist than the vast majority of film buffs, so it intrigues me.
With that said, the film is actually quite interesting and intriguing as an MCU entry. It doesn’t feel like the films we’ve come to love after. It feels much smaller. Edward Norton is actually great in the role, I’ve always liked him as an actor. Reading a little, it seems he was unable to come to terms with Marvel to reprise the role in later films, instead we get Mark Ruffalo, who I also like. It’s a coin toss as to whether Norton would be as likable and good in the role as Ruffalo has become. That said, the rest of the performances are rather weak, with none standing out as matching Norton. Tim Blake Nelson is especially cartoonish, and we never get much depth out his character, as he remains a mystery for much of the film, and even his reveal does nothing to expound upon his involvement or significance. It just largely feels like there are way too many holes in the script that I wanted answers to. There is no depth across the board. And lastly, as a peculiarity in a peculiar film, there is no post-credits sequence, like in all the other Marvel films. Instead, this sequence takes place at the very end of the main film, as if producers figured people wouldn’t want to stay around after the credits of a movie this broken.