in Retrospecticus, Review

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Original Review: Doing the Monster Smash (unrated)

I think it’s funny that at the end of John’s Incredible Hulk review he wrote, “this kind of flick is truly what I look forward to with the summer season” because I ended my Iron Man review a month earlier with basically the same sentence: “Iron Man is one of those great summer escapist movies.” I think that speaks to the low expectations we still had for super hero movies back in 2008 (and our own writing). The Incredible Hulk is most certainly summer fair, but it is far from being a great escapist experience.

Before we knew what soft reboots were, there was The Incredible Hulk. The opening credits show Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) work with his daughter, Betty (Liv Tyler), and brilliant scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) to try to recreate a super soldier serum from the Forties. Banner injects himself with their formula, becomes a hulking, green monster and nearly kills them all before escaping to Brazil, allowing the movie to basically start where Ang Lee’s Hulk left off. I appreciate this pseudo-sequel approach, even though everything about this movie seems weird today. But yeah, I guess Universal had enough sense to not do an origin story story so close to a failed film, something Sony would learn the hard way with The Amazing Spider-Man a little later.

So Banner begins the movie actually somewhat settled down in Brazil, laying low by working in a soda factory while trying to treat his condition by learning about meditation and martial arts. He’s also collaborating with a mysterious Mr. Blue over the Internet who thinks he might be able to actually cure him of the Hulk. But it all goes to shit when a little Hulk blood gets in a bottle and Stan Lee drinks it, giving SHIELD, and in turn Ross, a big lead on Banner’s location. Ross takes a team of elite soldiers to capture Banner, but they fail when he transforms and leaps out of the country. In the immediate aftermath, one member of Ross’ team, Blonsky (Tim Roth) is super turned on by how powerful the Hulk is, and asks to stay on the hunt.

The Blonsky character is good because Tim Roth is having fun in a move where a lot of people are not. Blonsky is an international badass who is insecure about getting old and therefore way into the idea of super soldier serums. He gets injected with some of that good stuff before the Hulkbusters’ second encounter with the Hulk on a college campus, leading to a fight scene where he runs around dodging Hulk’s blows and ineffectively shooting at him. Blonsky even does that cool thing where he runs faster than a group of normal people, I love when Captain America and Black Panther do that! Of course, he ends up being turned into an Abomination and fighting Hulk in a dull CG bloodbath to end the movie, but even there I like that he seems actually pretty stoked to have been mutated into a horrible monster.

I also like Norton’s Banner in spite of how much a bummer he ends up being. In Brazil, Banner seems like a cool dude who has settled into a life and is making it work. But once he is on the run again, all he wants to do is talk about cures and how mean Ross is to him. The repetition is made worse by the fact that we can’t even root for him, because if he does cure himself, we lose the whole reason we’re watching the movie. As for the rest of the cast, this version of Ross is too one-note evil, I prefer Hurt’s work in Civil War. Liv Tyler just plays Betty as loving and sad; I don’t know how much to blame the writing, but all her big scenes are a drag. Tim Blake Nelson is probably the best in the movie but, of course, mostly he’s just Mr. Blue – text on a computer screen. The movie sets him up to be the villain of a sequel, but we all know now that’s not going to happen.

Outside of the campus fight scene, The Incredible Hulk doesn’t have a lot to get excited about. Almost every MCU movie is fun, you know? Like, a lot of them are borderline comedies. This story on paper is an extremely sick man is hunted ruthlessly by his girlfriend’s dad… That’s depressing. Iron Man is flawed, but you still want to be him, right? I don’t want to be the Hulk. I don’t want to live in a world where the Hulk exists. So maybe Marvel being unwilling to make standalone Hulk films is a blessing – he’s better as part of an ensemble anyway.

As far as cannon, well, Tony Stark shows up at the end to tell Ross he’s helping to put a team together. I have no idea what that’s about, since Banner is on the run and Blonsky is evil, and later in Iron Man 2 it seems like Tony is not about SHIELD anyway. There are other SHIELD and Stark reference too, like the sonic cannons being labelled Stark tech. Plus the veiled Captain America references, those are cool. Anyway, outside of Ross, we’ll never see any of these people again, which I guess is fine. Mark Ruffalo’s Banner makes a reference to having “broke Harlem” in The Avengers, so that’s cool, I guess. Plus he seems to have been continuing to practice the meditation stuff that Norton’s Banner was doing at the end of the movie. All fairly generous to a film and cast that Marvel really didn’t need to be loyal to. Then again, the new Endgame trailer shows Schindler’s List-style clips from the other Phase One movies but just ignores this one.

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