The Incredible Hulk (2008) – Movie Review

★★½

Part 2 of A List to Marvel At

I have a theory, based on zero evidence, that the reason that The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man came out in the same year is because Marvel was judging what the audiences gravitated towards and building the rest of the MCU upon that. At first glances they might not be too different, but with grimmer cinematography and an overall darker tone – this is the solo Marvel movie that emphasises the most civilian causalities – the success of this movie over Iron Man might have coloured every film going forward.

As it stands this is the oft forgotten movie of the franchise. With plot threads from this film dangling for eight years and the changing of Mark Ruffalo from Edward Norton – all accounts say he was an overly controlling presence on this movie’s production – it looked like Marvel was going to squeeze this film out of continuity entirely until William Hurt’s upcoming appearance in Civil War, which is great because his stoic, personal antagonist is one of the highlights of the film.

For the first act I really couldn’t see why it’s so neglected, because it starts out really strong. Weirdly, despite not being connected in story, it seems to take place in the location where Ang Lee’s maligned Hulk movie ended. But the scenes with Banner’s life in the favelas and factories are strongest, with the action sequences reminding us of that small time in Hollywood where people were obsessed with parkour (which Punisher: War Zone made fun of mercilessly the same year) . Director Louis Leterrier has had a strange career, but he has a very recognisable action choreography, a combination of Bourne-like shaky cam with POV shots so you don’t get completely lost in the carnage. It also makes the good choice to make Banner’s transformation an event that happens over the opening credits, with its decreasing time giving it it more potency.

Speaking of the Hulk himself, Edward Norton is does good work on his own scenes, bringing a combination of charm (his scene with Lou Ferrigno and the pizza is wonderful fan service!), whilst still always retaining that desire to get rid of that which he considers an illness. But this moves into a big problem with the film, which is the introduction of Betty. The chemistry between Edward Norton and Liv Tyler is just not there, and in their scenes together she acts like a neglected puppy and he acts like an insular teen. Other than how sudden this story change is – seriously, Ty Burrell/Doc Samson gets so immediately fucked over – it makes it hard to get invested in the action going forward.

The CGI in those scenes also doesn’t help; you would think if they haven’t got rain and light technology down they wouldn’t set so many scenes in dark showers. The aging CGI is not as much of a problem as the disconnect between the faces of Banner and Hulk, which coupled with that chemistry problem makes the transformations less dramatic. It also means the movie descends into the typical fight-an-even-bigger-version-of-the-hero finale that is rendered here like a PS3 cut scene. Cars for boxing gloves though. Gotta give it points for that.

That final fight is a symptom of the largest problem with the film, which is the Zack Penn screenplay. There are admittedly some funny lines and decently drawn out ideas (I was surprised they included the whole “Bruce Banner can’t get sexually aroused” thing in here). But after the opening scenes the movie can only continue by having the army do so much stupid strategies that it becomes comical. It helps that Tim Roth as Blonsky is a great actor, but by the final act his motivation becomes silly, and lines like “Like a monster” and “the mixture could be an abomination” are so unnatural compared to the rest of the film’s tone that they couldn’t be saved by anyone (at least this is the best comic book movie Tim Blake Nelson is in).

Still, the pacing of this movie means that the movie’s faults kind of fly by. The movie loses a lot of steam and good will after the opening act, but the actors all help to make this not an unpleasant experience (even if I’m more on the negative side of the fence). No one is going to claim this as the unspoken of best film in the franchise any time soon. But the next movie helps to take away the title of the worst…

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