I was so tempted to write this whole review in a green front, but I’m not sure Paul would like that. Grrrr! Anyway, here we are with my review of 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. After Ang Lee’s Hulk, starring Eric Bana as Bruce Banner/Hulk, failed to do the character justice in 2003, Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, Now You See Me) gave it a go with Edward Norton having the honors of playing the giant green rage monster (this role later being handed over to Mark Ruffalo).
The Incredible Hulk follows Dr. Bruce Banner, a victim of a failed World War II experiment that was intended to make “super soldiers” immune to gamma radiation. This experiment goes haywire, exposing Banner to the gamma radiation, which in turn, makes him become the Hulk whenever his heart rate reaches 200 or above. After Bruce’s initial transformation gets those at the lab killed, General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), who just happens to be the father of Bruce’s girlfriend (Liv Tyler), marks Banner as a U.S. fugitive, where he hopes to capture Hulk, and retain the serum inside Banner so that it can once again be weaponized.
It seems like the majority of people that have seen all of the “MCU” films think The Incredible Hulk is one of the weaker entries. And while I think it’s not mediocre, but actually rather decent, I can admit the movie’s definitely got its flaws. And some of these I just noticed with this, my 3rd viewing of the film.
First off, I liked Edward Norton as our titular superhero. He gives Banner a sympathetic angle. He sells the fact that this is a man that means well, but is struggling to control himself from becoming the monster. There’s a sequence earlier in the film where Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a Russian-born British Royal Marine assigned by Ross to pursue Banner, and a SWAT team chase after Bruce through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. It’s a fairly suspenseful chase in and of itself, but it’s made even more suspenseful when Bruce’s heart rate flirts with reaching 200, with his pursuers hot on his tail. The movie’s action scenes are exciting to watch and fairly memorable. The battle between Hulk and Abomination at the end is fittingly explosive.
While the action delivers the Hulk-smashing goods, the special effects sadly look dated 9 years later. There’s some motion capture work, but it’s not distinct from the CGI effects, which are blatantly not practical. The romance between Banner and Betty Ross (Tyler) feels like it’s trying to emulate the Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson relationship from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, but Bana and Tyler sadly don’t have a lot of chemistry. Hurt plays a good General, but it feels like half of his purpose in the film is to be the exposition-deliverer. And Roth is intimidating as Blonsky, but the character’s motivations to be the “baddie” aren’t really explained. He wants to be powerful and…?
But like I said, The Incredible Hulk is a solid film. It’s not as great as I remember feeling it was, but I think there are weaker MCU films than this (looking at you, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2). The Hulk stuff is much more satisfying than it was in Lee’s film, and that’s what you really watch this for. So on that front, it delivers (despite effects that haven’t held up well). But its flaws can’t be overlooked and its involvement in the MCU feels so distant, with Robert Downey Jr.’s appearance as Tony Stark at the very end feeling like an afterthought.