The Incredible Hulk

Dir: Louis Leterrier, 2008. Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt. Superheroes / Comics.
The Incredible Hulk

After a long and rich 50-year history in the pages of Marvel Comics, The Incredible Hulk marks the second cinematic interpretation of the fan favorite titanic superhero. Abandoning all of what was established in Ang Lee’s 2003 version of Hulk, this version takes more of a cue from the original Incredible Hulk TV series of the late ’70s and is presented as a “reboot” rather than a sequel. Instead of spending an hour with exposition and showing a drawn out “origin” story like the other movie did (and as most superhero movies in general do these days), this version manages to encapsulate the birth of Bruce Banner’s alter ego in the span of a few minutes during a clever opening credits montage. Visually, it’s exactly what most casual fans of the TV show remember; Bruce is strapped down to a chair, the circular light beam from a giant machine shines down on his forehead and during his experimentation with gamma radiation he accidently over-exposes himself which turns him into the angry green goliath. As the credits unfold, Banner (Edward Norton) as the Hulk inadvertently hurts the love of his life, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and her father General ‘Thunderball’ Ross (William Hurt). And much like the TV series, Banner is then on the run and in hiding by the second scene of the movie, desperately trying to come to terms with his anger, find a cure, and keep the beast at bay.

When we find Bruce, he’s in Brazil working at a bottle plant factory by day and meeting with a yoga guru by night trying to learn how to control his inner hostilities. Meanwhile, he’s communicating with a mysterious scientist simply known only as Mr. Blue via the Internet and exchanging theories and notes regarding his condition. Ever since the incident we witnessed during the opening credits, General Ross has been on the hunt for Banner and the Hulk, and when Bruce accidently pokes his finger at work and inadvertently sheds a drop of his blood into one of the soda bottles headed for America, it eventually reveals his whereabouts. General Ross puts together a military team fronted by Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to bring in Banner.

Needless to say, everything comes to a head when a group of Bruce’s co-worker thugs confront him at the plant just as the military team is prepping to make their move. They make him angry, he Hulk’s out and is yet again on the run, this time opting to find a way back to North America to track down Mr. Blue in person and hopefully come up with a cure based on both their expertise and research thus far. He reconnects with Betty and she fully insists on supporting him on his journey to New York to find Mister Blue and attempt to create a cure.

Blonsky is a truly passionate soldier, inspired by the thrill of the hunt, but perhaps a few years past his prime. When Blonsky reveals his obsession to track down Banner and the Hulk, General Ross enlists him for the “super soldier” program (originated by the original super soldier, Captain America during World War II!). It isn’t until Blonksy meets with Mister Blue, aka Samuel Sterns, that he gets the necessary dosage to transform him into the Hulk-like monster, “the Abomination,” who wrecks havoc and destruction on Harlem. With no choice, Ross sends in Banner as the Hulk to stop Abomination before he destroys the entire city.

The reason The Incredible Hulk works so well as a fun comic book movie should be credited to director Louis Leterrier, most well known for The Transporter movies starring Jason Statham. If you glance through his resume of films, it’s clear that the man knows how to shoot and stage his action set-pieces. The problem most filmmakers run into when it comes to making a movie of this magnitude is that the “Hulk” is primarily going to be an all CGI creation, so it takes a certain amount of meticulous planning and staging of the action to sell the illusion that the Hulk is interacting with the other characters and causing all the onscreen damage. Leterrier pulls this off in spades, not only with the fight sequence at the college campus but, in particular, the big climactic battle between Hulk and Abomination in the streets of Harlem. While the two fictitious characters are duking it out—hell, the Hulk breaks a police patrol vehicle in half and uses the pieces as boxing gloves at one point!—the surrounding action is real, exploding cars and all.

Also, this is the first Hulk movie to fully embrace the comic book counter-part of the character and give him worthy adversaries and challenges to fight! On the television show, the Hulk didn’t really do much other than come to the rescue when needed. In Ang Lee’s movie, if I recall correctly, he battles a tank an hour and a half into the movie? But in this, it’s several tanks and the freakin’ army. And finally he fights another creature of equal size and strength born from the same experimentation that he was born from. You get your full-on comic book-esque battle. You get your “Hulk Smash!” line of dialogue, and he does indeed smash. And you even get wonderful hints towards future villains like Mr. Blue, aka Samuel Sterns, slowly morphing into “the Leader,” a well known character in the comic book world of the Hulk. And for die-hard savvy fans, there are fun little cameos by the original Bruce Banner, Bill Bixby, via an old show on television  as well as original Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, as the college security guard. Those always make for fun little nods to previous incarnations.

Casting-wise the film is pretty solid, especially considering we’d seen a lot of these characters played by other actors just a few short years back. But William Hurt as General Ross and Liv Tyler as Betty Ross are spot on and terrific in their respective roles, especially when showing the estranged relationship between the two. Edward Norton is not the ideal name I’d think of when it comes to casting Banner/Hulk, but he does a serviceable job of trying to evoke the same sympathy we felt for the Bixby version, which is why I think a lot of fans have always been drawn to the character. Looking at it now in retrospect, The Avengers proves that Mark Ruffalo was the perfect actor to play both Bruce Banner and the Hulk and, since this is intended to be the precursor to The Avengers, it’s a shame they didn’t cast Ruffalo sooner! But regardless, The Incredible Hulk manages to capture the fun and spirit of the original source material and it makes for a wonderful follow-up to Marvel’s other big hit prior, Iron Man.

Fun Fact: Both the Harlem battle with Abomination and Banner’s suicide attempt in the Arctic (an alternate opening provided on the DVD/Blu-Ray as a deleted scene) are both referenced by Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner in The Avengers!

Posted by:
Rob Galluzzo
May 16, 2012 5:40pm
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