Title: The Incredible Hulk
Release Date: June 13, 2008
Director: Louis Leterrier
Production Company: Marvel Studios
To prepare myself for Avengers: Endgame, I spent part of my April watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies I hadn’t seen yet. It helped that some of them recently became available to stream without a premium charge.
The Incredible Hulk is tonally unlike most every other film in the ongoing series. In retrospect, the MCU pretty much disowned it so not much introduced in this movie was followed up on. Edward Norton would be replaced by Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, and while Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America would all get trilogies of their own, the Hulk would only appear in ensemble films. I would say both of these decisions paid off.
The movie condenses the whole origin story of the Hulk to a wordless sequence of images in the opening credits. The story begins five years later with Bruce Banner hiding in Brazil and working in a bottling plant while sending computer messages to a mysterious Mr. Blue who may be able to cure him of his Hulk-ism. Banner is discovered and it leads to a cat and mouse game of chases in Brazil and then back in the U.S.
The Hulk takes his time to appear on screen. In the first action setpiece, we get glimpses of the Hulk akin to a horror film like Alien. The second action setpiece presents him more like King Kong. By this time he’s reunited with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), a scientist and love interest, who sadly doesn’t get much to do besides sterotypical women roles. The final battle is set in New York City and brings a lot of collateral damage to Harlem, but somehow never gets mentioned in Luke Cage.
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are sometimes the heroes, sometimes cannon fodder, and sometimes comic relief. Here they are the bad guys, relentlessly hunting Banner down to use the Hulk as a weapon. They’re lead by the villainous Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), who is one of the characters who’s gone on to appear in other MCU films, but I always forget about him. Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) is an even more ridiculous over-the-top character, a Russian soldier who becomes addicted to supersoldier serum in order to become a killing machine. His plot is pretty much copied in the Jessica Jones series with the character Wil Simpson.
Norton does a good job of displaying the fraility and anxiety of Banner, but the film doesn’t really give him the opportunity to explore relationships or emotions. And there’s none of the humor we associate with Ruffalo’s Hulk, as this film is basically humorless. I have only vague memories of the 1970s Hulk tv series, but as this movie reminds me of contemporary MCU tv series like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage (in both the good and bad senses), I wonder if Norton’s Hulk may have also worked out better as a television series.