Hello True Believers! And welcome back to the second installment of the 4YE’s Marvel Cinematic Rewatch!
Today we will be looking at the second attempt to bring The Hulk to big screen in The Incredible Hulk. While it was a greater success than the 2003 version of the film, which is considered one of the worst superhero movies of all time, it wasn’t a very good movie.
That being said it was an okay movie, and that does count for something.
As a wise frog once said, it’s not easy being green.
And if you’re the Hulk, then I suppose that’s doubly true. Despite the success of the 70’s series (with David Banner because I swear to God while rolling my eyes Bruce was too gay a name), the Hulk hasn’t had a ton of media success.
It is a shame because The Incredible Hulk was one of the favorite things I would watch on Sci-Fi Channel reruns growing up.
There were two really bad made for TV movies, the 2003 film, and the 2008 MCU entry. Again, the greatest success story of them all was the MCU entry and that was just okay.
So let’s talk about the Hulk. Shall we?
There are three areas that I want to cover this week in regards to the Hulk: why making a Hulk film is so hard, the okay movie, and the appeal of the Hulk’s character.
So Why Is Making A Hulk Film So Hard?
The Hulk was probably best-known character to a general audience due in part of the success of aforementioned 70’s television show. It has a cross-generational appeal and “Hulk Smash” has entered the cultural lexicon.
People know who the Hulk is, and that will guarantee an audience. This matters to the studio executives and the like, and it well get a general audience’s attention.
So why has a Hulk film not succeeded?
It boils down to three things: the story, Bruce Banner, and the CGI.
Last week when I talked about Iron Man, I talked about tone and the importance of it in film. Part of establishing a good tone comes from having a good story for a director to bring to the screen and enough emotional beats to allow for audience connection.
The failure of The Incredible Hulk falls on the story being told. What differentiates The Incredible Hulk from the majority of the movies in the MCU (outside of Iron Man 2) is that it isn’t an origin story. It was meant to be a spiritual sequel of the much loathed and critically panned 2003 Hulk.
Now here’s something one of my screenwriting professors told me, “You can’t polish a turd. Even if you try to plate it in gold, the center of it is still shit.”
Even if the 2003 film served a starting point writing wise, it still kind of doomed the film to failure. The Incredible Hulk should have stood on its own merits, rather than even tangentially connect it (there is reference for Banner being on the run for “five years” and the film starts in South America where Banner ended up at the end of the 2003 movie).
Now I know that we all roll our eyes at Spider-Man getting a reboot every few years, but the Hulk could have be rebooted with Norton. Unlike Spider-Man, no one liked the Hulk movies. I don’t think anyone would have objected. Sure they show the flashbacks to the first transformation and try to give the film its own identity but…
Again, the gilded turd analogy of my screenwriting professor jumps to mind.
I just think an origin story would have been served in this film. I know that the script was given a rewrite by Edward Norton (uncredited). So I would love to have an original draft of the script to see how much it changed, but I think it was flawed and leaked to the story, dragging in places and feeling incredibly rushed in others.
The second major flaw of the film was Bruce Banner.
Edward Norton is an amazingly talented actor. He has played characters immersed in duality in the past. I love Fight Club and his role in Birdman. I like Edward Norton.
His performance of Bruce Banner just falls flat to me. I didn’t feel engage the way I do with Ruffalo or even Bill Bixby. I just have a hard time believing him as Bruce Banner, which is a shame because on paper he should have been perfect for the role. His lines were fell flat and his chemistry with Liv Tyler felt forced.
Again, a shame because he is a talented actor, but he just didn’t connect with me. The best I can say of his performance is that he wasn’t Eric Bana.
The third major flaw of it was the CGI.
The standoff between Hulk and the Army at Culver University was probably supposed to be a tense moment. All I could do was stare at the puppet-like and displaced looking CGI.
I know 2008 CGI versus 2015 CGI, but it is a really jarring difference at times. Since this is a rewatching of the MCU, it needs to be brought up.
This brings us to the next part.
The Okay Movie
The Incredible Hulk is not a bad movie, but it’s not a good movie either.
That’s what makes it hard for me to talk about. You can talk about good movies and bad movies, but okay movies are harder to talk about.
They’re movies that just kind of exist. You won’t really remember it tomorrow or care that you watch it. It kept you amused for two hours, but unlike a good or bad movie it doesn’t stay with you. It’s just there.
Now we talked about the three major weak spots in The Incredible Hulk. Those three alone should make it a bad film. And for Hulk fans? It probably does.
In my opinion, however, the film is just okay. I was not left angrier for watching it. It kept my attention well enough for the run time.
Since I tackled the things that bothered me, I’ll name the aspects that I enjoyed.
William Hurt was fun to hate as General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (I’m excited to see what he brings in Captain America: Civil War). I liked the connection between Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and the Hulk (more on that later). I liked seeing Banner’s life in Brazil. Tim Roth was just insane as Emil Blonsky, making him an unpredictable element. Lou Feringno’s cameo was fun.
I also enjoyed the sprinkle of world building in the MCU. There were mentions of SHIELD, the WWII super-soldier project, and Tony Stark had a cameo. It expanded the world, and through the expansion we could at least see how everything fit together. That’s fun to me, I like piecing together what is going on through the hints in the movies. During the parts I didn’t enjoy or kept my attention, I could go back and focus on those bits instead.
That’s why the movie didn’t fail for me. It had enough good things in it for me to hold onto.
Let’s talk about the best thing in the movie.
The Character Appeal Of The Hulk
I may not have enjoyed Norton’s portrayal of Bruce Banner, but I loved the Hulk in this movie. It’s a good thing because occasional fake looking CGI or no, credit does have to be given to the way he was animated.
In the cartoons and comics, for the most part, the Hulk is portrayed as his own articulate character. He’s part of Bruce Banner and Banner is a part of him. The Hulk isn’t stupid; he just has the impulse control and easily riled temper of a child. In the film, you could see him reason and figure his way out.
I liked that. I thought that was fascinating. You can see shades of it in the Avengers films. Hulk really gets to shine in this movie.
He gets tired in the fight of the Abomination. He worries about Betty, gets angry after her life is put in danger. He calms down and has moments with people. And I enjoyed that a lot. That was when the CGI stopped looking hokey and felt natural. There were moments when the Hulk wasn’t the guy running around and smashing, but was clearly thinking and feeling underneath it all.
My favorite scene from the movie was the cave scene between Hulk and Betty. It was just such a nice moment that showed Hulk reaction to someone caring about him. Here it is below (sorry for the quality best I could find).
He’s known violence his whole life, so he doesn’t know how to express himself in anyway else then violence. That’s what I think was trying to be shown here, and for the most part it succeeded much more than Banner’s portrayal.
Hell, you can even find the origins for why Black Widow is the one to give Hulk the “lullaby” in Age Of Ultron. Hulk has only known horrible treatment from the hands of other men and the first person to show him an ounce of kindness is a woman. So it makes sense that it transfers to other women as well. At least, that’s the thought process I gleaned from the movie.
Apparently, in the original version of the script, Hulk was only supposed to say “Betty” at the end of the fight. It was supposed to be his first word, which I kind of swooned over. I found it preferable to the lines he was given instead. Since the Hulk was so quiet, it felt like there was a build up that didn’t have the payout I was hoping for.
I liked Hulk’s struggle, and it’s what elevated the movie for me. Sometimes you can’t articulate your feelings. Sometimes you just want to scream and throw shit around. And I feel bad for him. In different circumstances, Hulk could have had a better socialization around people instead of being something to be feared.
I feel bad for the guy. And the movie showed why in those moments.
That’s it for The Incredible Hulk rewatch!
Next week is Iron Man 2. I know I said I would be doing actor swapping this week, but it will be next week instead. We will also talk about overstuffed movies.