I mentioned in my “Iron Man” review that one of the key and important years for the superhero genre was the year 2008. In that year we had the groundbreaking one two punch of “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight”. Yet there was another superhero film that year we often forget about. “The Incredible Hulk” (Marvel Studios second feature in their cinematic universe) is forgotten because of its quality, from the circumstances of its release, and what followed after that. Many were confused if this was a sequel to Ang Lee’s 2003 abysmal “Hulk” venture or something else entirely. The movie confirmed that it was a reboot, but only after the behind the scenes drama of Edward Norton and Marvel Studios (which led to his recasting in “The Avengers”). In all of that, it’s sort of fallen to the wayside, but that doesn’t detract from how enjoyable this film actually was. Although not as good as “Iron Man” or “The Dark Knight”, this is a well made superhero adventure in its own right with some good performances, solid story, and (at the time) great special effects. This has its own flaws that do bring it down a bit, but it’s a far better film than the 2003 film.
We all know the story by now, and Marvel clearly understands that as well. Without wasting much time on his origin, after a gamma ray exposure (turning him into a big green colored monster known as the Hulk), Bruce Banner is on the run trying to avoid the United States Government that is on his tail, while also attempting to find a cure to his condition that he cannot seem to control.
A “Hulk” movie when you really think about it is a tough film to make. Most people will be wanting to see Banner Hulk out, so how much time do you split between Banner and Hulk? Can Banner control his anger? Do you explore his character? It’s a tricky film to make and very easy to make a mess of (demonstrated completely with the 2003 feature). With forgoing most of the origin (only seen at the very beginning during the opening credits), the movie jumps right into Banner already being the Hulk. Not having to endure a long origin story the movie can get right into the action and meat of the story.
Edward Norton plays Bruce Banner with much charisma and pathos. An excellent casting that unfortunately was never seen again. Marvel once again strikes gold with their casting Norton, who is able to appear very sympathetic but also appear to be a man with repressed anger and agony. He did help craft and mold this character into his own (even doing some scripting work from what I understand).
Tim Roth and William Hurt are government agents on the trail of Banner. Unlike “Iron Man”, which takes time developing Tony Stark through his origin, this feels like a chase film. With the government on the trail of Banner, he is always having to keep moving to avoid capture.
If anyone thought “Iron Man” was lacking in big large scale action sequences, then “Incredible Hulk” more than makes up for that. Although some of the visual effects seven years later don’t look as good as they did upon their release (some a little wonky looking), it doesn’t take away that upon this film’s release these were top notch and many VFX shots still look excellent. The action provided by the steady hand of director Louis Leterrier (whose filmography is lacking) many highlights include the campus fight scene.
Tim Roth’s as the antagonist is a step up from Jeff Bridges in “Iron Man”. Roth plays Emil Blonsky who goes on to become the Abomination, a foe that can match Hulk toe for toe in pure strength. He is still not a great foil (two dimensional), but Roth is a charismatic presence on screen and serves his purpose for the film’s sake. But you won’t be remembering him long after the credits fade (turns out Marvel doesn’t even remember the villain they set up for the next “Hulk” solo movie if they ever decide to make one).
One of the film’s biggest advantages does become a disadvantage. Skipping over his origin and never really going back to it in more flashbacks at the very least does rob some of the payoff of several different story elements. The movie didn’t need a long exposition concerning Bruce Banner’s past and angst, but some small flashbacks about his past would have gone a long way to making the character and it’s events feel more fleshed out and fulfilled. The final showdown does lose its muster not too long before its eventual finale, but is exciting only to a point though.
I can’t imagine a “Hulk” movie getting much better than this (given how tough a “Hulk” movie actually is). This movie may not quite measure up to “Iron Man” and has a few flaws, but it’s certainly a fun superhero film that doesn’t break new ground. It makes for an entertaining watch.