The Incredible Hulk

Certificate: 12A
Running Time: 112 mins
Director: Louis Leterrier
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt
Genre: Comic Book, Superhero, Action
Country: USA

With a sweep of Marvel’s yard brush Ang Lee, Eric Bana, and the rest are out.  The Incredible Hulk is not a reboot, and it’s not so much a sequel to Hulk but rather more of a continuation of a story we all already know.

Louis Leterrier’s (The Transporter) film is a brave one.  Many a director would have wiped the slate clean and started from scratch[1].  Instead, Leterrier is content to trust the audience’s knowledge of the “big guy” to just pick the baton up and run with it.  The opening sequence is actually brilliant.  Credits can tell a story just as much as the rest of the film[2].  His use of the credit sequence to tell a recap of events is fantastic.  Its simplicity is only really trumped by its effectiveness.  It’s a really good way out distancing the film from its predecessor without having to retcon it and lose the elements of Lee’s film that did work.

Zak Penn’s screenplay uses the audiences knowledge of The Hulk extremely well.  He builds in a motif of passivity is a lovely salute to the Bill Bixby series and the “X number of days without incident” is so clever.  It really goes to show how the writer understands the character and is able to tap into his fears (as no doubt Banner would be counting the days free of large green rage incidents).  It also echoes something Eric Bana said in Hulk about the addictive nature of his power.  Where Bana’s Banner is an addict, Norton’s Banner is in recovery.  102 days without incident suddenly becomes a more powerful message… more so when you consider the fact he doesn’t have a support group, sponsor or fancy little chips to reflect upon.

Leterrier’s direction is pretty flawless.  There are some massive action sequences in this movie and he handles each of them as though they’re different characters.  No two set pieces look or feel the same.  The Special Ops pursuit of Banner through the favelas of Inner city Brazil are nothing short of brilliant.  The close quarter use of camera to convey Banner’s emotional state is remarkable.  Likewise the Hulk v. Sonic Cannon sequence at the University is big and full of balls.  Where Bruce avoids, the Hulk embraces confrontation and it gives everyone involved a real dividing line forcing them to pick sides.

Edward Norton is a fantastic piece of casting.  Not only does he wear the role of Banner well but he has fatigued expressive range to deliver a real “reluctant hero”.  It’s a phrase that almost deserves its own cliché jar[3] but in Banner’s case it’s really the only term that fits him.  Norton’s performance is so strong that the “issues” the director faced dealing with him must have been substantial as it would be his one and only outing in the double denim.  Liv Tyler is good as Betty Ross.  For my money they’re still struggling with something to pin down why genius Dr. Banner loves this lady so much but that’s an issue that sits across the Marvel universe and especially in Thor who, for my money, is the closest comparable character in the realm.  She has made strides at moving on but the turmoil of Bruce’s return allows her several nice scenes with him.  One specifically which poses a large green bump of a question[4].

Tim Blake Nelson gives an entertaining turn as a research scientist aiding Banner.  I love Tim, and can’t wait to see him tuck into the “character” that was Charles Bukowski.  Tim Roth (Emil Blonsky/Abomination) puts in a real villainous performance.  J. David Weter on Dave’s Daredevil Podcast has a theory that nemesis characters work best when they’re opposite and to the left.  It’s a theory that, for my money, works and it’s one that Zak Penn and Louis Leterrier subscribe to also as they’ve brought back an oldy but a goody to give Banner someone to contest.  Abomination is Hulk but on a bad day.  A day when Hulk’s retrieved his favourite purple trousers, discovered a stain on them, a hole in their pockets only to realise his car keys have fallen out of said hole and when he gets to the front door… yup, the car is gone.  He’s spiky, vindictive, drunk with the power that has come from his new found strength (once again tapping into that motif of addiction).  His presence in New York forces Banner’s hand.  Having seemingly found “a care” Bruce must trigger the Hulk in order to save the city from a mindless rampage more destructive and brutal than any of his own.

The Hulk vs. Abomination battle is epic, yet Leterrier has the foresight to ground it in the most real of realities.  As both monsters use the mise-en-scene to brutalise one another it forces the audience to confront the unrivalled force they have, not to mention guarantee rush hour traffic the next day will be tailed back for miles.  Have they even finished rebuilding post TIH when Loki and co pancake the rest of the city?

A moment has to be spent recognising the work done by William Hurt.  He stepped into a difficult role, vacated by a talented actor and did a really strong job establishing himself as General “Thunderbolt” Ross.  Why this film has been so heavily under appreciated and overlooked is beyond me.  Why this film is yet to birth a sequel is an even greater mystery than the point of Thor: The Dark World.  Had The Incredible Hulk been Mark Ruffalo’s first outing it would have produced at least one sequel.  Perhaps it was the rocky production and the eternal battle of Director vs. Star, perhaps it didn’t do as well as expected at the box office.  Or perhaps it was something else, but for some reason the Hulk isn’t getting the love (let alone respect) that he deserves as one of Marvel’s heavy hitters.  A sequel now would allow the film-makers to continue on the course that Penn and Leterrier had charted.  General Ross (at an Ahab level) obsessed with destroying the Hulk would ultimately become Red Hulk.  More property damage, insurance premiums through the ceiling and it would only go to further the Civil War story arc that pitches Captain America against Iron Man and has the Marvel Universe picking sides.

The Incredible Hulk is not without fault.  As a genre movie it lapses into expectations in the final third, to the point were it mirrors Iron Man final fight sequence but it does it in a better way.  There are a handful of little issues, narratively speaking, but they really don’t matter a great deal.  The Incredible Hulk is one of those rare comic book adaptations that manages to adhere to comic book origins, pay tribute to television legacy and do it in such a way doesn’t feel like a tired, unoriginal rehash.  Between Leterrier’s European sensibilities, Penn’s considered script, and Norton’s craft The Incredible Hulk might not be perfect but it really is incredibly entertaining.

[1] Marc Webb’s taking over from Sam Raimi for instance.
[2] See Alfred Hitchcock.
[3] Like a swear jar but with fewer F-bombs.
[4] Especially after you see how Stan Lee’s cameo reacted to Banner’s bodily fluids.


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