The Incredible Hulk was the second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe being sandwiched between Iron Man and Iron Man 2. It is the only movie titled after the Hulk, though the Hulk does appear in many other MCU films.
Is it a good film? Glad you asked. Let’s find out.
The Incredible Hulk is an origin story, but not in the way one typically expects. The opening credit sequence provides a visual montage of the Hulk’s beginnings. Through flashes of memory, government reports, and newspaper headlines we learn that Dr. Bruce Banner injected himself with something and turned into a monster. As a monster he attacked his friends and coworkers and then ran for his life.
It’s a lot of information to be fed in the opening minutes of the film, but it sets the groundwork for the real story. This isn’t a story about how Bruce Banner became the Hulk. Rather, it’s the story of how Bruce Banner learned to use the Hulk, or, perhaps, how the Hulk went from monster to superhero.
Once we catch up with Bruce we actually learn a lot about him. Mostly through visuals. We learn he is training in martial arts, he is learning to control his anger, he learned breathing techniques to help control his heart rate. We learn that his transformation is tied, somehow, to his heart rate. We know he’s smart, not just because he used to be a scientist, but because he is fixing machinery for a bottling company.
He’s living alone, (okay, with a dog) but this solitude is by choice. (He seems oblivious to Martina checking him out.) We learn he still loves the scientist woman he nearly killed when he first injected himself. We learn that he’s trying to cure his ailment. And we learn that he has a moral center and is unwilling (or unable) to let injustice happen if he’s capable of stopping it.
Overall, the first section of film is great. It has good pacing, it has great visuals.
The first main action sequence is a chance scene. In many ways it’s a very stereotypical chase scene. Running through crowds, running atop buildings, getting cut off and not having a lot of time to breath. While it may be generic, it is, on the whole, entertaining. As an audience, we don’t know if he’s going to get captured or get away. It could go either direction. And we’re rooting for Banner the whole time.
When Banner is finally cornered he ends up going full Hulk. It’s what the whole chase scene is leading up to and a half-hour into the film we’re eager to see the titular character. The first time we see the Hulk, we get glimpses. A dark form here, a shadow there. He’s big. He’s strong. And he’s angry. He starts ruining the factory (The plant owner DID say he needed a new factory earlier in the film.) As a guy get’s grabbed his shoe falls to the floor [and we know what that means.]
This might be a good time to mention that The Incredible Hulk is a violent film. There’s somewhere between 30 and 40 on screen deaths, the vast majority of the kills are military personal being smashed by Hulk, but a fair number of innocent New Yorkers are sent flying to their deaths by Abomination as well.
Overall, this film is a pretty solid example of storytelling. We are treated to three “Hulk Smash!” scenes, each one a little bit different. The second one we see Hulk take on a bunch of military units. He’s fighting for survival, but in this second sequence we see that he maintains some connection to his other self. His ability to protect Betty shows that the Hulk, while relatively “simple” is not stupid. He’s just very, very blunt.
The third sequence is “just other evening in NYC.” After Emil turns himself into Abomination Banner realizes the only way to stop him is to get angry himself and we get a monster v monster match as the climactic ending to the film.
Edward Norton, at the start of the movie, I was unimpressed. Take him or leave him, I wasn’t sold. But as the film went on I really started to like his acting and his character. I thought he did very well as Bruce Banner. He fit the part. Which is more than I can say about… well, virtually everyone else in movie.
I don’t think the casting was bad, necessarily, but I didn’t feel the characters were genuine. Stylistically, Liv Tyler fit the part of Betty Ross. I think she did fine, but she’s so soft spoken she felt disconnected from the “run for your life” action. (I will say though, the scene where she gets mad at the NYC cab driver is fantastic.)
And while I know I’m not really supposed to “like” the antagonist played by Tim Roth, I didn’t like him. His character felt forced, in a way. Especially at the beginning, he was reading lines and I was not buying them. Same with General Ross. I couldn’t quite grok his motivation.
One thing that stood out to me in this film were the moments of silence. There were a few scenes without any music. I think I noticed it mostly because a lot of films are not doing this, even though they should be. The fact that it was noticeable, might be a stroke against it, but I give it props for not filling every second with film score.
The CGI in this film is mediocre. Hulk himself is mostly well done, the helicopters are what really starts to look dated after 10 years of movie magic progress. It’s not bad enough that it’s distracting, but it is something you will see up close as you give this film a rewatch.
Rotten Tomatoes gives The Incredible Hulk a 67% and I would say this is a little low. While it does suffer from some rough edges, I think it’s a well done origin tale.
Rating: Needs more Hype.