Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Directed by Louis Leterrier
Written by Zak Penn

Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/Hulk
Liv Tyler as Betty Ross
William Hurt as General 'Thunderbolt' Ross
Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky 

The Hulk has been one of my favorite Marvel characters for many years. Bruce Banner is one of the coolest nerds in all of fiction. His fascination with science and hoping to do good with it makes him easy to root for. He was probably the third Marvel character that I got really into. First there was Wolverine, then Spider-Man and then Hulk. I first got into the character around the time the Ang Lee film was coming out. I remember looking up his origin and trying to learn as much as I could about the character before the movie came out. I did enjoy Ang Lee's Hulk when I was younger. I've had no desire to revisit it as an adult, because I know it's not very good. But Ben Affleck's Daredevil opened just months before it, so it at least looks better in comparison. The film does have plenty of silly moments, but it was all I had for a Hulk movie at the time.

Soon after the film was released, I got the DK book about Hulk and I read it cover to cover as soon as I could. I absorbed so much information about the character and his world. I'd say my knowledge of the Hulk is up there with how much I know about Spider-Man. My local library even had a few graphic novels of the character, including one of the Marvel Essential books that collected some of the classic comics. Those were a blast to read. That Christmas, I got the video game based on the movie. I remember being constantly frustrated with it because it got pretty hard and the Hulk could die. I eventually found the cheat codes online and was finally able to play through the entire game. It was a lot of fun and I loved being able to smash the crap out of a bunch of stuff. Even the Bruce Banner levels were kind of fun. You had to sneak around a lot and solve puzzles. It was a nice contrast to the smash-them-up levels with the Hulk.

I also got into The Incredible Hulk television series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. I always had such an enjoyable time with the show. Bixby was a great Bruce Banner and even though Ferrigno was just a guy in green body paint, he still made a good Hulk. I remember getting DVDs of the series from the library as well as seeing it on TV. It remains one of my favorite superhero shows. It isn't exactly on the level of shows like Daredevil or Jessica Jones, but it's still quite good.

I also kind of relate to Bruce Banner. I'm for the most part a calm and quiet person, however I have Asperger's. Before I got onto some medications, I would have really angry outbursts over small things. I always felt that was my Hulk side. It made things harder for the people around me, but once I got onto some meds, things did improve. I rarely have those outbursts anymore and I'm very grateful for that. Usually, I just sit in my car and yell before I drive to work or home. I try to make sure it's never in front of other people.

When Marvel announced a new film with Edward Norton starring as Bruce Banner, I was excited. My excitement for it didn't quite match what I had for Iron Man, but I was looking forward to it nevertheless. I saw it opening night on the Ultrascreen in Madison and I had a pretty good time. It was a neat experience seeing where Marvel was going with this cinematic universe and I loved the mid credits scene with Tony Stark and Thunderbolt Ross.

I've rewatched this film a few times over the years and it only seems to get better with each viewing for me. It's not quite on the level of films like Thor: Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy, but it's certainly better than the first two Thor films or Iron Man 2.

The cast is pretty good. Edward Norton, like Terrance Howard in Iron Man, is well cast, but not quite as good as the actor to come after him. Someone in one of the film's reviews criticized that Bruce Banner was boring to watch, unlike Tony Stark and I disagree. Banner doesn't have the charisma or charm of Stark, but he's still a really interesting character and Norton plays him right. I easily buy him as the character.

Liv Tyler is a good Betty Ross, but she's limited in what she gets to do with her character. I like her dynamic with both Bruce and Ross. One of my favorite moments is when she's calming Bruce down after he Hulks out in front of Mr. Blue. I wish they'd gotten to do more with her in future MCU films, but I assume Bruce just wants her to be safe and that's why we haven't seen her since.

William Hurt is a great General Ross. He's very stern and easy to root against. Tim Roth is a fine choice for Emil Blonsky. He's the actor who gets to have a lot of fun playing the villain role. I like seeing his transformation throughout the film after he takes the super soldier serum. When he finally becomes the Abomination, he's pretty threatening and scary.

The film is filled with references galore for fans, maybe even more than Iron Man. The way Banner becomes the Hulk is exactly like how he did on the original TV series. Lou Ferrigno not only voices the Hulk, but he also cameos as a security guard. There's also a moment in the score that sounds like the famous theme from the TV series, as well as a humorous version of the "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry," quote. The film even uses the Hulk's thunder clap at just the right moment.

I think this is an excellent Hulk film. It really understands Bruce Banner and shows how sympathetic of a character he is. It also shows just how mighty the Hulk can be. He is a beast in this film and it's thrilling to watch him in action. For as long as I can remember, I've loved monsters and monster films. I think that's why the Hulk appeals to me; not Bruce Banner, but the Hulk. I like how this film introduces him; bathed in darkness with only glimpses of parts of his body. It pays homage to the older monster movies where the monster isn't fully revealed until later. We do get a full face shot of the Hulk after the first action beat, but we don't see him fully until later in the film. It's very well done.

The tone is appropriate, too. It's a bit more serious, which works well. Something that I really appreciate the film doing is that it gets the origin story out of the way right in the opening credits. It'd been only five years since Ang Lee's film, so it definitely wasn't necessary to do another origin, unlike The Amazing Spider-Man, which probably still would have sucked even if they hadn't done one.

The action beats are truly impressive. I love the way that they combine practical effects with CGI. Most of the destruction and sets are almost all real. I really appreciate the film makers choosing to go that route, where these days, blockbusters are filled with green screens and CGI. The fight between Hulk and Abomination is epic. Watching those two clash is pretty awesome and it's everything you could possibly want for your big third act. I also really like the Culver University sequence. Seeing Hulk go up against those sonic cannons is a pretty bad ass moment. I wish people would understand that no matter how much you shoot the Hulk, it only pisses him off even more.

The Incredible Hulk is probably the most underrated film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We might not get another MCU solo Hulk film due to Universal owning the character rights, so I'm pretty satisfied to have this one as the big fan of the character I am. It captures the struggle between Banner and Hulk pretty accurately. I would definitely recommend giving it another look. I think you'll find it a lot better than you remember.

Next week: The armored Avenger returns in Iron Man 2!

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