In honor of the release of Captain America: Civil War, We Minored in Film’s Julianne Ramsey will examine the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it stands.
Day 2: The Incredible Hulk (2008)
When I first started talking about doing a Marvel recap, the only drawback I could see was that I would have to go back to The Incredible Hulk. Upon rewatch, I guess it’s not a terrible film, but it’s so far below everything else Marvel has put on screen, it can’t help but feel mediocre and underwhelming. I understand how we got the Incredible Hulk film that ultimately hit cinemas in 2008. Ang Lee’s Hulk, with its brooding and proclivity towards conversations over action, frustrated fans and suffered from diminishing box office returns. I’ll be honest. I don’t hate Ang Lee’s film. I even kind of like it. It’s flawed, without a doubt. The comic panel approach to cinematography, the extremely flawed CGI, the overacting by Nick Nolte, Josh Lucas blowing up in a puff of cartoon smoke…I get it. The film has major issues.
However, I like its emphasis on character over flash. The film takes its time making Bruce Banner seem pitiable, never forgetting there’s a man who had to give up everything he wanted out of life hiding beneath the monster. It’s a film that cares less for spectacle than it does for its thematic examination of how parents’ sins return to haunt their children. In Ang Lee’s hands, The Hulk became a symbol for repressed memories and anger (even going so far as to drop the word “Incredible” from its title). In 2008, The Hulk was just a Hulk. Ang Lee’s film fails, but it fails in an interesting way, while The Incredible Hulk fails because it’s all smash and no substance.
As it stands, Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk attempts to both forget Ang Lee’s film exists and act as a semi-sequel. It follows a repeating pattern of Bruce Banner (a wasted Edward Norton) getting cornered by the military (led by William Hurt…and his mustache), turning into The Hulk and escaping, repeated ad infinitum.
Banner has decided that the means of keeping his greener half in check involves keeping his pulse low. That means Norton doesn’t really do anything that’s very interesting.
Norton remains an excellent choice for Banner, as he has that perfect mix of “aw shucks” sincerity and world-weary cynicism. There are moments in which the character-driven art film he obviously wanted to make pokes through, but it’s quickly beaten back by the film’s overwhelming, made-by-committee feel. It’s less The Incredible Hulk and more The Unremarkable Hulk. Along the way, Bruce meets back up with his girlfriend Betty (Liv Tyler, doing…whatever it is she does) in scenes in which two actors with no chemistry try to pretend they’re in love. He attempts to find a cure for his condition (in the hands of Tim Blake Nelson, practically composed of red flags), and fights another mutated monster, The Abomination (Tim Roth, who probably had to have his stomach pumped from all the scenery he chewed).
Narratively, it’s a fairly standard fugitive tail, except the escapee can crush armies in its bare hands.
The special effects have slightly improved since 2003, but it’s still obvious when Bruce Banner jumps out of a helicopter in the hopes his increased heart rate will trigger a transformation that he’s replaced by a pixelated creation that was probably a tennis ball on set. It’s difficult to feel much attachment for The Hulk or Bruce Banner, as neither gets much in the way of character development. The film just kind of ambles along until the closing credits tell us it’s over.
The biggest issue with The Incredible Hulk is one of wasted opportunity. The best superhero films are traditionally those that deal with the duality of trying to live your normal life while also being driven to put on a costume and fight crime. Bruce Banner and The Hulk are perhaps the purest realization of that duality, but the movie doesn’t really deal with that.
We don’t really feel Banner’s pain at having to give up his life and his girlfriend for fear that he could lose control at any time and wipe out an entire suburb, and we don’t feel that because the movie just doesn’t have the interest. Instead, The Hulk may “smash,” but he smashes substance along with everything else.
Next, Julianne questions whether or not this was really a good idea, as she follows up The Incredible Hulk with Iron Man 2.