Starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson and William Hurt.
PG-13, 113 minutes.
Previously on MARVEL MONTH: Iron Man.
Released in the very same summer as Iron Man, not to mention fellow comic-book juggernaut The Dark Knight, Marvel’s attempt at rebooting the Hulk kind of got lost in the shuffle. Looking back, it’s not hard to see why. The Incredible Hulk is a fairly uninspired comic book movie and even more generic as an action film.
The basic thrust of the story finds Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) trying to synthesize some kind of antidote to be rid of the monster lurking within once and for all. At each turn, however, he runs into complications in the form of a bitter military General (William Hurt), a Special Forces operative who becomes increasingly deranged (Tim Roth), and Betty (Liv Tyler), the love of his life.
Despite the potential for a fast-paced, action thrill ride based on this premise, there’s a lack of urgency to almost everything. Having a hapless Bruce Banner on the cusp of curing himself from the Hulk, only to be undercut at each turn, could’ve had some wonderfully tense, vaguely North by Northwest undercurrents running throughout. Instead, the characters feel like they’re being moved around like chess pieces to get us to the next big Hulk sequence, each one seemingly endless.
Don’t get me wrong, the scene where Banner is on the run through the dilapidated streets of Rio de Janeiro is pretty strong, but once I saw him cornered and he became the Hulk, I stopped caring. I don’t believe this is necessarily due to the fact that the Hulk character works best as a supporting role, which has been kicked around ever since The Avengers came out. The main problem I can think of with the Hulk sequences in this movie is that there’s not too much going on internally with the Bruce Banner character beyond the fact that he needs to fight his way out of a given situation. I know the story takes a lot of strides to show he’s been working hard to keep his anger in check, but it’s hardly compelling as portrayed and, while Edward Norton is a really good actor, his performance here is stiff and alienating.
To further this point, there are specific scenes in both 2003’s Hulk (a movie I love, despite its rotten reputation) and this one wherein Bruce describes the experience of transforming into the Hulk to Betty. In the former, Eric Bana is just trying to grasp what’s going on, summing up that, when he finally loses control, he likes it. In this film, however, we just get Edward Norton describing what it feels like with no real emotional investment to his words. You can make the claim that the feeling is old hat and he wouldn’t necessarily get so worked up in explaining it, but regardless, how can the explanation behind transforming into a giant, green rage monster be given in such a lifeless manner?
The finale here also expands on a problem previously encountered with Iron Man, where it feels like they don’t really know how to end things strongly without some big fight scene that comes about inorganically. While Iron Man coasted to the finish line through sheer charm and came out in one piece though, The Incredible Hulk comes to a screeching halt. The villain, Emil Blonsky (Roth), a decorated soldier ruing the aging process who becomes an even worse monster through a series of injections, isn’t very interesting and doesn’t have much of a relationship with Banner beyond the fact that he’s the absolute last person you’d want to have Hulk-like powers, if you’d want anyone to have them. It feels ridiculous to say this, but I couldn’t have been more bored during the monster fight scene at the end of this movie.
Before I end this with just a stream of complaints, I will say there are a few things I like. The scenes where Bruce has to rely on his wits in locales like the streets of Rio are good and Liv Tyler’s performance is quite a boon. She provides a firm, supportive anchor for Bruce while exuding this sense of melancholy, like she knows in the back of her head that this reunion between the two of them will be short-lived. Other than that though, I don’t have much else to say. What could have been an interesting take on the character is not present amidst the need to have large-scale action sequences. It buckles under the supposed audience expectation that we shouldn’t have to wait too long between Hulk scenes. While that isn’t a bad expectation to uphold in a movie like this, it all didn’t have to be so bland in its execution, either.
Next Up: Iron Man 2 (2010)
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