Reviewed by John Hussey
After the massive success of Iron Man, Marvel Studios moved onto their next big instalment, choosing to re-introduce The Hulk. It’s fair to say that The Hulk hadn’t been very well received within the film industry after his debut in 2003, Hulk, was a massive flop. I recall on my one, and only, attempt to try and watch it I quickly became disinterested due to its slow pace and boring atmosphere. Plus the special effects looked horrendous.
After only five short years The Hulk was being brought back to the big-screen for a reboot, with a film promising to be more accurate to the comics. I will admit that I never actually saw this film until recent years simply because I wasn’t interested in The Hulk that much. Sure I knew who he was, and had seen clips from the campy television series, but will all of this in mind I just never found the character all that exciting, nor engaging.
Because of this I went into Avengers Assemble with zero background information (and honestly it made no fucking difference). Which made me wonder whether or not I really needed to watch his solo-outing.
For a long time The Incredible Hulk was a questionable piece because it seemed to have little, to no, relevance to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It seemed like it was made for the sake of re-introducing The Hulk for newer fans so they had a little backstory on who he was for his major arrival in Avengers Assemble. It’s not like we’ve had any further solo-outings since his first film, and has since be pushed back as a main hero within the universe and made a secondary character that appears solely for cross-over events.
There’s the major factor that The Incredible Hulk still stands as the only Marvel Cinematic Universe film to be made by a separate company, i.e. Universal Studios. The Hulk has a strange arrangement within this universe in that Marvel Studios own the rights to the character but not the distribution rights, which is still owned by Universal Studios. Unlike with Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America (who’s distribution rights were originally owned by Paramount Pictures) Marvel Studios chose not to buy the distribution rights back, which means it’s up to Universal Studios whether or not a sequel can be made.
Another major contradicting factor within The Incredible Hulk is the casting of The Hulk himself. This added to the puzzling nature of this film as (like with James Rhodes in Iron Man) the superhero in question changes actors between films. Though it was slightly easier passing this problem off in Iron Man 2, it wasn’t as easy to wrap your head around Bruce Banner changing faces between the events of The Incredible Hulk and Avengers Assemble.
I guess this was another reason why I felt you didn’t need to watch The Incredible Hulk to understand The Hulk’s place within Avengers Assemble. To add more confusion into the mix we have Robert Downey Jr. appearing in a post-credit sequence as Tony Stark to indicate that The Hulk’s solo-outing is indeed apart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I guess you could ignore this but later on Banner references (briefly I might add) his battle in Harlem, before Thunderbolt Ross randomly reappeared in Captain America: Civil War in a major role.
What I’m trying to say is this film is fucking baffling and can easily give you a headache trying to figure out all the implications and contradictions, not to mention the fucking unanswered questions by the end, which will probably never be answered because we probably won’t get a Hulk sequel. That, and I just don’t like this film that much.
The Incredible Hulk stands as my least favourite film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (with Thor being a close second). This is due to a combination of everything I said above and the simple fact that the film lacks a real soul and just does things. Even though it feels accurate to the comics, it still doesn’t please me. It could just be that The Hulk, as a character, is fucking boring. Or at least he comes across as extremely dull in this film because I don’t have too much of a problem with him in his later appearances.
But, then again, perhaps The Hulk is best served as a secondary character, or just needs a better team behind the helm making the sequel (if we ever get one). I understand that Banner is almost a tragic character, in that he suffers from the burden of split personality disorder, which upon getting angry, becomes a rampaging beast without much thought beyond basic instincts fuelled by aggression. This is something that sounds rather interesting on paper and could easily create an emotional journey which is both exciting and sympathetic.
However, The Incredible Hulk decides to piss around instead of giving us a coherent narrative. The first act starts off nicely by showing us a montage title sequence that gives us a rough idea of how The Hulk was created. We then fast-forward to Banner on the run from the authorities, hiding out in Brazil desperately trying to supress his anger whilst searching for a cure to his gamma exposure. You can clearly see the tragedy in the situation as Banner no longer has an identity or home, topped off by a life-changing burden constantly strapped to his shoulders. How can you not feel sorry for him?
But as the film goes on it starts to become really boring, and devoid of any real purpose other than ticking boxes. Things were certainly interesting when watching Banner trying to live a life in Brazil (and the challenges he had to face), followed by his first major encounter with Thunderbolt Ross, who is determined to capture him by any means necessary. This led to a fantastic chase sequence across Rio de Janeiro (which I thought was shot brilliantly), adding a lot of needed levels of excitement to make the film stand out from other superhero films.
Then came the grand entrance from The Hulk himself… Oh, wait, he’s gone within fleeting moments. Hiding in the shadows so we can barely see him. Did I fucking miss something here because I could’ve sworn the title of this flick was The Incredible Hulk and not Bruce Banner and the Quest for the Cure. Get used to this people because The Hulk barely appears. Which is fine because deep down the internal struggle of this story is Banner trying to control The Hulk, thus battling the beast within, which is in essence himself. But, my massive grudge here is that Banner isn’t all that interesting as a character thanks in turn to both a bland script and not-so good acting.
I’m just going to come out and say this: Edward Norton wasn’t a brilliant Banner. In fact, the best moments of his character is when The Hulk is onscreen. Now that’s not to say that Norton doesn’t do a good job, nor did he not wrack in a few good moments as Banner, but overall his appearance in the role just lacks that edge needed to elevate both the character and the narrative.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that even Liv Tyler wasn’t all that great as Betty Ross. Now, I know Tyler can act because I’ve seen The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Armageddon. But here she doesn’t seem to give a damn, almost as if she was bored making the film (which one can hardly blame her). She lacked emotion in her performance and the chemistry between her and Norton seemed forced at times (as if they were romantically engaged because the comics said so, and thus needed to be adapted onscreen).
At least the villains of the film felt interesting to watch (if at times being hard to understand their fucking motives beyond “that’s their role within the narrative” or “that’s just how the military thinks”). Thunderbolt Ross (played by William Hurt) is certainly the most fascinating character within the entire film (which comes as a massive shock since it should be Banner that’s supposed to be the centre piece of the film) because he’s a colossal dickhead throughout.
His goal to extract The Hulk from Banner’s DNA becomes completely obsessive, turning him into a crazy man that takes his job way too seriously. I mean, it’s not like his superiors are demanding he finds Banner or anything. He’s just out to get him, making the whole mission feel like a vendetta. Plus, you can’t help but think he’s just constantly trying to cover his own arse throughout by destroying any evidence that he was manipulating Banner’s gamma experiments for military purposes.
The fact that he doesn’t care that Banner is collateral damage simply because he’s a scientist (and not military), and that he’s willing to make his own daughter, Betty, a criminal in order to capture Banner, just goes to showcase how much of a fucker he really is. How the fuck he’s a General is beyond me.
And then we come to Emil Blonsky (played by Tim Roth). He’s another nut-job who has worked his way up the ranks within the military (which just goes to show if you’re willing to kill in the name of your country you can be rewarded with the highest seat within the military grading system). Blonsky appears rather sane to begin with, appearing as a loyal soldier that does what he’s told.
There’s a moment where you feel he dislikes superior officers because they sit back at their desks, don’t contribute to the fight, and often than not send men like Blonsky to their deaths, but this element doesn’t go anywhere and instead Blonsky is simply okay with watching his fellow soldiers die because of lack of debriefing, and goes off to undergo his new mission as if it’s just another day at the office.
Slowly the mission to capture The Hulk becomes obsessive, to the point where it becomes a hunt. He even goes as far as volunteering for experimental treatment in order to make him a super-soldier (presumably from a mixture similar to the one used to make Steve Rogers Captain America). But by the end of the film he simply wants more and more power, almost as if the chemicals in his body have warped his brain, similar to a drug addiction. Thus he demands to be given Banner’s blood, mixing in with the super-soldier drug to make The Abomination, to which he randomly becomes a rampaging monster (as you do).
For me, the major problem with this film (beyond a bland script and wooden acting from the two main cast members) is the sluggish pacing. There are the clear moments where the film picks up the pace and grants the audience something juicy to stick their teeth into. But they’re so far apart, and don’t usually last very long. Instead you’re left with a really slow story about Banner travelling across the US in search of a cure, and that quickly becomes a real endurance test.
Say, it wouldn’t have been so bad if the narrative was more engaging and the characters were more lively. But it just feels really bleak and depressive at times, before transitioning into an action-pack, explosion marathon with a giant rampaging beast, making the film feel very disjointed in its tone and direction. Because of this The Incredible Hulk stands out from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the wrong reasons, making it feel like it doesn’t belong at all. The film definitely feels forced into the canon because Marvel Studios needed to introduce The Hulk.
And then (like I said above) Norton is replaced for future films, making this film feel even more disjointed and hard to watch in the grand perspective of the franchise, along with the fact that the events of this film are quickly glossed over and never revisited. It’s clear that this film was banking on being the first chapter within a series of films, thus it feeling like a slow introduction piece which leaves all the interesting stuff for future films to tackle. But of course these sequels have still to happen and now we’re just left with this void of where does The Incredible Hulk stand within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Betty is never seen again (which is rather odd considering how important she is to this narrative and Banner’s character), certain elements are either left unanswered or unresolved, and Thunderbolt Ross’ reappearance in Civil War just adds more fucking question that answers like, “Where the fuck has he been all this whole time?”, and “Why is he suddenly important?” “Is it because Marvel Studios felt the need to finally bridge the gap between the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and The Hulk’s unresolved universe?” Who fucking knows at this point!
In his long quest to find a cure Banner is finally confronted with the possibility to suppress The Hulk but it doesn’t fucking go anywhere as it needs to be discarded from the narrative in order to bring The Hulk back for the big final battle. It honestly makes no fucking sense, especially when you consider why Banner decides he must go and face The Abomination. He has had virtually no character development throughout the entire film.
From start, to finish, he remains practically the same, which compared to Tony Stark’s evolution in Iron Man, makes this film feel fucking weak and lazy. Literally, out of the blue, because the script says so, Banner suddenly turns round and says, “I need The Hulk now to save the day and be the hero!” He’s had no intention to be the hero throughout the film. He clearly stated over and over that The Hulk can’t be controlled, nor did he ever want to try and control the beast, disregarding any remarks that he and The Hulk are one of the same.
All he’s wanted to do is to remove The Hulk from his genes in order to prevent Thunderbolt Ross from exploiting its power. Now, because Harlem is in danger, he changes his song-and-dance to become the hero. This is lazy writing at its fucking best! Not to mention it’s really fucking hard to call this film a superhero film because The Hulk isn’t a superhero. He just smashes things without much care or control, and Banner is just the poor sap that has to pick up the pieces afterwards.
The Hulk isn’t promoted as a hero, nor does Banner try to be one, and with the military constantly chasing him throughout I’m more inclined to say this is a thriller rather than a superhero flick. I honestly believe even the film itself didn’t know what it wanted to be, and without any real character development (like with Iron Man) Banner and The Hulk just don’t go anywhere, making The Incredible Hulk feel even more pointless.
But, I will give this film one bit of credit over Iron Man, at least the fight against the villain was better. Yes, I know it wasn’t much different. One giant monster against an even bigger monster. But it had tension, and it certainly had stakes. The Abomination was laying waste to Harlem, killing soldiers and civilians left, right, and centre. There was a lot of destruction and carnage and The Hulk had to use every ounce of his strength in order to take down his enemy.
Unfortunately the lack of any real development (apart from a couple of key scenes scattered throughout the film, but since The Hulk was barely present it didn’t add much) really damaged the overall pay-off. I suppose the only thing you receive is The Hulk learning to supress his anger, deciding to instead knock The Abomination out and leave him for the military to deal with instead of straight-up killing him.
And then he fucks off, resulting in the most ambiguous ending I have ever seen, to the point it makes no fucking sense and doesn’t link into anything. Plus the Tony Stark cameo I mentioned earlier only really makes sense if you watch The Consultant from the Marvel One-Shots series (fat-lot-of-good).
I really don’t know what else I can say about this film. It’s a massive waste of time, a missed opportunity, and certainly something that Marvel Studios has slowly tucked away underneath the carpet, merely mentioning it when needs must. All I would say is if you skimmed over it and went straight to Iron Man 2 it wouldn’t make an ounce of difference.