Director: Louis Leterrier
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt
Hot on the heels of commercially dominant and critically respected Iron Man, 2008 saw Louis Leterrier bring us our latest big-screen look at the Incredible Hulk. And, while Ang Lee’s Hulk tried to step outside of the box and was (unfairly, in my mind) slammed as a result, Leterrier opts to play things safe here with a far more formulaic superhero movie.
Interestingly, the bulk of the Hulk’s “origin story” is covered during the opening credits (probably a wise move given the fact that another origin movie was released just five years previously), with the story itself picking up with Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner hiding out in Brazil trying to discover a cure for his “curse”, and it being five months since his last ‘incident’.
For my money, Norton is great as Banner, coming across less ‘goofy scientist’ than Ruffalo while still being innately likeable – although there’s a vague sense of him phoning it in here, with nothing really coming close to testing his multi Oscar-nominated acting chops.
While it has the potential to feel isolated from the rest of the MCU due to its one-and-done leading man, Leterrier actually does a good job of tying things in to the wider universe, with ‘big bad’ Emil Blonsky initially getting his powers from the same ‘Super Soldier’ programme that birthed Captain America. It feels natural, and while it ultimately doesn’t really impact the movie in any significant way (with the exception of saving Blonsky’s life when Hulk punts him into a tree), it’s still a nice nod to the ‘shared universe’ vibe these early movies were teasing.
While Leterrier can’t seem to make up his mind about what kind of movie he’s making, the relationship between Banner and Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross gives the story a solid foundation, with an almost “King Kong” vibe in the second act. The chemistry between the two is believable enough, and while there are some clunky lines of dialogue along the way, they have a strong enough bond to give the rest of the story a sense of direction.
It’s also interesting that the movie plays things incredibly straight for the most part, save for some affectionate nods to the source material (“you won’t like me when I’m… hungry”), which, given the straight-faced delivery throughout the rest of the film, feel more than a little jarring. Unlike Iron Man, where Jon Favreau mixed up the humour, character and action skillfully, Leterrier seems incredibly uncertain about what kind of tone to go for here, resulting in a finished product that almost feels like three separate movies stapled together.
It also doesn’t help that, once again, we’re treated to a paper-thin villain, with Tim Roth’s acting talents being utterly squandered on the one-dimensional military man Blonsky. The CGI-laden finale, which sees Blonksy becoming the Abomination for a knock-down drag-out battle with Hulk is visually enjoyable, but ultimately too superficial to really care about. There’s also never any real doubt that Hulk is going to win, and the final resolution to their skirmish is both hokey and underwhelming.
Ultimately then, while it’s definitely flawed and unfocused in places, it’s also nowhere near as bad as I remembered. Norton is great as Banner, and there are some genuinely enjoyable moments along the way here. It’d be interesting to see how Norton would have slotted into the wider MCU, but alas, we’ll never find out. As it stands though, The Incredible Hulk provides and enjoyable couple of hours, but doesn’t quite manage to measure up to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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