The Film: The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The Principles: Louis Leterrier (Director), Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Ty Burrell, Lou fucking Ferrigno, Tim Blake Nelson
The Premise: The Jade Giant gets treated to a rebootquel a mere five years after Ang Lee’s HULK underwhelmed the movie-going populace. Here, we meet up with Bruce Banner (Norton, and 158 days without incident) on the run and hunted by General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Hurt) in Rio de Janeiro. When a mysterious American colleague offers a chance at a cure, he returns to the states and reunites with his love, Betty (Tyler). Along the way an Abomination (Roth) is born, a Leader’s (Nelson) knowledge grows, and The Hulk breaks a lot of shit.
Is It Good: For sure. It’s become trendy to praise Lee’s HULK while dismissing Leterrier’s offering. The truth is that neither film arrives at anything especially great, but I still give Incredible a slight edge for a few particular reasons.
First, this release gets closer to the essence of the character. HULK works as an artful spin on the comic book genre (something that’s still sorely missing in 2012’s landscape). So it might be a good movie, but it isn’t a good Hulk movie. Leterrier and writer Zak Penn (along with not-so-secret writer Norton) understood that the character works best when he’s facing down physical threats and not abstract ones. Here, the character had enemies more concrete than unresolved paternal issues and a cloud.
Of those enemies, none work better than a surprisingly dialed-in Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky / Abomination. It’s not that Roth doesn’t always bring it, but he could have easily phoned it in. His Blonsky is graciously intense. His reason for accepting the gamma-tainted super-solider serum is two-fold: One, he’s an aging solider who’s not ready to leave the dance. Two, the Hulk represents a challenge worthy of sacrificing his humanity. Watching his pursuit of Banner is the real root of the film because, as an audience, we know Banner ain’t getting cured.
This movie has a lot going on, and it moves in and out of a lot of setpieces – which is why it’s odd that it feels small-scale. Norton definitely works as Banner, and he, Tyler and Hurt have movie star presence. But there’s a sense of confinement to the Hulk himself that has everything to do with budget, I’d imagine. Banner’s initial transformation as Hulk in Rio de Janeiro works as a slow-reveal, but it’s also very closed in for a set piece as dynamic as Rocinha. Even the final battle with Abomination screams of closed set. Like Incredible, Avengers’ final battle occurs over a few city blocks. But that film offers up just enough destruction and openness to give off a sense of scale. Unfortunately Leterrier’s effort does not, and it’s what holds it back from being something more.
Yet it’s hard not to appreciate the simplicity of The Incredible Hulk. Ang Lee did his best to overcomplicate a pretty straightforward character. This movie works as a solid reintroduction to the mythos mainly because people just want to see Banner get angry and fuck shit up. You can add layers, certainly. But give us the basics first. This film does that, and it’s absolutely to its credit.
Is It Worth A Look: Shit yeah, Marvel came really close to getting it right here. I think they finally nail it with Avengers (my review), but this film is still a fun 112 minutes with one of my favorite comic book characters. It’s not a “HULK SMASH,” it’s more of a “HULK push in the right direction and see how it go.”
Random Anecdotes: Aside from cameoing, Ferrigno also voices the titular character. It never amounts to more than a few audible grunts and what not, but it’s still a solid bit of fan service. Speaking of random, Lou Ferrigno once signed one of my Hulk hands. For forty dollars.
Fuck it, shit’s a great mantle piece. But also, the man has the ungodliest case of “sausage fingers” I’ve ever witnessed. He could crush granite and use it for shaving cream.
Cinematic Soulmates: HULK, The Incredible Hulk (TV series), The Incredible Hulk Returns (TV movie), The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (TV movie), The Death of the Incredible Hulk (TV movie), The Avengers (I think you might enjoy it)