The Incredible Hulk ***
One Liner Review:
As an action movie, it works. As a movie with a deep or intelligent plot, this one doesn’t quite pull it off.
Here we have a movie that is a monster flick through and through. There is very little here to make it feel like a superhero film (only thr final action scenes,) and instead, it’s a movie about a guy with a beast inside of him being chased around by secret black ops agents. That being said, as an action movie, it works. There are three major action sequences and each one is lengthy enough to actually feel like two different scenes, back to back. But while the action is pretty solid, the story is just okay. Edward Norton and Liv Tyler both feel out of place. William Hurt and Tim Roth are both pretty good, but the movie definitely feels like a bumpy road.
The Incredible Hulk is a fun, but goofy monster movie disguised as a superhero film. It’s an action movie, and really not much more. And there was plenty working against this movie, starting with the time it was released in theaters (just two months after Iron Man and one month after The Dark Knight.) Another problem is the cast. Both Edward Norton and Liv Tyler don’t quite work. With Norton, the issue was more off camera than on, with the actor rewriting the script at his own free will, pushing for a three hour movie, and flipping out when the studio didn’t want to go forward with this vision. So after the movie, Norton was fired from the MCU. Had the movie come out the following year and done better, Marvel might have sacrificed a poor relationship with Norton to keep him on board for future movies (a big maybe.) But between the poor box office receipts and the sour relationship with the actor (most of what he wrote got cut out,) Norton was swiftly replaced by Mark Ruffalo for the follow up films, and that turned out to be some pretty wonderful casting.
As far as Liv Tyler goes, she really isn’t much of an actress at all, and this movie showcases that perhaps more than any other. Tyler has had bit parts in other big films, (The Lord of the Rings, Armageddon,) but for the most part hasn’t done anything substantial. Her best role was in the horror film The Strangers, but that movie was about the scares and thrills more than the acting. And here, in the Incredible Hulk, Tyler says every line with the same puppy dog expressionless face and soft, breathy voice. It doesn’t distract from the movie or anything, but it’s also not very good. And maybe it’s not really Tyler’s fault considering how limited her screen time is, but what she does with the time that’s given to her is pretty lousy.
Now all of this is not to say that the movie is bad. While Tyler’s acting could be better, and Norton never quite feels right in the role (especially after seeing what Ruffalo does,) other casting decisions including Tim Roth and William Hurt as villains, work out just fine. And the movie itself is entertaining enough. This isn’t exactly smart material, but as a big budget action movie, in the realm of B movie territory, the movie works. It’s got plenty to like about it and is far better than the Ang Lee version of the Hulk, made just a handful of years earlier.
What Marvel wanted here, from The Incredible Hulk, was first and foremost an action movie. And that’s exactly what they got. That’s why they hired director Louis Letterier, who at the time had only made two Jason Statham Transporter movies (after Hulk, he went on to make Clash of the Titans.) Letterier is an action director, and in that respect he delivered. The action in this movie is pretty solid. It shows craftsmanship and expertise. In fact, it is the best thing about the movie.
Now as it happens, there are only three major action set pieces. But each one of these is lengthy enough to actually feel like two scenes. Most of them span more than one location, and include new developments. These action scenes make up the beginning, middle, and end of the movie, respectfully. They showcase the Hulk from his initial breakout in Brazil to his college attack upon his return to the states, to his final showdown against another creature, The Abomination, in Harlem, NY.
The movie starts with Bruce Banner (the man who will become Hulk,) in Brazil. In fact, even before that, we get a montage over the credits that shows how Hulk came to be. It moves super fast, and rushes over his origin story, but that’s okay. The movie knows that we’ve seen it before and doesn’t feel the need to detail it for us again (just like how the MCU’s version of Spider Man, with Tom Holland, doesn’t show us the Uncle Ben story again.) So quickly we find ourselves with a sense of what Bana and Hulk have been through, and now watching him in Brazil. He takes lessons at a Dojo to control his breathing and anger. He has a watch that monitors his heart rate. He even has an instructor who hits him in the face to see how high he can get Bana’s heart. It never gets near 200 beats per minute, the number it would have to reach for him to turn into the Hulk.
Bana works at an energy drink producing factory. He helps bottle the drink. One day he gets cut and the blood falls off the platform he’s on, and down to where the drinks are. The way this is all shown, with Bana stopping the machine and running downstairs to find the blood, is pretty cool. He finds it on the conveyor belt. But he misses that some of if got into one of the drinks. That drink goes to Stan Lee, and the next thing you know, the government gets the call that there’s something funny going on in Brazil.
General Thunderbolt Ross (Hurt,) sends in his black ops team, which includes Emile Blonsky (Roth,) and we get our first action sequence. It’s mostly a foot chase. And boy is it fantastic. With Bruce Banner running and climbing and Jumping all over the homes of Brazil, all packed together tightly on the side of a mountain, and with Letterier moving the camera around the whole time, it is a great sequence. And then they come to the factory for the second part of the action scene, (remember, each action scene is really two in one,) and we get some nice moments of The Hulk hiding in the shadows and only revealing himself a little at a time.
The second action sequence at the college is good, but it’s not quite as good as the first. The way the black ops guys lock Hulk in an overpass hallway and shoot in smoke bombs is pretty cool. So is the way Hulk takes out noise blaring military vehicles. Even his showdown with Blonsky, which involves a kick into a tree, is entertaining. But the hiding in the shadows, mystery element that was in the first action sequence is gone. Now the Hulk is on full display in broad daylight. It’s not as much fun. With monster movies (and let’s face it, Hulk is a monster movie,) less is more. The less they show of the creature the better. The more they keep him hidden the better. By the second action scene, they’re done keeping him hidden.
In fact, the more this movie goes on, the fuller it gets. The scenes in the lab with “Mr. Blue,” (Tim Blake Nelson,) aren’t very interesting, and the climax of the movie is little more than two giant monsters fighting it out. It was smart for them to save Abomination for the end, because he looks pretty dopey, bit even still this movie starts out great, and gets worse as it goes on. The final result is a movie that is just okay. Fun as an action movie, but not much more.