Skip to main content

Don’t make me… hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m… hungry.

The Incredible Hulk
(2008)

(SPOILERS) It’s fortunate the bookends of Marvel’s Phase One are so sturdy, as the intervening four movies simply aren’t that special. Mediocre might be too strong a word (although at least one qualifies for that status), but they amountto a series of at-best-serviceable vehicles for characters rendered on screen with varying degrees of nervousness and second guessing. They also underline that, through the choices of directors, no one was bigger than the franchise, and no one had more authority than supremo Kevin Feige. Which meant there was integrity of overall vision, but sometimes a paucity of it in cinematic terms. The Incredible Hulk arrived off the back of what many considered a creative failure and commercial disappointment from Ang Lee five years earlier yet managed on just about every level to prove itself Hulk’s inferior. A movie characterised by playing it safe, it’s now very much the unloved orphan of the MCU, with a lead actor recast and a main character who, due to rights issues with Universal, can currently only appear in ensemble efforts.


There’s something approaching a solid movie in The Incredible Hulk, somewhere entangled within the character work pruned back from Louis Letterier and Edward Norton’s preferred version (there are 42 minutes of deleted/extended scenes on the Blu-ray, and they favoured a 135-minute cut over the studio’s 112), but it’s still fatally scuppered by starting strongly and then petering out into a splutter of quite unsightly CGI. Hulk’s final act was also awash with pixels, but there, Lee brought an artistic and sometimes poetic sensibility to the visuals. Letterier felt there was an undesirable weightlessness and smoothness to that version’s less-than-jolly green giant, so going in the direction of grittier and darker (yeah, okay) and perhaps even a little scarier; the result is entirely underwhelming, a ‘roided version of the Hulk who never looks less than cartoonish, complete with a rather silly floppy fringe. At best, he’s acceptable in relation to the even dafter Abomination.


Letterier, who started out with Luc Besson and got the job on the strength of Transporter 2, still probably his best and certainly most deliriously demented movie, The Incredible Hulk is a prime example of a promising director underdone by the Hollywood machine. Both The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans were shorn or mangled in the editing room and his efforts since are probably best not dwelt upon. By his own admission, he isn’t the most refined of directors, but he does, left to his own devices, have a good eye for action and the construction of a kinetic scene. He can’t create excitement out of CG monsters duking out, but very few can (the finale feels a lot longer than it actually is for that reason).


Give him a well-structured sequence, though, and there are a few in the front half of the picture, and he more than delivers. The opening twenty minutes, from the montage recap/retcon of Hulk (producer Gale Anne Hurd decided to term The Incredible Hulk a “requel”: a reboot/sequel) to the very TV series Mexican retreat of Banner, attempting to control the beast within – there are cameos for Lou Ferringo, who also voices the Hulk, and Bill Bixby via a TV movie he starred in, while Leterrier is definitely referencing the show with the chiaroscuro accompanying Ed Norton’s eyes turning green and the TV theme filtering in at one point – to the spilt blood in the bottling factory, Stan Lee’s (once again very funny) cameo and the rooftop pursuit of Banner, find the movie really working and can comfortably rank with any given sequence from the MCU. However…


Degrees of controversy surround Edward Norton’s involvement in The Incredible Hulk, not in respect of his performance – he’s fine, lending the part a low-key dweebiness, but that would only really play effectively if accompanied by a less muscular, more thoughtful style than his director’s – so much as the degree to which he exerted an influence on the production . Reportedly, Eric Bana didn’t want to return (which I guessed sealed the deal on it not being a sequel), Letterier wanted Ruffalo (but the studio favoured Ed) and David Duchovny was in contention. It seems Norton had the studio’s blessing in rewriting Zak Penn’s screenplay (Penn took offence at Norton saying he’d written the entire thing, as it was structurally pretty much the same – Ty Burrell’s Doc Samson was added … and then mostly removed in the studio edit – and the Writer’s Guild agreed with him). Probably no bad thing he did, as the writer’s comic book record isn’t the best, aside from Avengers… which was rewritten extensively by Joss Whedon.


The Norton-Marvel relationship subsequently turned sour, in the wrestling over the final cut, which then became public. Norton later disowned the disagreements, characterising them as a “healthy process” but it did nothing to dispel his reputation as a difficult fish; he put a spin on wanting more diversity in his career when the role was recast, but it’s simpler to conclude he was unwanted for Avengers, not perceived as a team player for an upcoming team movie, and having starred in a picture that failed to make nearly enough to justify its expense.


Whatever Ed’s rewrites amounted to in terms of substance, they failed to effectively amend the picture’s chief flaws, and the deleted scenes don’t leave a sense that anything vastly improved went astray – there’s a really good fireside chat over a glass of wine with Burrell wearing his shrink hat (it’s better than anything between Bruce and Betty) and a reference to “resistance against that depleted uranium no one likes talking about” that probably disappeared for being a little political. As such, the picture begins to lose its way at about the 40-minute mark, when Bruce returns to the US. Pretty much when Liv Tyler’s simpering version of Betty enters the scene (aside from that one raging outburst against a taxi driver: “Asshole!”). There’s zero spark between Betty and Bruce, and anything with her and Hulk seems like it’s going through the motions, be it evocative of Tarzan and Jane or Kong and Ann Darrow. When, in a clinch of passion, Bruce warns her off with “I can’t get too excited”, our response is an increasingly weary “Neither can we”.


There’s too little in the way of twists and turns; Norton felt Hulk strayed too far from fugitive story, but the results her are just too linear. There’s a retcon of Banner’s research as super soldier related (“He thought he was working on radiation resistance”), ensuring a tie-in with the forthcoming Captain America: The First Avenger and Emil Blonsky’s reinvigoration, but the latter’s plotline simply isn’t sufficiently interesting.


Nor is Roth, who neither looks nor sounds like a credible soldier (“Born in Russia, raised in England” is the kind of forgiving line they write for an Arnie accent). Oh, and his super running is unintentionally hilarious. I like Roth, but he’s a poor fit here. That said, there is an amusing instance of his goading Hulk (“Is that it? Is that all you’ve got?”) that results in his being splatted against a tree (“bones like crushed gravel”).


Bruce Banner: They don’t want the antidote. They want to make it a weapon.
Samuel Sterns: I hate the government just as much as anyone. But you’re being a little paranoid, don’t you think?

That said, the increasingly routine nature of the stateside portions of the picture is relieved enormously when Tim Blake Nelson arrives as Samuel Sterns. He’s a shot in the arm and it couldn’t come soon enough. Nelson’s every line delivery is delicious (“Look, I’ve always been more curious than cautious, and that’s served me pretty well”), even when they don’t sound that great on paper, and his interaction with the menacing Blonsky is a particular treat (“Why are you always hitting people?”; “You look like you’ve got a little something in you already, don’t you?”) It’s a shame he was a one and done.


Indeed, the majority of the elements introduced here have been rather brushed under the MCU carpet. William Hurt essays a serviceable Thunderbolt Ross, broader than Sam Elliot’s but there isn’t really much between them, and would be promoted to Senator for Captain America: Civil War, but that aside, we’ve only since seen a recast Bruce, no Betty, no more Abomination (he was considered as a supporting villain for Avengers: Age of Ultron, though, and referenced as a potential Avenger in one-shot The Consultant, laboriously retconning the final scene here) and nothing made good on the promise of Sterns transforming in to the Leader (which is a cardinal crime, as Nelson had all the makings of that MCU rarity: a memorable villain). Downey Jr turns up in the coda, of course (not a post-credits scene as many recall it), observing “the smell of stale beer and defeat” percolating around Ross, but otherwise you could easily cast The Incredible Hulk adrift.


Samuel Sterns: The mixture could be an abomination.

At one point in the picture, Banner compares his Hulk experience to experiments he and Betty volunteered for at Harvard – “like someone’s poured a litre of acid into my brain” – which is a lot more colourful and suggestive than anything we end up seeing in the movie. The CGI is never believable, neither interactive nor emotionally underpinned, making the standard explosive finale (a monster mash in the manner of Kong vs Godzilla, or Iron Man vs Iron Monger) a snore. It’s a good idea dropping Bruce out of plane, but it entirely fails to pay off. We don’t care about Bruce or Betty. 


The trick with this film should have been simultaneously to make us want Banner to hulk out and also not to want him to. At least, that’s what I always got from the TV show. It’s something you never feel with Ruffalo’s version, and here the plot beats are too perfunctory for any sense of inner conflict to develop. The problem is, The Incredible Hulk’s essentially meat and potatoes as a reaction against Hulk’s wild artistic licence. There’s no sense it’s striving for something greater than the sum of its formula. It’ll do, but that’s all it does.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

You’d be surprised how many intersectional planes of untethered consciousness exist.

Moon Knight (2022) (SPOILERS) Now, this is an interesting one. Not because it’s very good – Phase IV MCU? Hah! – but because it presents its angle on the “superhero” ethos in an almost entirely unexpurgated, unsoftened way. Here is a character explicitly formed through the procedures utilised by trauma-based mind control, who has developed alters – of which he has been, and some of which he remains, unaware – and undergone training/employment in the military and private mercenary sectors (common for MKUltra candidates, per Dave McGowan’s Programmed to Kill ). And then, he’s possessed by what he believes to be a god in order to carry out acts of extreme violence. So just the sort of thing that’s good, family, DisneyPlus+ viewing.