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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Espionage isn’t a game, it’s a war.

The Avengers 3.3: The Nutshell
Philip Chambers first teleplay (of two) for the series, and Raymond Menmuir’s second (also of two) as director, The Nutshell is an effective little whodunit in which Steed (again) poses as a bad guy, and Cathy (again) appears to be at loggerheads with him. The difference here is how sustained the pretence is, though; we aren’t actually in on the details until the end, and the whole scenario is played decidedly straight.

Set mostly in a bunker (the Nutshell of the title), quarter of a mile underground and providing protection for the “all the best people” (civil servants bunk on level 43; Steed usually gets off at the 18th) in the event of a thermo-nuclear onslaught, the setting is something of a misdirection, since it is also a convenient place to store national security archives, known as Big Ben (Bilateral Infiltration Great Britain, Europe and North America). Big Ben has been stolen. Or rather, the microfilm with details of all known double agents on bot…

This is no time for puns! Even good ones.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014)
Perhaps I've done DreamWorks Animation (SKG, Inc., etc.) a slight injustice. The studio has been content to run an assembly line of pop culture raiding, broad-brush properties and so-so sequels almost since its inception, but the cracks in their method have begun to show more overtly in recent years. They’ve been looking tired, and too many of their movies haven’t done the business they would have liked. Yet both their 2014 deliveries, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Mr. Peabody & Sherman, take their standard approach but manage to add something more. Dragon 2 has a lot of heart, which one couldn’t really say about Peabody (it’s more sincere elements feel grafted on, and largely unnecessary). Peabody, however, is witty, inventive and pacey, abounding with sight gags and clever asides while offering a time travel plotline that doesn’t talk down to its family audience.

I haven’t seen the The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, from which Mr. Peabody & Sh…

Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.

The World is Not Enough (1999)
(SPOILERS) The last Bond film of the 20th century unfortunately continues the downward trend of the Brosnan era, which had looked so promising after the reinvigorated approach to Goldeneye. The World is Not Enough’s screenplay posseses a number of strong elements (from the now ever present Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and a sophomore Bruce Feirstein), some of which have been recycled in the Craig era, but they’ve been mashed together with ill-fitting standard Bond tropes that puncture any would-be substance (Bond’s last line before the new millennium is one Roger Moore would have relished). And while a structure that stop-starts doesn’t help the overall momentum any, nor does the listlessness of drama director Michael Apted, such that when the sporadic bursts of action do arrive there’s no disguising the joins between first and second unit, any prospect of thrills evidently unsalvageable in the edit.

Taking its cues from the curtailed media satire of Tomorr…

I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is an unassailable classic, held up as an embodiment of true spirit of Christmas and a testament to all that is good and decent and indomitable in humanity. It deserves its status, even awash with unabashed sentimentality that, for once, actually seems fitting. But, with the reams of plaudits aimed at Frank Capra’s most enduring film, it is also worth playing devil’s advocate for a moment or two. One can construe a number of not nearly so life-affirming undercurrents lurking within it, both intentional and unintentional on the part of its director. And what better time to Grinch-up such a picture than when bathed in the warmth of a yuletide glow?

The film was famously not a financial success on initial release, as is the case with a number of now hallowed movies, its reputation burgeoning during television screenings throughout the 1970s. Nevertheless, It’s a Wonderful Life garnered a brace of Oscar nominations including Best Picture and…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Dirty is exactly why you're here.

Sicario 2: Soldado aka Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
(SPOILERS) I wasn't among the multitude greeting the first Sicario with rapturous applause. It felt like a classic case of average material significantly lifted by the diligence of its director (and cinematographer and composer), but ultimately not all that. Any illusions that this gritty, violent, tale of cynicism and corruption – all generally signifiers of "realism" – in waging the War on Drugs had a degree of credibility well and truly went out the window when we learned that Benicio del Toro's character Alejandro Gillick wasn't just an unstoppable kickass ninja hitman; he was a grieving ex-lawyer turned unstoppable kickass ninja hitman. Sicario 2: Soldadograzes on further difficult-to-digest conceits, so in that respect is consistent, and – ironically – in some respects fares better than its predecessor through being more thoroughly genre-soaked and so avoiding the false doctrine of "revealing" …

Perhaps I am dead. Perhaps we’re both dead. And this is some kind of hell.

The Avengers 5.7: The Living Dead
The Living Dead occupies such archetypal Avengers territory that it feels like it must have been a more common plotline than it was; a small town is the cover for invasion/infiltration, with clandestine forces gathering underground. Its most obvious antecedent is The Town of No Return, and certain common elements would later resurface in Invasion of the Earthmen. This is a lot broader than Town, however, the studio-bound nature making it something of a cosy "haunted house" yarn, Scooby Doo style.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

The Worm is the Spice! The Spice is the Worm!

Dune (1984)
(SPOILERS) Dune was (still is?) one of those movies that seemed to be a fixture in student houses of “a certain disposition”, frequently played and part of the furniture, but not really absorbed. Easier to stare at rather than fully engage with. Unless, I presume, you were already an aficionado of Frank Herbert’s gargantuan novels. I’ve seen it said of the Harry Potter movieverse that you really need to have read the books to get all you can from them, but the only one where I really felt that was the case was The Prisoner of Azkaban, which seemed to have some whacking great narrative holes in need of filling. David Lynch’s Dune, the source material of which I also haven’t read, most certainly suffers from such a malaise, the measures taken to impart the dense plot overwhelming the challenge of making an engaging motion picture. It’s just too stuffed, too conscious of the need to move onto the next sequence or barely-defined character, such that it ends up simultaneously sha…