It’s hard to believe that Avengers: Infinity War is all but one month away. It seems as if it was just yesterday that Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark announced himself to the world as Iron Man. Just four years later, Earth’s mightiest heroes joined together to battle a common threat to save the world in 2012’s smash hit, The Avengers. On our journey to Marvel’s massive culmination of its cinematic universe, let’s take a step back towards the beginning of it all. Before Captain America thawed from his icy tomb, before the god of thunder entered the world of man, and before a time when any comic book fan could even fathom the ambitious movie roadmap that is the MCU, there was a humble, hulking beginning.
The Incredible Hulk stars Edward Norton as the troubled scientist Bruce Banner, who is tragically cursed with turning into an enormous green rage monster after a military experiment goes horribly wrong. Now on the run from the US government while simultaneously trying to find a cure for his condition, Banner must return home to confront his demons and his enemies, new and old. What unfolds is a fun, exciting superhero adventure, and what is perhaps the most underrated film in the entire MCU.
From the get go, The Incredible Hulk starts off strong. This is Marvel’s second go at a Hulk film, after Ang Lee’s divisive 2003 effort. Not wanting retread the same ground, the film wisely chooses to refresh us on the Green Goliath’s origin story during the opening credits. Within minutes, we understand who Bruce Banner is and why he’s on the run. It’s easy to gather what’s going on based simply off of the brief snippets of footage, and some nods to the wider Marvel universe are a nice touch as well. Even the 1977 Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV series gets a shoutout, which I’m sure old school Marvel fans can appreciate.
Ed Norton brings a mixture of sympathy and tragedy to the role of Bruce Banner that I don’t imagine many other actors could have done. He’d kind and brainy, but at the same time, his struggle to contain the monster living inside of him manifests itself into an anxious and timid personality. He’s brilliant, and yet terrified of himself and what he can do. Banner is a good man who was dealt a bad hand, and Norton does such an impressive job that it at times leaves me to wonder what the MCU would be if he stayed on board.
The supporting cast is equally as talented as Norton is. Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross has great chemistry with Norton’s Banner, and you really feel that the two of them were lovers torn apart by an awful set of circumstances. Betty’s deep love for Bruce shines through in her performance, adding a sorrowful romance to an already somber MCU tale. William Hurt is a case of pitch perfect casting as General Ross, giving the character a powerful and commanding presence necessary for the role. Ross’s fixation on finding Banner comes through effortlessly in Hurt’s portrayal, making him one of the film’s biggest standouts.
Tim Roth delivers as a power hungry and driven Blonsky, blending levels of fearlessness and menace that make the character all the more threatening. Though he isn’t the most interesting of the MCU’s vast roster of villains, he still manages to be a match for both Banner and the Hulk alike. Blonsky and his monstrous Abomination leave a bit to be desired as far as character depth goes, and the character seems to get a thrill off of causing chaos for no reason other than just because he knows he can. With that said, Roth does a fantastic job of working with what the script gives him.
Tim Blake Nelson as Samuel Sterns (or Mr. Blue) however, sticks out like a sore thumb. Nelson’s performance isn’t bad, but his quirky and odd personality doesn’t really mesh well with the film’s overall darker tone. There are no bad performances here, but Nelson’s eccentric presence could have been slightly tuned down.
Director Louis Leterrier’s work is solid, especially during the action scenes. There’s no overuse of shaky-cam, and it’s easy to follow what’s happening on screen. A chase scene through the streets of Brazil is especially exciting, and the Jade Giant’s first appearance during a scuffle in a soda bottling plant is an eerie, monster movie moment of pure joy. There are plenty of wide shots whenever necessary to make sure the viewer gets a nice glimpse of the Hulk. The battle at the end of the film is something taken directly out of a comic book, and seeing the Hulk go at it with the Abomination in a knock down, brutal drag out brawl was a more than worthy pay off during the film’s finale.
Some of the film’s effects, however, are starting to show their age unfortunately. While the film is ten years old now, there are a few shots of the Hulk and the Abomination that look slightly video game-y, with Banner’s transformation in Sterns’s lab being one in particular. In fact, I remember sitting in the theater back in 2008 and thinking the very same thing. After recent rewatches of The Avengers and Thor: Ragnarok, I found that Ruffalo’s Hulk looks far more convincing than Norton’s in comparison. Despite that, the filmmakers still manage to give the Hulk a personality of his own. He’s angry, but at the same time, lonely. His choice to leave Betty during the film’s final moments hints at the Hulk’s own inner struggle, and his rage fueled fits of anger are a great counterbalance to Banner’s mild mannered nature.
Upon revisiting what is probably the black sheep of the Marvel family, I have to say that The Incredible Hulk may just be the best possible version of a Hulk solo movie that can be done. Even a decade later, I still find myself enjoying Marvel Studios’ second chapter in their ever growing cinematic universe. Despite a few missteps here and there, The Incredible Hulk holds up as one of the franchise’s most fun installments, as well of one of the most underrated.
We’ll be revisiting the entire lineup of MCU films over the coming weeks before Avengers: Infinity War, so be sure to keep it here at SuperBroMovies for all of our upcoming reviews!