BlokeBusting The Essentials #42: The Incredible Hulk
#42: The Incredible Hulk
Wait, was that the Ang Lee one or the other one? You know, it’s just so confusing…
And now to write the entire review attempting to draw as few comparisons to the other Hulk films as possible…
I’ll be honest, I did not enjoy this film the first time I watched it. I recall being bored, I recall having a lot of trouble getting any satisfaction with the final battle and I also recall not enjoying Norton’s take on Banner. So going into this re-watch I sat down fully intending to re-evaluate my stance and cast a more critical eye over the film than the personal lens that I originally used. Let’s see how that went!
- Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Edward Norton)
My understanding of Banner mostly comes from occasional and random comic reading, a lot of research thanks to my podcast, the MCU and Hulk. So obviously I’m not an expert on the subject of Banner portrayals. However I still had an issue with Norton’s Bruce in this one. Banner is always shown to be one of, if not the, biggest minds in the room and is a world expert in his field. This Banner never really got the chance to flex his brain in the film, instead trying to avoid the army (and more specifically, Ross) and constantly telling everyone that the other guy is dangerous. Like, really dangerous. Very, very dangerous.
So here’s where I think the film failed there. We only ever saw Hulk as a result of Banner coming under attack, and I mean that literally. Hulk was only responding to direct threats, which showed us his strength but not any real reason to fear him. Had we started the film with Banner losing control in a crowded area and harming some innocent bystanders (not just as a result of his initial transformation), then we really could have had an idea of just how unstable Hulk can be. But alas, it was not to be. Also, since when does Hulk only come out once Bruce has had too much exercise? That had to be the oddest decision they made fo this film. And they made a few…
- Betty Ross (Liv Tyler)
I was not a big fan of this version of Betty. Actually, thinking about it some more, I’m not sure that I really have enjoyed her in any of the iterations that I’ve seen. Now don’t get me wrong, she clearly did her best and brought something to the role that wasn’t simply the damsel in distress that too often happens to female characters. The issue is that she is mostly there to be the reason that Banner keeps doing what he does. She embodies the term “Love Interest” to a T. So yeah, not the best characterisation in the world.
- General Thadeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt)
Now this guy I enjoyed! He was the absolute epitome of the gruff army man who rose in the ranks because he was a SOLDIER. A SOLDIER’s duty is to his country and to do anything possible to further the might of the Army they serve. Deserters? Hunt them down! And character arcs? Nah. Who needs character development anyway! (Ok, there’s a little there, but the man’s character was so paper thin anyway that’s hardly a tall order) But Hurt played him perfectly and was always fun to see onscreen. So well done!
- Emil Blonsky/Abomination (Tim Roth)
Well, Mr Roth has come a long way from robbing banks with Honey Bunny! He’s not bad in here, but given that his character literally only exists to turn into Hulk’s opposition at the end, they really didn’t try very hard to give him much more to do than be annoyed at Banner, then Ross, then Banner again and then want to fight Hulk. Once again I think the writing failed here and they were more focused on the Bruce/Betty relationship than trying to give us a fully fleshed out person who doesn’t just want to be Stronger, Faster, Better because someone else is already Stronger, Faster, Better. To use the modern vernacular, he suffers from severe FOMO. (Sorry…)
This film honestly doesn’t seem to know what to do for most of the runtime. It’s set in Virginia, Rio de Janeiro and New York (because it’s a Marvel film!) and yet we spend almost the entire time running through the locations because either Hulk might come out or because he already has. Obviously there’s a plot that we follow but it mostly feels like the dragging feet between Hulk Smash moments. I feel like this film would have been better served coming out in Phase 2, once the writers had started really getting to grips with their style and what audiences were responding to (such as great character arcs, well developed backstories that informed character choices and actions, actually funny jokes, etc). But alas, that was not to be. And another thing…
Yes, I’m about to discuss CG that’s now 11 years old. I promise that this isn’t going to be “Look at what they can do now, this was garbage!”. So, here goes.
The CG was…. ok. Given the time, the budget and the technology available to them, they did alright with it. The thing that bugged me was that Hulk never seemed to have a definitive height. It felt (to me, but I’m willing to be proved wrong here) that Hulk was as big as he needed to be for each scene he was in. I’m convinced that the Hulk we saw in the bottling plant was smaller than the Hulk we got fighting the tanks at the University. And I would be ok with that if we saw that he changed heights/size during the fights to match his anger, but there wasn’t any of that. He simply “digs deep” and pulls the strength from somewhere (usually because Betty is in danger) but other than that nothing changes.
So like I said, I’m not ragging on the polish of the CG (which could only be so polished for back then), rather the specific way they used it.
Ok, that’s probably enough of me talking about one film for now, so let’s hand it over to our resident host and my good friend, Bubba!
I’ve seen this a few times now and I feel like I get something a little different out of it each time. Not necessarily something new, better, or worse, just different. This time around I appreciated William Hurt’s Thunderbolt Ross a little bit more than I had on previous viewings: while I’m not a big fan of Ang Lee’s Hulk, I did always prefer Sam Elliott’s version of Ross. I also appreciated all of the nods to the 70’s TV series. But I also really zoned out on practically the entire second half of the movie. CGI Hulk looks better and more wiry than Ang Lee’s Hulk, but he has such a pretty boy face that spent more time looking anguished than full of rage. Tim Roth’s Blonsky wasn’t all that great and changing the Hulk’s trigger from general anger to a specific heart rate range was just weird. But the set up was fantastic with a quick montage origin and a fantastic rooftop chase in Brazil with the horror movie initial reveal of the Hulk. And while it’s MCU’s forgotten child, it still ties into the Avengers with a nice touch of Tony Stark.
I think precisely because this is MCU’s forgotten child that actually increases its notoriety within superhero cinematic history. While they eventually brought back William Hurt, no one else from this movie went on to anything else in the MCU. Hulk has ever since been relegated to a side character, and few people even know who the director Louis Leterrier is though he did go on to direct the recently released Dark Crytal series on Netflix. It grossed $263M on a $150M budget and it’s currently the lowest grossing movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was partly made as a response to Ang Lee’s Hulk movie which was thought of as too intellectual and not enough action where this movie really ramped up the action and gave him a big one on one battle for the climactic ending. There’s also the interesting rights note as this was the last solo Hulk movie which was released by Universal Studios who I believe still currently holds the rights to release any future solo Hulk movie. Therefore the Hulk can currently only be used as a side character in someone else’s movie, which most people actually believe is where he fits the best.
Nicely said Mr Wheat, nicely said. So, let’s get right into the bright green muscle that is the big questions:
- Would I recommend this film to others?
- Does this film deserve to be on the list?
- If so, where does it appear on the list?
Well, you might know where I’m going with this. Or maybe you don’t!
- I guess? Basically I think you should only see this film if you’re going through an MCU rewatch/first watch. There’s enough here to help set the seeds for the universe, but nothing to really make this essential viewing. Basically, if I may steal from Reverend Lovejoy: “Short answer Yes with an If, long answer No with a But..”
- I’ll be honest, I don’t think so. There’s really nothing it does that hasn’t been done before, there’s better iterations of the character out there and I just can’t find a place for it in this list. Sorry die-hard fans!
- Well, as you can imagine that doesn’t really change the rankings much. However, I do now get to add another film to the possible substitutions list. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I think I’ve got one that might surprise you! Turbo Kid: An absolutely SOLID, well written, brilliantly acted (and with Michael Ironside in the cast, you know you’ve got the goods!) and such a fun ride that I would be an idiot not to throw this hat in the ring. So, here’s the updated list:
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- The Crow
- Dr Strange
- Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
- Batman: The Killing Joke
- Superman 3
- The Wild Wild World Of Batwoman
- Howard The Duck
- The Fantastic Four (1994)
- The Punisher
- Batman & Robin
- The Amazing Spider-Man
- BvS: Dawn Of Justice
Wonder Woman (replacing The Death Of The Hulk)
X-Men: The Last Stand (replacing Catwoman)
Turbo Kid (replacing The Incredible Hulk)
So that’s it! You’ve got another film to find and watch immediately (trust me, it’s worth it!) and I’ve got to get out of here before my heart reaches a random number that will probably mean something bad will have happened. Like exercise…