11 Days of Marvel: The Incredible Hulk

Welcome to Day 2 of 11 Days of Marvel, where Bill and Erin go through every sin­gle extant movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one a day! The project began here, yes­ter­day, with Iron Man, and you should prob­a­bly start there. Today brings us to:


The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Bill’s Response: “Give Me a Real Fight”

It’s often said that super­hero movies suc­ceed or fail pure­ly on the strengths of their vil­lains. I won’t say that this is always the case: I think Bane was a pret­ty good vil­lain and that The Dark Knight Rises was nev­er­the­less pret­ty crum­my. But The Incredible Hulk would be a much bet­ter movie if either of its vil­lains made any sense.

William Hurt and Tim Roth are both fan­tas­tic actors, with a his­to­ry of award-winning per­for­mances. Hurt’s turn in A History of Violence might be only five or ten min­utes long, but it makes the movie, and Tim Roth’s bit in Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite parts of a movie full of favorite parts. But nei­ther of them is given the oppor­tu­ni­ty to do very much in this movie, and Hurt squan­ders what lit­tle oppor­tu­ni­ty he is given. He man­ages to make Thunderbolt Ross entire­ly unin­ter­est­ing, yet anoth­er instance of the over­played “obsessed older mil­i­tary dude” trope which per­me­ates pop­u­lar cul­ture. He spends the whole movie impo­tent and petu­lant, shout­ing hoarse orders way too late to peo­ple who can’t hear him. Every time Betty runs off some­where, he shouts at some­one else to bring her back.

Roth does admirably with what lit­tle he’s given in the script. Although Roth did appar­ent­ly do at least some of the motion cap­ture for the Abomination’s final fight, there’s no room for sub­tle­ty or grav­i­tas in the ensu­ing slugfest. And Blonsky’s arc is weird­ly trun­cat­ed – he goes from a sol­dier who wish­es he was younger straight to a lunatic mono­ma­ni­ac in about three min­utes of screen time. A few more scenes show­cas­ing his men­tal decay along­side his phys­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion would have made his post-Abomination deci­sion to go on a ram­page through Harlem much more believ­able. As it is, the final fight exists only because it was nec­es­sary for this super­hero movie to have a final fight, not because it makes any sense for the char­ac­ter.

abomination fight

I don’t want to talk too much crap about this movie: peo­ple like to say it’s ter­ri­ble, but it’s not. Everything in Brazil is actu­al­ly great, Banner eat­ing cere­al and learn­ing Portuguese from Sesame Street, the way his shirt is soaked through with sweat while he wran­gles his makeshift cen­trifuge, the fan­tas­tic chase scene through the streets where Banner has to stop every so often and take a deep breath to avoid hulk­ing out amidst thou­sands of inno­cent peo­ple. But as soon as Bruce cross­es back into the US, the movie becomes rushed and weird, try­ing to bal­ance its utter­ly bor­ing roman­tic sub­plot with Banner’s increased under­stand­ing of the nature of the Hulk along­side what lit­tle char­ac­ter devel­op­ment they are will­ing to give Blonsky and Thunderbolt Ross. In the end, it’s all to no avail: Blonsky makes lit­tle sense, Banner is flat, the behav­ior of the Hulk remains mys­te­ri­ous, and Betty is per­haps the least inter­est­ing char­ac­ter the MCU will ever pro­duce. The MCU’s por­tray­al of women is often not great, but the other Girlfriends of Superheroes (Pepper Potts, Peggy Carter, and Jane Foster) have much more grip to them than poor Betty Ross, who seems to have only one over­rid­ing moti­va­tion: hang out with Bruce Banner at all costs, prefer­ably while wor­ried­ly whis­per­ing his name.

I wish the movie would have slowed down a lit­tle, given us more Brazil and less New York. I didn’t dis­like this as much as I did the last time I saw it, but it’s def­i­nite­ly one of the weak­er MCU films. There isn’t very much to hold on to here: the dia­logue is ser­vice­able but unmem­o­rable, the CG already looks badly dated, and the action sequences are per­fect­ly ade­quate, but not ter­ri­bly inter­est­ing. It drops a few ref­er­ences to the Super-Soldier pro­gram we’ll see later in Captain America, so it does serve to flesh out the MCU back­sto­ry more than I remem­bered. But it’s a fair­ly unre­mark­able movie. It’s not ter­ri­ble, but it’s not great, either. It’s fine, which might be the worst thing for a super­hero movie to be. Nobody liked Ben Affleck’s Daredevil, but they remem­ber it. I sus­pect this movie will be entire­ly for­got­ten except by MCU com­ple­tion­ists and Hulk devo­tees in about five years, if it hasn’t been already.

Also, Ty Burrell is in this movie for some rea­son.

Favorite Moment: The Brazilian chase scene. It shows us how much time Banner has spent here, since he knows all the hid­den alley­ways and where all the build­ings are. It shows how Blonsky is slowed down by hav­ing to work with the other agents and his own aging body, and how he com­pen­sates with greater tac­ti­cal knowl­edge. It’s prob­a­bly one of my favorite moments in the entire MCU. To be clear, every­thing in Brazil is one of my favorite bits of the whole MCU — a movie which deliv­ered on the promise of those scenes would prob­a­bly be the best one of the bunch.

Least Favorite Moment: Everything with Samuel Sterns, who only seems to exist as a trail­er for later Hulk movies that don’t exist.

Goofiest Superpower: The Hulk can appar­ent­ly clap flames out of exis­tence.

Number of Times Liv Tyler Says “Bruce” In an Insipid Manner: 8.

Bill’s Ranking:

1Iron Man

2The Incredible HulkBRUCE

Erin’s Response: “Bruce?” “Bruce?” “Bruuuuuuuce!”

Clearly, this movie was never sup­posed to have sequels. The open­ing cred­its (as seen here) give enough fod­der for at least one movie – Bruce works as a sci­en­tist, gets cocky, hurts girl­friend and girlfriend’s father, goes on the lam. If this movie had been prop­er­ly cre­at­ed for the MCU, that whole sequence of events would have mer­it­ed its own movie. In fact, Bill had to remind me that this was an MCU movie, and not just a super hero movie that came out around the same time to cap­i­tal­ize on the hype of the MCU (read: Man of Steel, Green Lantern, etc.). The tie-ins with the MCU uni­verse are so tenuous—it is clear­ly the red-headed step child of this larg­er project.

I remem­ber lik­ing this movie a lot the first time I saw it, although, of course, I have a major, abid­ing love for Edward Norton (watch The Painted Veil if you have never seen it!) which no doubt col­ors my view of it. Norton’s Banner is so much more vir­ile, more hun­gry, more sexy than Mark Ruffalo’s. Ruffalo seems tired, worn around the edges, easy to manip­u­late, par­tic­u­lar­ly by Iron Man. Norton’s Banner retains his smarts, and his dis­trust of author­i­ty seems well-founded. He is both a pro­fes­sor and a lab rat, and his polit­i­cal sen­si­bil­i­ties match these expe­ri­ences. Watching this movie, I can­not help but wish that Norton had remained involved in the series. I know that he is famous­ly dif­fi­cult to work with, but his nuance would have been wel­come in the MCU, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Avengers movies. I can­not imag­ine Norton’s Banner being duped into try­ing to cre­ate Ultron, nor do I imag­ine that his con­nec­tion with Natasha Romanoff would be so cold and sour.

That being said, this movie is much more of a train­wreck than I remem­ber. Easily more than half of Liv Tyler’s lines are just “Bruce,” and her voice and char­ac­ter are flim­sy through­out. Why is it so hard to have a bad-ass female sci­en­tist? Why isn’t she Mr. Blue, the mys­te­ri­ous sci­en­tist Banner is com­mu­ni­cat­ing with at the begin­ning of the movie? I can imag­ine much more inter­est­ing things for Betty Ross to do in this movie than say the protagonist’s name over and over in an increas­ing­ly infan­tilized voice.

Best Part: I loved the begin­ning set in Brazil. It is so rare to see South America por­trayed for any length of time in a major motion pic­ture.

Worst Part: While crum­my CG tops the list, I think the worst part is when Banner under­goes the pro­ce­dure that is sup­posed to maybe, per­haps, make him nor­mal again. It is so bor­ing and clear­ly isn’t going to work. This whole scene is a waste of 10 min­utes of screen time.

Award for the Man Acting Most Like a Woman: Perhaps my favorite (that might not be the right word) part of this movie is the Abomination’s need to be in a younger, more ath­let­ic body. Like many women, Emil Blonsky finds him­self less than a match for his cur­rent cir­cum­stances and seeks to rec­ti­fy it by any means nec­es­sary. “If I took what I had now, and put it in a body that I had ten years ago…” Bolsky whines before he is inject­ed with a serum that makes his face go funny and leads to unin­tend­ed side effects. Blonsky, unable to let go of his past glo­ries, tries to regain him­self, only to lose him­self entire­ly. Interestingly enough, this is often a story that is told about women (think Sunset Boulevard or Mommie Dearest, as writ­ten about by Amanda Stone). The fear over our aging, decrepit, and most of all unde­sir­able bod­ies is a fear that rarely is attrib­uted to men. Men are allowed to have weak bod­ies at the begin­ning of a movie, but these bod­ies are almost always made stronger (Captain America is the prime exam­ple here).

Erin’s Ranking:

1Iron Man

2The Incredible Hulk

angry hulk

And Now, A Conversation

Bill:  Quick side­bar. Do you think your thing for Edward Norton is equal to or less than my thing for Jeff Bridges?

Erin: It is dif­fer­ent. I would jump Norton’s bones in front of you and not apol­o­gize. You, how­ev­er, would just have Jeff Bridges’ babies.

Bill: Fair enough. Also, I think this movie was the sec­ond movie we ever saw on a date. The first, I think, was American Gangster. That prob­a­bly says some­thing about us.

Erin: Yes.

Bill: So, we both talked a bit about Betty Ross. I don’t real­ly know any­thing about the char­ac­ter from the comics, but I was real­ly dis­ap­point­ed with her com­plete lack of agency or, you know, char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. Even Jane Foster in Thor 2 gets off some good one-liners here and there.

Erin: I think part of the rea­son she is so bor­ing is that we never see her and Banner fall in love. This is real­ly the sec­ond half of her arc, which is fair­ly run of the mill to begin with.

Bill: That might make sense. I know a lot of peo­ple did praise this movie for not show­ing an ori­gin story (par­tic­u­lar­ly since it can sort of kind of serve as a sequel to the 2003 Hulk with Eric Bana), but I sus­pect that’s when we could have seen Betty Ross be some­thing other than just a place­hold­er.

Erin: I just wish that every­one who falls in love with the Hulk would­n’t become a sim­per­ing, pansy care­tak­er.

Bill: Heh. But I liked your point about her being Mr. Blue. I know we have talked in the past about how most of the things Erik Selvig does in theThor and Avengers movies could have eas­i­ly been replaced by Jane Foster. I would say I “won­der” why we’re appar­ent­ly so scared of show­ing women as badass sci­en­tists, but it’s not actu­al­ly a great mys­tery1. It is a shame, though.

Erin: It seems to be some sort of bad mix­ture of comic book faith­ful­ness (“we’ve got to show as many comic book char­ac­ters as we can!) with misog­y­ny. But I real­ly do think that they could take a leaf out of the “Elementary” book. Moriarty can total­ly be The Woman. In fact, the small­er cast is more inter­est­ing.

Bill: What’s real­ly weird is when they invent a new sci­en­tist out of whole cloth, like they did with Selvig. At least both Ross and Sterns are in the comics.

Erin: Wait, Selvig isn’t in the comics? THAT IS EXTRA RIDICULOUS.

Bill: I think it’s hard to write some­one falling in love with the Hulk with­out falling into tired Beauty and the Beast tropes. Solution: make him fall in love with some­one who can take him in a fight, some day. That would change up the dynam­ic entire­ly.

Erin: Indeed. But there are absolute­ly no plans for that as far as I can see.

Bill: So, in con­clu­sion: kind of a dumb movie?

Erin: Kind of a dumb movie.

Hulk Smash

That’s it for The Incredible Hulk! (And also it for Edward Norton’s involve­ment in the fran­chise, although William Hurt is com­ing back for Captain America: Civil War, appar­ent­ly). Tune in tomor­row for Iron Man 2, and feel free to com­ment below!

  1. The answer is sex­ism. []

Bill Coberly

About Bill Coberly

Bill Coberly is the founder and groundskeeper of The Ontological Geek, now that it has shifted over to archive mode. If something on the site isn't working, please shoot a DM to @ontologicalgeek on Twitter!