Director: Louis Leterrier
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson
Bruce Banner, a scientist on the run from the U.S. Government, must find a cure for the monster he turns into, whenever he loses his temper. (Source: IMDb)
After getting off to a strong start with Iron Man, the MCU was now in full swing, and the second film saw another solo outing of a popular character from the comics. Starring Edward Norton as the sometimes mild-mannered Bruce Banner, and other times giant, green ball of rage, The Hulk, this film should – on paper – have been another hit.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and as time has gone on, this film has felt less and less like it is part of the MCU. Of course, as we know now, the character was recast with Mark Ruffalo taking over from Norton, and it is Ruffalo that has appeared on screen as the Hulk since. What the films would’ve looked like with Norton instead of Ruffalo, we will never know, but this film is also notable for being the only solo outing of the Hulk.
After other (non-MCU) attempts at bringing the Hulk to the big screen failed to capture audiences, so too does this film, and whilst the recasting is of course hard to over look now, there are many other problems with this film that extend beyond that. We know as well now that the character of Rhodes in Iron Man was changed from Terrance Howard to Don Cheadle, so that isn’t really the issue; and certainly that shouldn’t be the reason why this film fails.
To start with the positives, this film isn’t badly directed, and Leterrier does an admirable job. Some of the action scenes – notably the chase scene early on in the film – are very well directed. Norton also brings a certain gravitas to the character, and as Banner in particular, he makes the best of what he has to work with. Bruce Banner is a very sympathetic character, and Norton is able to put this across really well.
The rest of the casting leaves a lot to be desired. Every interaction between General Ross (Hurt) and Emil Blonsky (Roth) feels forced, the generic script riddled with cliches and borderline embarrassing in places. Similarly, Liv Tyler is horribly miscast; her breathy and incessant cries of “Bruce” are pretty grating, and again, she suffers from a script which doesn’t make any attempt to give her an arc.
The biggest flaw of this film – as well as the weak script – is that it is just bland. The story feels so by the numbers, but yet it also makes odd character choices for the character of the Hulk – and to a lesser extent General Ross – that actually had a negative impact on the films going forward. Framing within the context of the MCU, this film is problematic; creating huge plot-holes and character inconsistencies. Over time, The Incredible Hulk has felt less and less like it is part of the rest of the series, and if it weren’t for the appearance of Tony Stark (briefly), and the reappearance of General Ross in Civil War, it would be easier to ignore.
This is possibly open for debate, and this may change in the future, but the failings of this film could also be blamed for the decision not to give the Hulk another solo movie. Even with Ruffalo now fully established in the role, the films seem to struggle to know what to do with him on his own. Perhaps the only thing that would’ve worked would’ve been a retconned origin story with Ruffalo instead of Norton, but that would have been complex and problematic in terms of continuity, and now the moment has long passed.
It is difficult to say this when a film is very much considered as part of the canon, but when you’re considering an MCU rewatch, The Incredible Hulk is one you can easily skip. And that – when you look at the quality of the rest of the films – is a real shame.
As I am planning to rewatch all of the MCU films, I will rank the films as I go and update on each review.
- Iron Man (2008) – ★★★★
- The Incredible Hulk (2008) – ★★