RELEASED: June 13th 2008
DISTRIBUTED BY: Universal Pictures
DIRECTED BY: Louis Leterrier
WRITTEN BY: Zak Penn
PRODUCED BY: Avi Arad, Gale Anne Hurd & Kevin Feige
MUSIC BY: Craig Armstrong
STARRING: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson & William Hurt
With the exception of one particular scene in 2012’s Avengers, the Hulk has become a very comic-book-y force of nature; sporting a brighter green skin tone and some humorous character traits. But here, in Louis Leterrier’s Incredible Hulk, we see a different side to the jade giant; a horror aspect to Bruce Banner’s monstrous alter-ego that works particularly well.
After experimenting on himself with an untested variant of the super-soldier serum, Bruce Banner goes on the run from the United States military, who seek to use his monstrous new power as a weapon. When they finally begin to catch up with Banner, assembling a new task force to bring him in and confronting him in Brazil, Bruce is forced to confront his past; returning to the U.S.A. and his former love Betty, in search of a cure.
It’s difficult analysing a film about the Hulk. What works best? Do people want an action romp, with 90 minutes of the Hulk smashing things, or do people want the Hulk to be put on the side-lines, with the focus on Bruce Banner and his struggle to contain his incredible power?
In this film, director Louis Leterrier and writer Zak Penn strive to have the best of both. As such, the majority of this film is focused squarely on Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner, as he searches for ways to overcome stress and cure his affliction. Then, at times, the Hulk will appear, partly shrouded in shadow, as if we’re watching a monster movie and not a superhero film. Even when the Hulk is seen in broad daylight, things seem more horror than action-adventure, and it’s something that works well, yet feels like it only has a finite amount of storytelling possibility.
Yes, there are decades of Hulk comic-books with a wide array of stories, but how do you convert that into a ninety minute blockbuster spectacle? While the film does tease sequel possibilities, it seems hard to imagine a follow-up where the Hulk faces off against The Leader (hinted at late in the game by a scene featuring Tim Blake Nelson’s Samuel Sterns). This could perhaps be because once the Hulk is out of the bag, so to speak, it’s hard to put him back in, and as a result, he becomes less affecting from a visual standpoint. Teasing him every now and then works well because you want to see more. But once you’ve seen him in all his glory, you can only really go downhill from there unless you change up the entire nature of the story (ie. cancel the Hulk films and just have him feature sporadically in the likes of The Avengers or Thor: Ragnarok).
For the most part, this film is definitely better than I remember it being. And this horror aspect does work well for the most part. It’s a pleasant change from what would come later in the aforementioned MCU films, but I can’t help but feel – what with those changes – it doesn’t quite fit in anymore. And not in the way that there’s a different actor playing the Hulk, but in the way that the Hulk himself; the way he acts; is also different. Here, he’s a being of rage, more violent and brutal. Yet in later appearances, he’s more comical, more lumbering and slow. Destructive, yes, but not as primal as this original Hulk.
This primal, savage being works especially well in conjunction with Norton’s portrayal of Banner. There are some contrived bits of dialogue, but Norton conveys a believable fear at the destructive power he possess, that makes him interesting to watch as he tries to survive while living under he radar. However, his portrayal, and the character’s story, seems to take a bit of a nose-dive when he’s reunited with Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross. Beyond one kick-ass moment, Tyler’s character seems unnecessarily meek and soft; which, while it does contrast nicely with the Hulk’s monstrous nature, seems a bit plain and same-old, same-old. Similarly, while fun, Tim Blake Nelson’s character seems and sounds like every ‘mad scientist’-esque character you’ve ever seen in a movie, which perhaps suggests that Zak Penn’s triumphs in this film come more from writing horror than science-fiction blockbuster (which is amusing, considering nearly all of his feature film works are science-fiction and oftentimes blockbusters).
I don’t know. It’s a somewhat enjoyable film, but one that (like Iron Man before it) gives up it’s unique look and feel for something more mainstream as the run-time goes on, and as a result, feels somewhat forgettable.
All-in-all, I give it: