Film Review: The Incredible Hulk

This is a review of the film The Incredible Hulk. There be spoilers.

With the July heat bearing down on me, I get mad. And when I get mad, I turn on the air conditioning. Sadly, Bruce Banner’s reaction is to get big and green and violent. This would make for an unfortunate life, but it makes for a pretty good summer movie experience. Unless the AC goes out in the theater.

Who is this Hulk character?

Having been a Marvel comics reader for just about my entire life, I know things about it’s characters. The Hulk is no exception. But many people don’t. Other than the horrid 80’s television show.

Fortunately, the wretched series pretty much has all the background that you need to know about the character. There’s really not much to it.

Bruce Banner, a scientist, is working on something for the military. What, exactly, varies depending on which iteration of the Hulk franchise you’re experiencing. Could be bombs, could be genetic experiments, could be ham.

In each version, something goes wrong, horribly wrong, and Banner is caught in the middle of it. He’s altered on a genetic level and becomes a big green monsterman with amazing strength. And less than amazing intelligence. The new fact of life for Banner is that whenever he gets agitated, he turns into the Hulk. He smashes stuff up, demands to be left alone, and leaps into the night. Banner reemerges somewhere, shirtless, shoeless, and disoriented.

His main enemy is the military. They do anything they can to contain him, but fail time and time again. And that’s about it. It’s pretty simple, but there’s enough room for variation that the origin can be revamped and updated repeatedly.

The Hulk works because the character is an expert blend of successful formulas.

And all of these great character aspects come through in this summer’s film.

Firstly, this is not a sequel to the 2003 Ang Lee film. From all accounts, I hear that this is a good thing. It was an odd choice for Marvel to make this their second show in the new Marvel film universe, and one that might preclude any further direct sequels due to box office performance. I think another choice of hero would have been wiser. Five years might not be far enough upwind from the stinkiness of 2003.

Moving on.

The first act was especially good. The way that they handled the origin story (something that most other comic book movies can’t escape until the 2nd feature of the franchise) was expertly done. The origin story isn’t complicated. The film wisely spends the first few reels on an exciting first act.

The story opens with Bruce living a fugitive’s life in South America, making an effort to find a cure for his condition and to control it via yoga breathing exercises (and his teacher does some crazy abdominal flexings you’ll have to see to believe). I really liked the “Days without incident” counter. It’s funny at first, when it resets to zero after the first appearance of the Hulk, but then it’s used very effectively to show passage of time.

Eventually, he’s discovered after communicating with an anonymous university scientist and the army comes down on him, flushing both Banner and the Hulk out of hiding with great chase scene through the town. It’s a very strong start.

The Hulk creature itself took a bit of getting used to. It still looked like a CG character, and I couldn’t tell if it was because it was a bad design job, or if it was because it’s still basically a human figure, and the industry still doesn’t have a finger on creating realistic, believable human characters. But I got past it after awhile.

And I really didn’t like the design of the Abomination. It reminded me too much of the stupid human/alien hybrid from Alien IV. Why does his ribcage stick out through his skin like that? Ugly. I think they should have stuck with the basic design of the comic book’s version.

Both Tim Roth and Edward Norton are well cast. Norton has an everyman quality that is cut with the ability to turn tight-faced and angry. Roth is suitably creepy in his role as Emil Blonsky. However, Liv Tyler was a big zero. She might have had little to work with in the script (I never liked the character of Betty Ross), but she’s done more with less, I think. She was great in Lord of the Rings; stinky in this show.

The action scenes were great. I really liked the skirmish on the college campus. Except for the fact that the army seemed to suffer from extremely bad planning. It played out more like a kung-fu movie, where the bad guys attack one at a time. First they shoot at him. The Hulk beats them up. Then the general summons the reinforcements from over the hill. Then the Hulk beats them up. Then the helicopters come in. The Hulk beats them up. Then Blonsky comes in. The Hulk beats him up. Visually cool, yeah. But not believable.

The climax was okay. The battle in the street was cool, but I felt the Hulk seemed a bit too weak. He never really had a big blowout moment. Even at the end, he seemed to win because the bad guy was distracted. But it does make a kind of sense. The Hulk is like a wild animal. The Abomination is a trained soldier who retained his skills and intelligence when he turned into a monster. They captured the Hulk’s fury and ferocity very well, though.

Whether they’ll come to fruition or not, plans for a sequel were made quite clear in the last few minutes of the film. Tony Stark makes an appearance, sowing the seeds for what will be likely be Captain America. And that’s cool. But the evil looking smile on Banner’s face in the final shot…that’s way out of character. He’s been a good guy the whole film, and he’s going to turn evil now? Because that’s what that smile said.

The verdict

This was a very good summer comic book movie. Much better than Iron Man. It’s worth a few bucks and a couple of hours to take in. And it’s worth it just to get a little more excited for the further development of the Marvel film universe. More like this one, please.