Retro Review: The Incredible Hulk

Incredible Hulk

The superhero genre has evolved enormously in recent years, and there are some films that have suffered as a consequence. This particular film is an unfortunate example, resembling the product of a bygone era and doing very little else of note. And yet, one cannot bring themselves to hate the movie.

Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) – a scientist once at the forefront of research into gamma radiation – has exiled himself to Brazil, hoping to avert the detection of authorities and any stressful situations. Were he to encounter such a scenario, Bruce would transform into his huge, green alter-ego, the Hulk, giving him super-strength and near-invincibility, but robbing him of his intellect in return. Bruce’s hope is that he can find a cure for his affliction, thereby allowing him to live a normal life.

Meanwhile, in the Northern hemisphere, General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) is leading a military taskforce to capture Banner and utilise his other personality as a weapon against America’s enemies. Ross’ second-in-command, and chief enforcer, is Emil Blonksy (Tim Roth), a former marine who is infused with a serum not dissimilar to that injected into Banner many years before, enhancing his physical prowess with quite debilitating results.

Released in 2008, The Incredible Hulk is a reboot, of sorts, that eventuated just five years after Ang Lee’s Hulk, an oddity in Marvel lore that is visually distinctive, but otherwise uninteresting. Not wishing to bore audiences a second time, the producers – including Kevin Feige – took a much safer approach with their material, choosing not to do anything overly bold and courageous. Instead, the movie opts for simple blockbuster thrills – in fact, they’re a little too simplistic.

The Incredible Hulk is a superhero film where everything is done adequately, rather than exceptionally, for there are no outstanding set-pieces, no edge-of-the-seat thrills, and very little exists in the way of comedy. The most extraordinary parts are not what it does well, but rather what it fails to do well, and when that happens, it does so spectacularly – witness the bland, underwhelming villain in Tim Roth’s Blonksy, and the ungainly computer-generated imagery used to animate his monstrous alter-ego, aptly named Abomination.

While The Incredible Hulk doesn’t leave audiences with much to appreciate, it’s not a movie bereft of qualities. Edward Norton admirably performs the lead role, with a unique interpretation of Bruce Banner that is more anxious and panic-stricken than either his predecessor, Eric Bana or his successor, Mark Ruffalo. Additionally, there’s a rather sweet romance between Banner/Hulk and his ex-girlfriend Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), which has some King Kong allusions to it.

This may not be the most enthralling of blockbusters, but one thing that cannot be understated is The Incredible Hulk’s place in history, and its impact on the cinematic landscape. The film is officially considered the second instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has since become the most profitable movie franchise in history, and helped to lay the groundwork for the pictures that proceeded it – William Hurt even got to make a return as Thaddeus Ross in two future sequels.

As far as superhero blockbusters go, The Incredible Hulk can best be described as mediocre. Although it’s not a bad film or even an offensive one, there’s nothing here to warrant immediate attention, meaning it can easily be skipped without feeling guilt or shame. Still, at least it’s better than The Dark World.

2.5 stars

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