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The Incredible Hulk (2008) – Movie Review

The Incredible Hulk movie poster

Beyond Believability: The Incredible Hulk

Written by: Zak Penn & Edward Norton
Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson

First, the revamp of the new Hulk franchise has some promising things going for it. A FEW. The Banner/Hulk back story is cleverly covered in the opening credits sparing the audience from a tired drama tinged rehash that we’ve been through before. There also some clever cameos by Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno and even the very dead Bill Bixby.

But the biggest problem that The Incredible Hulk must overcome however is not the military, gamma radiation or even his broken heart, but the amazingly shallow storyline he’s been stuck with.

Once again we are treated to a comic book film that demeans the intelligence of the audience by throwing together a story with such minimal character development that it drowns under an avalanche of big booms, CGI gimmickry and impotent drama.

[ad#longpost]The movie opens with Bruce Banner (Norton) on the lam in Brazil where he is working to control the beast within him. He must tread carefully because the relentless General Thaddeus Ross (Hurt) is leaving no stone unturned to find Banner. Ross is so driven to get Banner and use him as a weapon that he casts aside the feelings of his daughter Betty (Tyler) to do so.

Things get heavy when Gen. Ross calls in a super soldier named Emil Blonsky (Roth) to catch Banner. Blonsky (surprise) becomes so obsessed with getting Banner that he takes a super soldier serum (Captain America foreshadow anyone?) to give him that special edge. This of course leads to a dangerous mutant showdown wrapped around the love on the run back story of Bruce and Betty.

After hitting the ground running the film could have really taken the ball and run with it. Instead it meandered and de-evolved like the Hulk himself, wasting the terrific potential that Norton and Roth could have brought to the project.

Poor Tim Roth: he has fallen and can’t get up. Despite being cast as a sort of Eastern European Ramboesque super soldier he is stuck in a U.S. military uniform. To make it worse he mails it in and never loses his natural accent. Maybe it’s just me but I remember how great his access was in Little Odessa and was hoping for more. Sadly he mugs for the camera, goes Grr! a lot and falls further down that ladder of fame that kills careers. The script never really defines who he is and why he does what he does. His back story is nonexistent but really necessary here to understand who he is.

The really sad thing is that there was a great opportunity here for Roth to get it all back. If Roth had only played off his trademarked intensity to make something of the role. Things become just plain silly when the film becomes Cloverfield and makes a CGI Roth stomp around trashing half of Harlem, grunting all along the way.

Edward Norton plays Banner with an aura of tragedy that is not overdone. He also plays Banner as a clever man of science who is truly in awe and terror of what he can become. Norton is believable and watchable until he starts to become The Hulk. The mostly CGI transformation doesn’t come off well and Norton ends up looking like Barry Bonds. Plus after the first quarter of the movie Norton’s performance loses steam. You can tell a disastrous rewrite was in full effect. Once Norton’s Banner returns to the States he just runs out of gas and becomes disinterested.

The Not So Incredible Hulk was in trouble from day one. Technical problems aside, the film suffers from being released between two mammothly good looking comic book flicks, Iron Man and Dark Knight. It also is a film that even the most strident of comic book fans are brushing aside with a sense of malaise not seen since Daredevil. Simply put, Blankman was a better super hero film. The Incredibles was incredible. This is just heinous. Also, you know your film is in trouble when Robert Downey Jr.‘s Tony Stark cameo gets the highest pop of the entire film.

Two cups of coffee with a vodka chaser and a nap.

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  • I’ll watch it just for the Stan Lee and Robert Downey cameos. Thanks for the heads up, but I was kind of expecting this to come out badly. Dark Knight is gonna clean house, though, so I’m okay with that.

  • Your first sentence has grammatical mistakes…
    …new Hulk franchise has does have…
    don’t think ya can put “has does have” back to back
    …oh, and Hulk SMASH!!!!

  • I strongly disagree with this review. Yes, there could have been a bit more character development (50 mins of that was cut out), but the movie is much more exciting than Ang Lee’s version and definitely aimes for true fans of the 70’s tv series, as well as the comic. If this doesn’t include you, then stick to Spiderman

  • this new Incredible Hulk is a lot more fun than the first one with Eric Bana; plus Ed Norton is in his element, doing the “split personality” role

  • Incredible Hulk 2008 review: a response Critics of Hulk 2008

    Wendy, I think you are both right and wrong about this movie. To be quite frank you’ve said some quite stupid things that really don’t make sense when you look at the Hulk mythology. Stories are retold, mythologies much like in the jungian sense are archetypes, they are a repository of universal truths.
    Wendy I honestly believe what you are saying about this film has merit; however in other places your critique seems both trite, if not vacuous and perhaps as much as you accuse this film of being thoughtless in places, your criticisms strike one as both pedestrian, illogical and themselves rather brash considering the subject matter you are dealing with.

    Let’s start off with the accusation that the film is generic. How can a superhero movie be anything but generic? The super hero mythos, and particularly the Incredible Hulk mythology, is something that transcends its comic book incarnation. The Bruce Banner/ Incredible Hulk saga has appeared in various guises through out human history; as has the love story between Betty and Hulk. Why not just accuse Hulk of ripping off Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or King Kong and Hulk ripping off Tarzan and Jane. Comics are simply the retelling of stories, very basic stories that are eternal truths of the human condition; they are elaborate tropes or metaphors, allegories for moral, tragic or psychic dilemmas, and obstacles that humans face. They are very much archetypal in the Jungian sense. Just like the Lex Luther character is the re-imagining of the Faustian dilemma, Hulk is also a modern day retelling of various mythic hero’s or anti-hero’s. So to say Betty and Hulk relationship is reminiscent of King Kong is just plain stupid, have you ever read the comic; it’s been that way for much longer than this movie. Oh and Hulk smashing up New York, what the hell do you expect him to do? I really don’t understand; have you read the comic?

    So why do I say there is some merit in what you’re saying, even though I lament if not positively regret any acknowledgement of agreement. Well the reason is while TIH is very entertaining it just leaves its self open to overly critical people like your self. Basically I put this down not to the creative team behind the project, but to the people who financed it and cut out no less than 70 minutes of the back story, just so as to rush to the action scenes. The problem with this is, many who went to watch this movie don’t have a prior investment in the character, so where I could see between the poorly edited hodge podge of scenes the potential for a really sensitive, engrossing and moving portrayal of the tragedy of Banner’s lonely tormented, existence, the film itself rushes to quickly through these points for some to really grasp Bruce Banners charm. Unfortunately in the shadow of the witty, quipping Tony Stark, Bruce’s on screen persona isn’t given quite enough time to develop.

    Having said that Ed Norton is just brilliant as the tortured alter ego to the Hulk, he really taps into the pathos, simple dignity of this tragic hero. Certainly injecting far more humanity into Banner than Bana’s rather phlegmatic approach. I wish we could have seen more of this performance. Another notable, but again underdeveloped character is Tim Roths Emil Blonsky. I’ve got to be honest I loved the Hulk comic growing up, but the one thing I always thought Hulk was missing was a decent villain. A brilliant villain for me is premised on two things 1, there has to be a level to which you understand or relate to the villain’s temptation by evil or malevolence and 2, none the less you have to understand why they must be stopped. Now characters like Lex Luther or The Joker are perfect examples of such villains; one immediately recognizes Lex Luther’s quest for ultimate knowledge as inherently human, or, one can relate to the mirthful twisted mind of the joker, who is just an extreme reaction to the equally insane and theatrical vigilantism of batman. But what about Abomination? How do you relate to a guy who wants to become a big mutant freak like Emil Blonsky? The truth is you can’t, but Tim Roth puts in such a good performance that by the end you see him as both cool and by some weird perverted logic actually relate to his quest for Hulks power. I really think he is the outstanding performance in the whole ensemble.
    Liv Tyler is under used but again in this role its not so much her acting that is outstanding, than the fact that Liv actually just inhabits important aspects Betty Ross, a certain maternal care, a child like kindness which resonates with her response to the Hulk and the chemistry with Ed Norton is quite refreshing. It’s not quite as ultra quippy and Hollywood as Ironman’s main romance, which gave it a level of heart felt realism.

    William Hurt’s performance as Thunderbolt Ross has its awkward moments, but nonetheless, again he manages to pull off a rather dastardly General, and even gets a laugh or shudder at his maniacal persona. Tim Blake Nelson does his best but his role really is awfully generic and I believe the let down of the whole piece. However luckily he’s not in it that much.

    The only other criticism I have of the film is the Tony Stark cameo. It just seems like an add on, rather than a really well throughout and integral part of the plot.

    All in all this is still one of the best comic-adaptations out there; much better performances than in the spider man or X-men series, far better than Ghost rider and fantastic four, perhaps not quite as consistent as Iron Man however it even outshines in places that much lauded and perhaps overrated movie, definitely not in the league of the Matrix, Blade, Batman Begins or V for Vendetta. However it does have better action scenes than the latter two, and, if we had seen the full movie rather than the studio execs “safe version”, well who knows?

  • Some really interesting and surprising Directing. Some very aesthetically beautifull shots.

  • John Paul: Thank you for your well thought out and relatively coherent–not to mention long and search engine grabbing–content.

    But, JP–who the fuck is Wendy?

  • Funny how the big final fight took place in front of the Apollo. Hmmm, where have I heard that before? And the Tony Stark cameo was absolutely necessary, in light of the upcoming cross-over, a “singular” event indeed. Talk about juxtaposition. Are you listening, Rob? I thought you’d have figured it out by now. Unless – no surprise – you’re already in on it.