Countdown to Age of Ultron: The Incredible Hulk Revisited

One movie down, nine more to go. Time to wade through some mediocrity before we get to the good stuff! Let’s check out The Incredible Hulk, which is definitely not the strongest Marvel movie there is.

 WHAT IS THIS MOVIE???!!!!

WHAT IS THIS MOVIE???!!!!

RG: I have only seen The Incredible Hulk once, and it was opening night in theatres.

I've actually seen the Ang Lee one more, but those were desperate times. This movie came out mere weeks after Iron Man, and before The Dark Knight. For those reasons, I think it was largely forgotten even at the time. Normally this movie would have been a pretty huge release. I remember liking it at the time, but then The Dark Knight hit theatres and I never really thought about poor Hulk again. I also got married in there somewhere.

DH: Yeah, being sandwiched in between Iron Man and The Dark Knight must have really sucked. But if the movie had turned out better than it did, I think it would be remembered better.

RG: I think it's weird that they made this a sequel to the Ang Lee movie, but I'm thankful we didn't have to sit through another origin story.

DH: Is it a sequel to the Ang Lee movie, though? I think the opening credits make it plain that it’s some kind of weird hybrid between the comics and the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV show. They certainly hit you over the head with enough references to that series in the first hour--Bixby in The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father on TV, the sad piano music from the end of every episode, Ferrigno’s cameo as a security guard, and the whole “You wouldn’t like me when I’m...hungry” bit. It’s a strange way to go, for sure, and I think the way Hulk was used in The Avengers (where he also seemed to be an updated version of the TV incarnation) definitely showed that this movie was not really necessary. And yet, here it is.

 "Look, I don't need this shit. I'm Ed Norton."

"Look, I don't need this shit. I'm Ed Norton."

RG: My favourite thing about this movie is the intensity of feeling your own anger levels rise with Banner's. I love the anger management training sessions, where the teacher is slapping Bruce in the face. I love the tension throughout the movie of not knowing what's going to make him angry enough to Hulk out. He just keeps getting put in situations that are stressful and rage-inducing. I really love the heart rate monitor he wears. It's a great idea.

I actually said ‘no’ to Hulk a couple of times and it was only over a few conversations with Louis and with the Marvel guys when I really started to trust they were at the stage of not just looking for an actor but really looking for an author, in a way. I thought it was a rare opportunity.
— Ed Norton, The Daily Record, 2008

I think this movie does a great job of getting to the root of what makes Banner/Hulk an interesting character. Unlike the other Avengers, he is pure tragedy. All he wants is to be cured. Contrast that against Thor, who really, really loves being Thor. Banner lives in constant fear of himself and that is really heavy.

 "Maybe I can somehow transform myself into Mark Ruffalo?"

"Maybe I can somehow transform myself into Mark Ruffalo?"

I think Ed Norton is a great Bruce Banner. I was really disappointed at the time when I learned that he wouldn't be in the Avengers movie, but we all love Mark Ruffalo. It seems like playing Bruce Banner/Hulk in the Avengers movies is a pretty sweet deal. No action scenes, just crack a few jokes, look all disheveled, and then a motion capture actor and voice actor does all the work for you. But I guess Ed Norton hates money. One man's trash is Mark Ruffalo's treasure.

DH: I guess we’ll never know, but I feel like Ruffalo is a better ensemble player than Norton would have been. They definitely have different approaches, and Norton’s is closer to the Banner from the comics, but Ruffalo’s take is much more charming and idiosyncratic. Norton’s Banner is much more in the fugitive loner vein, and I don’t know how well that would have worked in The Avengers.

When people are asking me, because Mark Ruffalo is in this one, who’s the better of the Bruce Banners — both are great; both are fantastic — but I actually wanted to cast Mark Ruffalo as Hulk and Marvel was like ‘No, you should get Edward Norton because he’s more famous.’ So you see what I am saying? They are the ones who wanted Edward — and I was thrilled to meet him and work with him. I wanted Mark Ruffalo. And they were like, ‘No, no, he just does smart, intellectual movies.’
— Louis Leterrier, The Huffington Post, 2013

RG: Ruffalo was a great get for the franchise. Besides generally being the best person on Earth, he is a huge promoter of the movies, seems to really embrace the fans and loves being the Hulk. I doubt Ed Norton would have been as enthusiastic. Well, I guess we know he wouldn't because he didn't do anything to promote this movie because he was all angry at the studio for cutting parts of his script. Yeah, he basically re-wrote the whole script uncredited.

But in this film, Norton does a great job being funny and sad and noble. I actually think Mark Ruffalo would have been a weird casting choice for this particular movie. 

Norton’s small frame works well as a contrast between Banner and Hulk. He really looks like Bruce Banner from the comics quite a bit.

 Full Bruce Banner mode.

Full Bruce Banner mode.

When I arrived in Hollywood, [“Incredible Hulk”] was my first Hollywood movie and I really wanted to work with Marvel and I really wanted to do that movie with American actors. And then they were like, “Oh, welcome, welcome. Great news, Louis. We just got a release date. It’s a year from now.” I’m like, “Fantastic, we have to go. Where’s the script?” They said, ‘Actually, that’s the problem, we don’t have a script.’
— Louis Leterrier, The Huffington Post, 2013

Tim Roth was well cast. Liv Tyler is also good as LITERALLY THE ONLY WOMAN WITH A SPEAKING PART IN THIS MOVIE.

DH: Tim Roth was fine, but...why doesn’t he speak with a Russian accent? His name is Emil Blonsky, for crying out loud!

RG: "Born in Russia, raised in England." Ok, movie. Whatever.

DH: And as for the female presence in this movie, I think you’re forgetting all about the key roles of “sexy Brazillian factory worker” and “subordinate who hands General Ross a file or whatever”.

RG: "Anonymous fat lady whose ass is used to measure pants for Hulk levels of stretchiness." Ugh. That joke.

Hey, Martin Starr cameo in this movie!!! Did not remember that.

 Yeah!

Yeah!

DH: Me neither! Plus there’s that weird Michael Kenneth Williams cameo during the final battle. I think maybe they were both just big Hulk fans?

 "I was crying when I met you, now I'm trying to forget you..."

"I was crying when I met you, now I'm trying to forget you..."

RG: It's kind of weird that Betty Ross is written right out of the Hulk's story after this movie. They really love each other. I actually think this is the strongest romantic pair in any of the Marvel movies.

DH: Moreso than Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter? I’m honestly surprised to hear you say that!

RG: No, you’re right. And actually, Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes probably takes the top spot. BUT...Betty is willing to overlook a LOT with Bruce. I mean, falling in love with Captain frigging America is no chore. Betty’s love is FIERCE.

 "Your love is sweet misery..."

"Your love is sweet misery..."

The cave scene with Hulk and Betty is very funny and sweet and has a nice King Kong vibe. And I love everything about the hotel room scenes, especially the aborted sex scene. That heart rate monitor, again, is a great idea. Their relationship is so strong whether he’s Banner or Hulk.

I like how Bruce Banner is completely drained and sick and out of it for quite a while after he stops being the Hulk. It makes for some nice hurt/comfort relationship storytelling.

 "I just wanna stay with you In this moment forever, forever and ever..."

"I just wanna stay with you In this moment forever, forever and ever..."

RG: There is some pretty lazy filmmaking in this movie, though. The chase scene in Brazil seems to go back and forth from day to night, and there is at least one scene where it’s pouring rain but clearly very sunny.

I don't care for the Hulk design in this movie. They really nail it in The Avengers. In this movie he is too veiny, a weird colour, and not big enough. The small head is weird too.

DH: He’s way over-rendered in this movie. He looks like a Rob Liefeld drawing. In the Ang Lee movie, he looks way too smooth and not detailed enough, and in this movie it’s like even his veins have veins. The FX guys behind The Avengers really did nail it, I think in part due to their use of motion capture technology.

 "Hulk is not much taller than Tim Roth."

"Hulk is not much taller than Tim Roth."

RG: You would think General Ross would see some value in the fact that his daughter seems to be able to control the Hulk. Like, wouldn't that be of use?

I like that General Ross basically turned Tim Roth into Captain America with a few injections. Is General Ross a scientist/doctor?

DH: It’s a nice bit of foreshadowing for what we would see with Cap, for sure, in terms of how he would fight.

I’ve always been very envious of the guys who got to do these kinds of movies — ya know, I’ve always wanted to do one of these Marvel characters; I take my kids to see them all the time. And, finally, they came to me and I was thrilled to do it. So I decided to have fun from beginning to end, and they gave me the room to really invent and play with this character, and to make him a really juicy bad guy. Every day at the office was a good one for me.
— Tim Roth, Moviefone, 2008

RG: Tim Blake Nelson, I'm sorry to say, is playing a very unwelcome character in this movie. His character is something that you would normally find in the worst super hero/sci-fi movies. Just annoying and delivering clunky lines as comic relief that really isn't funny. Lines like: "The mixture could be...an abomination."  Clunk.

DH: Definitely a weird bit of casting, but I am disappointed that we’ll probably never get to see him become The Leader, after they went through all the awkward motions of setting it up.

 No.

No.

RG: The final fight between Hulk and Abomination is actually a lot like the final fight in Iron Man. I never understand in any of these movies why the army keep shooting at Hulk when it clearly doesn't do a damn thing, and it only causes more destruction.

DH: I really hate the design of the Abomination in this movie. Why did they jettison a perfectly cool monster design for the weird, generic thing they came up with here? Why even bother making him the Abomination then? And his motivations are basically non-existent beyond “He took a bunch of drugs because he wants to be more of a badass soldier, and he went crazy”. A good, charismatic villain really elevates one of these movies--look at Loki in The Avengers, or the Red Skull in Captain America, for example--and this movie is sorely lacking in that department.

There are things I like about the final battle, but for the most part it feels like watching someone else play a video game--you’re just looking at a bunch of pixels moving across the screen. It’s all in how it’s directed, I guess, which is why you never hear anyone talking about what a great contribution Louis Letterier made to this series of films.

RG: The daylight fight scene in the field near the university was really dull and generic. too. The wide open setting made it pretty low stakes.

I do love the moment in the final fight when a Abomination returns for another round and Hulk looks so sad about it. That was probably an Ed Norton addition to the script.

 "Hulk is saddest there is."

"Hulk is saddest there is."

I think I get why they aren't making a new Hulk movie with Ruffalo. The storytelling is just very limited. It's mostly "Will this turn him into the Hulk?" "Will this cure work?" I know people want a Planet Hulk movie but I don't know if I agree with that. For now I like the Hulk as part of a team. Plus, who wants to see Tony Stark shoot Hulk into space? They're science bros!

DH: I think the only way a Planet Hulk movie would work at this point is if they had him meet up with the Guardians of the Galaxy. That could be interesting.

RG: That would be pretty great. And The Inhumans on his way back to Earth. And maybe we can see that awesome fight between Hulk and Black Bolt on film. I guess anything is possible these days. I hope they make that movie and then make a Hercules movie that comes out the same week.

 "Roll camera on Hulk! Is magic hour!"

"Roll camera on Hulk! Is magic hour!"

The Incredible Hulk really doesn't factor into the large Marvel Movieverse. You could definitely skip this one and not miss any of the story. The information they give you about Hulk at the beginning of The Avengers is really all you need to know. Nothing that happens in this movie ever comes up again. Even the tag at the end of the movie with Tony Stark doesn't really make any sense in the context of the movies that come later. We never see General Ross again. Why would Tony be telling General Ross about the Avengers? He tells him, re: Abomination, "That super soldier program was put on ice for a reason." Obviously it's supposed to get the film-going audience all riled up about Captain America (mission accomplished, as I recall), but the whole encounter is weird.

 Cue card readin'

Cue card readin'

DH: All the teases for what would eventually become known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe are pretty vague and nonsensical, up until Thor’s hammer appears at the end of Iron Man 2. By that point they knew where they were going with the upcoming slate of movies since they were all being written or filmed, but before that it was all “here’s a guy you’ve seen, talking about a thing you’ve heard about”, and that’s about as specific as they could get. Now the teases are way more specific and substantial. Like everything else at this early stage of the MCU, it’s all very hastily sketched in. But really, these guys were pioneering a new type of long-form storytelling--a shared universe of smaller movie franchises that all feed into one mega-franchise--and they pretty much had to make it up as they went. On the other hand, though, it was pretty cool to see RDJ as Tony Stark on the big screen again, so soon after his first appearance as the character.

There are always elements of this movie that I kind of enjoy when I revisit it, but it is a weird anomaly in this whole series. It feels less like a movie and more like a placeholder or something. The pacing is very strange. It’s like watching a few episodes of a TV series, plucked from halfway through a season. It doesn’t really connect to the previous movie, and the connections it does try to make to what comes after it don’t really pan out.

RG: Also, as I mentioned, Betty Ross never even gets mentioned after this movie, and most of this movie was about their relationship. Maybe when they found out Ed Norton wasn't going to continue on as Banner they just dropped all references to this movie. I really did forget what a great love story this movie is.

 I don't wanna miss a thing.

I don't wanna miss a thing.

DH: Another bit of fanboy comic whining to get out of the way--it kinda bums me out that none of the Hulk movies have Rick Jones in them. He’s so central to the Hulk’s origin in the comics, and so important to the Avengers, and Captain America, and Captain Marvel, that it seems weird to me that he has no counterpart in the MCU. But, the whole audience surrogate character that he represents is usually the most tedious element of a lot of these kind of movies (like the ordinary guy they introduced for the first Hellboy movie, and immediately abandoned by the time they did another one). But, y’know, it would have been nice. Maybe he can get his own Netflix show?

RG: A Rick Jones Netflix series would be a great idea.

 "This download is taking forever. Come on, seed, people!"

"This download is taking forever. Come on, seed, people!"

Alright, that’s it for Hulk. I will add that I checked out some of the 70 MINUTES of deleted scenes from this movie, including the alternate opening scene of Banner trying to kill himself in the Arctic. Not sad it was cut. And the Captain America Easter egg is bullshit.

Up next, Dave and I suffer through Iron Man 2!