There’s something kind of sad that this is the only Incredible Hulk movie we’re ever likely to get. The rights situation with the character is in a weird place… while a whole lot has “come home” to Disney/Marvel after the closure of the Fox deal, a few things are still tied up elsewhere. Sony still has rights to Spider-Man stuff, even with the deal to let Marvel use Spidey. Universal still has rights to focused-films with the Hulk (as well as Namor, Abomination – the villain from this movie, Leader, and unfortunately She-Hulk).
It’s weird to think that Marvel once existed outside of Disney… but they didn’t purchase Marvel until 2009 and didn’t distribute the MCU movies until The Avengers because of prior agreements. This movie only really got made because Universal waited too long to make a sequel, so production rights went to Marvel (though Distribution stayed with Universal). Maybe that’s why this movie feels so drastically different from any of the other Marvel movies… and why it’s the weakest of the MCU films.
It was made before Iron Man had been released, and came out a month later… so there are no real connections of note between the two. The whole cinematic universe was still more idea than plan at this point. If you’re watching them in order, honestly, the only thing you need to know is in the post-credit scene. In short, this movie just feels disposable.
I wonder if this is the only real “miscast” of a hero that’s hit the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are some that have worked a bit less than others (Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, for example… he’s fine but I think it could have been better) and a lot that have simply been divine (Downey Jr., Steve Rogers as Chris Evans*, Hemsworth, Letitia Wright, etc).
*not a typo… I’m convinced that Steve Rogers is just playing Chris Evans in real life.
Part of the issue is that not only was Norton brought on as an actor, but also given creative control over the script. That meant that a whole ton of the script and story was in flux as they filmed. Supposedly, more than seventy minutes of footage didn’t make the final cut and they didn’t have a great idea of what this movie was supposed to be.
Norton is a great actor: American History X, The Illusionist, and Birdman are all fantastic films… and there are plenty more. Here, you don’t see any of that skill.
Worse, he no-showed doing any promotion for the movie, leaving to do humanitarian work instead (noble, but kind of jerk thing to everyone else in the production). He was rewriting things every day on the set as well, and I can only imagine how frustrating that would be. While there wasn’t much detail on him being a bear on this set, there are plenty of other productions where his behavior has been… notorious, at best.
His version of the Hulk is also not one that’s afraid of getting angry. I mean… he says several times that they wouldn’t like him when he’s angry, but the emotions we see are more of him being scared, him being excited, or him being apprehensive. He’s got something that tracks it to his pulse, and apparently having a pulse rate of 200 means all Hulk (which strikes me as excessively high).
Betty Ross is a huge waste in this. They make one point to call out her as a doctor, and to talk how she helped to develop the work… but she spends almost the entire thing as just a love triangle interest or a damsel in distress. She has very little to do with the overall story, she just gets her life put in danger several times.
The pacing and act structure of the movie feel somewhat disjointed. Act one is in Brazil, making me never want to drink an imported soda again (which is easy, I don’t drink soda). We also get three or four different scenes that mostly consist of Bruce Banner staring at things.
Much like Iron Man, with its overuse of montages and big circling shots, we spend a lot of time in the movie with a lingering camera. Unlike Iron Man, though, a lot of it goes unexplained, or is focusing on very underwhelming things. We see a lot of Banner looking at slides, a lot of email back and forth, and lingering shots of people in markets and squares.
Of course, it was always destined to come apart, because we need to introduce some more characters. The “bad guys” of the film, General Ross and Emil Blonsky / Abomination, show up and be incredibly stupid in trying to illegally capture a guy and effectively invade a foreign country.
Obadiah was a genius compared to Ross in this movie. How did this guy ever go on to become Secretary of State… failing up in the MCU is impressive. The whole of the movie goes on like that, with a bunch of self-inflicted wounds based on incredibly poor decisions of people in power. I mean, the whole problem later with the Abomination is basically swept under the covers, and that’s the guy the World Security Council actually want on the Avengers (and scapegoating Banner for all the stuff in Harlem).
The guy who plays Blonsky is probably the best part of the movie leading up to that… though I seriously question how their whole chain of command works in there. He’s clearly… insane, a common trope for special forces types in movies I guess. Ross is also well cast and acted, he’s just a moron.
There are some tie-ins to what Ross is doing and other elements that will go into the MCU, but nothing compared to what we got in Iron Man. S.H.I.E.L.D. is mentioned by name, but never shown. We see the Army and the FBI, but everything we know about S.H.I.E.L.D. is that they would have tried to shut this down way before it got to the point where they trashed a borough.
There’s also more incidental or pointless T&A in this movie than any other, I think. There was one scene in Iron Man, which was more odd than anything there. In Hulk, we get a woman taking a bath and throwing on a wet shirt, Norton shirtless and naked multiple times, Betty forgetting her boyfriend entirely to try and get it on with Bruce a few times… and often it was totally out of place for the story going on around it.
Speaking of Betty, that’s really another missed casting here I think. Liv Tyler is a good actress in a very limited range. She’s in one of my all-time favorite movies, That Thing You Do, and did well in the Lord of the Rings films. Here, though… she feels like all the bad comic tropes rolled together (except, thankfully, being in fridges).
She’s the doctor that did the experiments that basically created the Hulk, was shown doing the research… yet wasn’t allowed to do any of that in the movie itself. It was Samuel Sterns that instead explained all the science (and did credit her)… not Betty. She had the research, but everyone else got to do the work. She was reduced mostly to lovesick and a damsel in distress, usually just there to calm the beast.
There are little bits laid down in the movie that could come back later. Abomination is captured, not killed. Sterns gets infected with some Bannerjuice™ and is implied to be turned into the Hulk villain known as the Leader. Outside of a mention in “The Consultant” none of that ever gets touched again.
The final act is really where the whole of this thing falls apart. The last battle is just boring. Blonsky goes crazier, gets pumped full of Bannerjuice™ by morally questionable doctor guy… and then some really bad CGI fighting with hard to look past violations of the laws of physics and common sense happens.
I mean… physics in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is just nonsense. Momentum, force, and impact are things that would turn pretty much everyone to jelly if they tried it. Tony Stark’s suit is physically impossible to make it do what it does and would smush him if he tried. A Helicarrier would require such downward force to liftoff that it would basically vaporize anything for hundreds of square kilometers (the cloaking, however, is actually pretty feasible as shown).
I can look past pretty much all of that if I’m being entertained… which is why it bugs me so much here. The fights are more spectacle than anything, and not even all that interesting of one. It’s got the same “personal stakes” feel that Iron Man had… but it’s between two people that don’t know each other. Blonsky just has some macho challenge thing going on and that’s why he wants at Hulk.
The end fight also introduces a whole lot of “new” powers into the mix for everyone. Abomination’s bones are apparently hard and sharp enough to cut through Hulk’s skin… something that .50 cal machine guns and rockets couldn’t do (though he could be hurt… there are cuts on him after the Apache crash at the college). The little slap thing thing lets him create air that can apparently put out burning aircraft fuel but somehow leave the occupants inside unharmed from the same blast. Hulk Smash lets him selectively break concrete and control how the earth opens up around Abomination to trap his foot.
Things just randomly blow up during the fights in this movie like it’s edited by Michael Bay, and so many sets are full of random burning trash cans like this is one of the seventy or so Star Trek TNG episodes featuring rebels sporting mullets that don’t believe in cleaning their faces. Random slow-motion slowdowns, but not in places that do much than let them play with the camera angles, are all over the fights. Often, the focus isn’t even on the main players, but random people, soldiers, or obstacles around them.
Case in point in the end battle, where the whole helicopter crashing down, slowly. Leaking gas, sparks flying from a random spot that wouldn’t actually have power coming out of it (seriously, at the rotor connector, you somehow are running wires at the thing that spins rapidly). I mean, I don’t expect full accuracy, but much like the weather, most of the effects seem to exist only to impart emotions and reactions that aren’t shown otherwise.
The CGI in this really hasn’t aged well… which is strange, given that Iron Man before it and Iron Man 2 and Thor after it has done okay. t’s really bad in the end fight, where it’s either bad composition. There’s a point where Abomination looks into a hole in a building, and the stuff composed in there just looks like it was tossed together. We’re talking Robocop knocking off Ronnie Cox bad at points.
Side note… Abomination is naked the entire time and apparently doesn’t care that all his various bits have vanished. After it all ends, and somehow Ross just lets him go after breaking so many laws to get him at any cost. I guess he had a change of heart, or maybe was just focusing on the cover-up. Or not, based on the end credits (which here is really a pre-credits) scene that just involves him drinking a lot and not under scrutiny or arrest like you’d expect.
Really, the whole problem with the Hulk is that none of it matters. You can excise it from your watch list and it doesn’t change much. It’s referenced one time in Avengers (“Last time I was in New York I broke… Harlem”); General Ross’ involvement that was teased at the end is gone by the very next movie, Iron Man 2 and completely erased by the time Avengers rolls around. . Abomination is mentioned one time in a One Shot, “The Consultant,” and apparently he’s in a S.H.I.E.L.D. prison. General Ross comes back in Captain America: Civil War, but there is nothing ever said about his history or actions.
Of course, maybe it is important, since this movie thought that reminding us about Ang Lee’s Hulk was a good idea…
And that’s it. Betty Ross never comes up again, or the research, or any of the methods and techniques that Banner works on. Mastermind never shows up again. In short, you don’t need to know anything about this movie for any of the future references to make sense, and most of what you see in watching it has no bearing later. The movie has aged poorly in the cinematography, action, and CGI, and most of the actors in it have no further involvement in later involvement.
There’s a movie that it makes me think of in another series… Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It has a lot of the same failing: boring action that looks like it shouldn’t be, characters that have no impact in later films, bad effects and CGI, and recasts of parts (though obviously Anakin was going to be recast later). None of the movies that came later relied on what happened in the movie… you didn’t need to watch it either to enjoy what came after.
If I wasn’t trying to review all of these, I wouldn’t have watched this movie. I’ve watched it twice now to try and do this review, and both times, left it far more annoyed than any of the other movies. It’s the rare “misstep” in the Marvel universe, and the one that has the least silver lining. I can’t look forward to great character interaction like in Dark World, or fantastic banter like in Ultron. Even in the “bad” movies of the MCU I can find things that I really like, even if the overall thing is bad. All the Loki stuff in Dark World, that opening fight in Age of Ultron, Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2… here, there isn’t any of that.
Originally, I was going to call this a 1 out of 5 sort of movie… before I remembered that Batman v Superman: The Martha Adventures, was also a 1. While I don’t think that all 1-star (or 5-star, or stars inbetween) are the same… this isn’t in the same realm of bad as BvS was. I didn’t enjoy it or have fun, but there are some bits in there, and despite most of this being forgotten or disposable, you can turn off your brain and just have fun. This makes it a firm two out of five for me, and when I get around to the rankings, spoiler alert… this will be at the bottom.