It seems strange now, but I remember seeing the advertisements for The Incredible Hulk and being intrigued by it but not overly excited, something which seems bizarre now that every Marvel Studios movie creates massive hype and excitement. Thankfully, whilst I was on the fence about going to see the film I ended up watching Iron Man two months before and was so impressed that it made my mind up for me. And I was so happy that it had.
Whilst it seems that The Incredible Hulk is, for many people, the unwanted Marvel child, the film that people feel doesn’t quite fit with everything else, or blocked out by some, I thought that the film was the best version of the Hulk that we’d had until that point; and a brilliantly entertaining film.
With the first two Marvel Studios films gently easing the audience into the universe that would one day contain wizards, alien gods, and a talking tree, and as such The Incredible Hulk felt very grounded and real, despite being about an enormous green rage monster.
The opening scenes of the film, set in Rio de Janeiro, feel incredibly real, partly thanks to actually being filmed in some of the districts of the city, and lent the whole film a sense of autheticity from the very outset. It made the film stand out and gave audiences a location that is not that often used; and I still think the film stands out visually from many other Marvel Studios entries in part because of this opening section of the movie.
The whole film has a very real feel to it, with locations being used to great effect to make the film feel recognisable, even if it’s not places you’ve necessarily been to. The favelas are instantly recognisable and distinct; Culver University feels like many a small town in America, with quiet neighbourhoods and lush green spaces; and the final confrontation in New York has a very different feel from the versions of New York that we’ll go on to see in other Marvel movies, and feels a lot more like the New York we see in the Netflix shows such as Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
One of the most interesting parts of the film, for me, is the cast. Despite only one of the cast members of The Incredible Hulk appearing in more Marvel Studios projects, William Hurt’s Thunderbolt Ross, the rest of the cast work very well.
Edward Norton is good in the role of Bruce Banner, and plays the part of the terrified loner well. He’s believable as a Bruce Banner on the run, scared of what he is and what he can do. Whilst he would eventually go on to be replaced by Mark Ruffalo in subsequent films (who was actually director Louis Leterrier’s first choice for the role) I can’t help but feel he’s slightly better as this version of Bruce Banner. He’s easily believable as a man living under the radar, keeping to himself, afraid of every shadow; yes, Ruffalo would go on to be a better Banner, but I can’t help but think he’s too charming and stands out too much to be a Bruce on the run.
Betty Ross, Bruce’s iconic love interest is played by Liv Tyler, and whilst she and Norton worked well enough on screen together I don’t think that they were given enough screen time to be believable as a couple in love, rather feeling more like old friends than lovers. This isn’t any fault of the actors, but more the script, and I can’t help but feel it something of a shame that such an important character in the Hulk mythos was never given another chance, especially with the awful shoehorning of a love story between Banner and Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The stand out performance on the film has to be Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, the ageing commando desperate to recapture the skills of his youth. Whilst still being a competent soldier you can tell that he’s not at his peak, partly thanks to the good decision not to have him physically work out for the role. His motivations to become better, to try to compete against the raw power of the Hulk is believable and compelling.
The fight sequences between Blonsky and the Hulk are some of the best too, with the fight against the serum enhanced Blonsky striking me straight away on my first viewing as a test for how Captain America could fight and move in future films. Despite this sequence being great, it’s overshadowed by the climactic battle between Hulk and the Abomination.
The fight is paced out incredibly well, and shot in such a way that it feels heavy and real, with serious strength and weight behind the combat. It showed off how good the Hulk could be in a fight against another super powered individual (something the Ang Lee Hulk did incredibly poorly). Added into this the moment Hulk yells ‘Hulk Smash’, it becomes one of the better fight sequences in the MCU.
The Incredible Hulk is far from perfect, and thanks to cast changes and characters not being used again it feels almost left out of the MCU now, but it should still be recognised as a great film that helped to set the foundations for one of the biggest film franchises of all time, something that is often given over to Iron Man alone. The Incredible Hulk helped to establish the MCU and proved that the fantastical could fit into the universe.
Are you a fan of The Incredible Hulk? Let us know what you think of the film.