After a failed military experiment, Dr Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) goes on the run to avoid being dissected for the information his body holds. One drop of blood spells his undoing, however, and he must return home to the woman he loves in order to save himself and the people around him from a new creation that threatens their survival.
When it was released in 2003, Ang Lee’s version of the Hulk story – imaginatively titled Hulk – was received with mixed feelings. Some thought it too long, others praised the fact that the film was attempting to deal with the character rather than just special effects. In 2008, Marvel decided to reboot the franchise with a new leading man – Edward Norton – and a new director Louis Leterrier who went on to direct Clash of the Titans.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it is through looking back at The Incredible Hulk that we can see the bad decisions that were made. First of all, Louis Leterrier went on to make Clash of the Titans, a film so badly realised that it makes Gigli looks good, and the casting of Edward Norton, Liv Tyler and Tim Roth were mistakes on the highest levels.
First off, Edward Norton. This is a man who has made a name for himself playing deeply flawed and conflicted characters, but this does not mean that he is the right choice for Bruce Banner/the Hulk. There is something rather smug about Norton – even though he is a fantastic actor – and he is at his best when he is playing characters that are slowly falling apart, but there is a fear in Bruce Banner that Norton translated as whinginess, and any strength that could have been created in the character was missing. As well as this, the incarnation of the Hulk himself looked strange when imagined with Edward Norton’s features; the pointy chin and elongated face did not suit the Hulk and left him looking odd and confused.
Liv Tyler had very little to do as Betty Ross, and didn’t really bother making much of an effort. There is something weird about her lips in this film, and it is hard to concentrate on anything other than her trout pout. The casting of Tim Roth as the villain should have been reason for fans to rejoice, but Roth plays Emil Blonsky as a one-note man obsessed with power, and the nuance and depth we are used to from Roth is lacking. Tim Blake Nelson is in there as well, being no less uninspiring than the rest of the cast.
As mentioned, the CGI for the Hulk is rather strange, and the final clash between Blonsky and the Hulk leaves more than a little to be desired. Obviously, Blonsky’s alter ego was designed to be a match for the Hulk, but he actually ends up looking like a lizard. The final fight is so dark it is hard to tell who is who, and the Hulk’s trademark green-ness is washed out. The fight is silly, but not silly enough to be enjoyable, and leaves the audience wondering how a fight so terrible could ever have been choreographed. Before the credits, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) shows up, and wants the Hulk on board with the Avengers, but Stark must not have seen the terrible set piece that just happened, or he would have allowed the Hulk to stay on the run in South America and gone on about his business.
In all, The Incredible Hulk is a badly imagined film from start to finish; the casting is off, the fight scenes boring and Norton is filled with self pity, and none of the world weary charm that made audiences root for Bruce Banner in the first place. It is obvious that marvel wanted to undo some of the damage done by Hulk, but this film just ended up damaging the franchise further.
Thank god Mark Ruffalo came along…