Later in 2008, following in “Iron Man’s” jet, came “The Incredible Hulk.” Marvel’s next film may be the large, green-skinned elephant in the room, but it’s not a bad movie. Compared to the rest of the cinematic universe, “The Incredible Hulk” is arguably the weakest of the series, however by no fault of the cast. Rather, a boxed-in plot, seemingly-unrelated S.H.I.E.L.D. references, and an overall unconnected feel diminish the more incredible aspects of the flick.
“The Incredible Hulk” is unique as Marvel Studios’ first account of the great green rage monster, but by no means is it the first screen adaptation. There’s of course the classic TV show, and a 2003 “Hulk” movie which everyone apparently tried to repress. Considering the stigma created by the ’03 iteration, Marvel’s choice to feature this superhero was pretty ballsy. Similarly, director Louis Leterrier’s unconventional storytelling is fairly risky. In lieu of a traditional origin tale, starting from the beginning, Leterrier (probably correctly) assumes viewer familiarity with at least the premise of Dr. Bruce Banner’s (Edward Norton) Hulk saga: quite crudely, renowned scientist suffers lab accident, develops a severe anger management problem. Oh yeah, and he turns into a gargantuan green really ripped dude. In purple pants.
Our story therefore picks up with Dr. Banner tucked away in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The background is told in spurts through the opening credits. Banner works in a bottling factory, which is fitting when one considers he must bottle up his emotions constantly. After a job site accident in which his blood sneaks into a bottle of soda, General Ross (William Hurt) discovers Banner’s location. Accordingly, he deploys a team of soldiers led by British Royal Marine Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to subdue and capture Hulk. Unprepared and not fully briefed, the team lose Banner who returns to the United States in search of an antidote to keep his temper in check.
Edward Norton proves a great Banner, delivering the dichotomy between mild-mannered scientist and grumpy alter ego Hulk. Tim Roth is, not surprisingly, a chilling adversary who makes the Hulk look like the Jolly Green Giant. As the roster shows, deliberate thoughtfulness went into casting. When William Hurt marches onscreen in his regally starched military uniform and formidable facial hair, it’s clear why he was offered the part. Veteran Liv Tyler brightens the cast as Betty Ross, Banner’s love interest and the General’s daughter. This subplot adds a much appreciated element of complexity to the overall movie.
Unfortunately, the seasoned thespians and uncanny cinematic structuring struggle to combat a confused, occasionally stale, tangentially Marvel-related romp. For their part, the actors are great but the characters lack the memorable qualities set in “Iron Man.” Gen. Ross is fairly straight forward, without the depth found abundantly throughout the rest of the Marvel cosmos. The overall feel is of cookie cutter characters, though this derives from script much more than acting. Moreover, the related Marvel elements don’t gel with previous or later flicks. That’s not, however, to say they aren’t intended to integrate in the timeline. There are references to S.H.I.E.L.D., but Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) are absent. The WWII Super Soldier program, famously portrayed in the then un-released “Captain America: The First Avenger” is explained as the cause of Banner’s accident. Apparently Ross was trying to recreate the project. While glimpses and hints appear, they’re not as strong and binding as the rest of the Marvel franchise. In fact, the most interconnected scene involves Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) visiting General Ross in a post-credits scene. Still worth a watch, and much more meaningful after “Captain America,” “The Incredible Hulk” sadly isn’t the Hulk Smash hit it was intended to be. Being the least successful of Marvel Studios’ productions is a compliment though considering the competition.