Movie Review: The Incredible Hulk
By Matthew Huntley
June 19, 2008
At the soda factory, Bruce pricks his finger and a spot of blood falls into one of the bottles. When an old man in the United States (played by none other than Stan Lee) drinks it, he has a reaction to the gamma radiation and General Ross is able to track Banner's location. He sends in a highly trained team of soldiers, led by the Russian-born Brit, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), to grab him, which results in one of the movie's best action sequences - a foot chase through Brazil's shanty towns. This also leads to our first glimpse of the big green guy.
We see the effect Banner's transformation into the Hulk has on this poor man. After an episode, he wakes up half-naked, cold and disoriented. All he can do is beg for change on the street and start his research over again (Craig Armstrong's music theme, an obvious homage to the TV series', is a nice touch during these moments). Banner has no choice but to return to his West Virginia University, where he accidentally re-connects with Betty.
Meanwhile, Blonsky becomes envious of Banner's power and is determined to capture him. He volunteers to be a guinea pig and gets injected with a super serum, which allows him to compete against the Hulk...sort of. In the movie's second great action scene, the Hulk faces off against tanks, helicopters, sound waves and the advanced Blonsky, who can now run, jump, flip and fight with major skill. The movie's best special effects allow Tim Roth to seamlessly appear as if he's really moving this way.
Eventually, Banner and Betty flee to Manhattan to talk directly with Mr. Blue (Tim Blake Nelson). Without giving too much away, their meeting gives way to Blonsky turning into the Abomination, a gigantic beast with a pointy spine whom only the Hulk can hope to defeat.
Though The Incredible Hulk lacks the amount of character insight we'd prefer with a story this rich in humanity, it does allow us to sympathize with the tortured Banner. By the end, we're not just in it for the action and special effects but for the genuine human story. But even though it satisfies us enough, I believe it could have been greater.
It's well-known there was a lot of Incredible Hulk footage left on the cutting room floor, which we'll probably see on the DVD as either deleted scenes or part of an extended cut. Leaving this footage out allegedly started a riff between Edward Norton and Marvel, and I'm not here to argue whether or not that's true, but the footage might have made for a richer experience. Or it may have slowed the movie down. We can't say for sure.
Right now, the movie feels concise and lean, but perhaps too much so. It's always moving and stays exceptionally entertaining, and it contains strong performances, but I believe it could have been better with more moments where we get to know Banner outside of his scientist and Hulk role. Norton is an easy match for Bixby in the way he's able to make us care about him, but I wanted to know some things that don't necessarily have to do with his alter ego. Where did he grow up? Does he still have parents? What are his like and dislikes?
Fans of this uncommon superhero will surely be satisfied with The Incredible Hulk. They'll sense the dedication of the filmmakers, who wanted to do the popular Stan Lee and Jack Kirby comics justice. It's fun and exciting, but perhaps not as long-lasting as the great superhero movies. Comparing it to the recent Iron Man, it's not as funny, detailed or insightful in regards to its characters, but on an action level it feels more kinetic and the third act has a better payoff. The movie also has an open ending, suggesting it has the confidence to know it's good enough to warrant a sequel. Like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk is very good, but perhaps the next installment will be even better.