This review was published in January 19th, 2009
Comic books have come a long way in the past century from having cute cartoon characters, Herculean Gods on earth, gone through rough times and evolved into dark, intelligent and complex tales transforming the medium into Graphic Novels finding places on 100 best novels lists next to To Kill a Mockingbird…at least that’s what I’m hoping is the case. Even with this endless list of inspiration to dwell on characters such as the Green Lantern, Spiderman, the X-Men, and recently with Iron Man, they still somehow make the same movie with each of the characters amounting to generic storylines and a lack-luster villain. The Incredible Hulk is the latest comic book epic that we’ve all seen before and the big green monster can’t escape the cliché.
The flick starts off with Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) in a Brazilian favela working at a soda factory and hiding from Uncle Sam while trying to find a cure to his green-eyed monster. The Sam he’s hiding from is General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) who finds him and sends the dogs to hunt him down including Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) who trigger the Hulks rage and send him on the run. Banner then runs back to the university where the experiment went wrong to find Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), his old girlfriend and scientist. The two then set off to try and find a cure for the big guy before the military can start dissecting on Bruce.
First impressions were good; in a title sequence that teaches everyone what happened to the Hulk filling us in with his origin. It trusts the audience that they know what the Hulk is and doesn’t waste time giving us filler that has to be explained in the first half hour. Instead we get Banner trying to fight his inner demons with rehab and Sesame Street. Once the troops start shooting, the Hulk is in the shadows again letting us fill in the blanks of fighting his adversaries. It was like watching Jaws going after pray that we cheer for; a mysterious benevolence that lets the audience insert their own beat um up action.
Edward Norton as the Hulk
Unfortunately that’s where the interest and imagination ends. Once our hero makes it to America it falls into predictable, boring superhero action film. The main focus of the story shifts to the love interest with Betty, who is also the daughter of Thunderbolt, and there’s really nothing interesting about it. She never asks what happened to him when he disappeared and is only there to be the girl in the background screaming for her hero not to get hurt. I couldn’t help thinking of Tyler’s role in Armageddon and how it’s the same performance. Tyler is hung out to dry with the script but she just felt like a one note show.
The villain, Tim Roth, doesn’t fair much better. His only motivation is simply to be a good fighter and try to take on the Hulk. Why? There has to be some kind of deeper motivation to an adversary but it just comes off as another stock bad guy. All the characters give us nothing to hold on to with their personalities. All the events that are put in front of the characters have no suspense because you expect the big green hero to go after the bad guy and wander into the sunset for sequel possibilities.
The final point of the formula ends with an inevitable final fight between two CG creatures that come off as laughable in the end. The Hulk somehow manages to stop a chopper from exploding by clapping his hands and making the wind stops the flames. How exactly does Gamma radiation enable man to command the elements? Does the axis go into alignment when he waves goodbye?
The Hulk should never take driving lessons.
So many comic book adaptations rely too much on a generic love story for the hero to go in and save the girl, and it is always the girl that needs help for whatever reason. Romance can be used effectively in a superhero opus, Spiderman 2 for example did have this kind of generic love story to it but it was only one factor in Peter Parker’s life; he had to consider his education, how he cant make it on time to anything, and if what he does with all his efforts do any real good to society. The villain too had more interesting motivations with if he’s doing any good in society with him trying to control his inner demons; he wasn’t just someone who wants to beat the hero, he had deeper reasons for his destruction.
Overall, the movie just feels like every other cookie-cutter superhero movie that didn’t really have anything for me to take with me. The first half of the movie was promising and well done giving plenty of time to explore the Hulk universe but it left me unsatisfied wanting to know more about everyone’s favorite angry giant. If you want to know about something you can take with the creature, I’d go check out the comics or the animated films and you can give this film a skip. It is worth mentioning that there was originally a much longer version of the movie that was cut out and we got a shortened version. Did the relationship with Bruce and Betty mean more than Tyler screaming at a green screen? I’m afraid we don’t know from this movie.