FRED Watch Quickie Film Review: The Incredible Hulk (2008)
I’m a Wayne Stellini and welcome to FRED Watch, where we review everything from the mainstream to the obscure. Today’s film is the underrated, The Incredible Hulk…
On the run from the military, Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) attempts to cure himself of gamma radiation poisoning that turns him into an aggressive, giant green figure dubbed the Hulk. But when Banner is captured by General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), a power-hungry soldier, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), becomes an uncontrollable creature with similar strengths.
The burden for filmmakers in bringing the Incredible Hulk to the big screen is the character’s checkered history. The beloved 1970s TV series and its three sluggish spin-off made-for-television movies are elevated with nostalgia, and Ang Lee’s 2003 overlong, melodramatic, visual spectacle remains a sore spot for fans of the comic book genre.
Linked to 2008’s Iron Man, Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk is not only far superior to any of the character’s previous big and small screen incarnations, but it is an altogether masterstroke in this sort of storytelling. What Zak Penn’s screenplay and star Edward Norton’s uncredited contributions achieve is a taut narrative that encompasses and successfully balances elements of superhero, chase, thriller, romance, and action genre tropes with confidence.
Beginning with a brave choice of surmising Bruce Banner/the Hulk’s origin in a stirring opening title sequence (and referring back to it later for those who may not have completely understood it), no time is wasted in meeting our tormented protagonist. Characters are gradually introduced as he seeks to cure his gamma ray-induced condition, but we instantly know the status of these interpersonal relationships because we have already met these key players within the first few minutes.
Furthermore, the stakes intensify as the film progresses, allowing more characters to develop as distinctive good guys and bad. But, of course, things are not always that simple and the reluctantly aggressive Banner is juxtaposed against those who elect belligerence at will. There’s also a love story at the heart of the film between Banner and his antagonist’s daughter, Elizabeth Ross, that is both tender and tragic. The success of The Incredible Hulk rides on its characters. Through Penn’s script and Leterrier’s conscious directorial choices, Norton and Liv Tyler perfectly portray a couple fighting against numerous forces to be together. It is lovely seeing their relationship unfold, so much so that we are invested in them to a degree that when the third act goes into overdrive, we believe it all.
Of course, Norton (one of the finest actors of his generation) is unsurprisingly exceptional as Bruce Banner/Hulk and Tyler is consistently wonderful, but there’s also solid turns from Tim Roth and William Hurt as our antagonists who are the driving force behind the tension of the narrative. The chase and action sequences do not disappoint and are enhanced by John Wright, Rick Shaine, and Vincent Tabaillon‘s slick editing, as well as Craig Armstrong’s score and Peter Menzies Jr.’s beautiful cinematography. Minor quip: The final scene would have been best saved for after the credits, as the one before it rounds up the narrative perfectly.
Under-performing at the box office upon release and still unappreciated today, make no mistake about it, The Incredible Hulk is a pretty incredible genre picture. 4½ / 5
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt, Lou Ferrigno [voice; cameo], Robert Downey Jr. [uncredited], Stan Lee, Michael K. Williams, Paul Soles, Rickson Gracie, Débora Nascimento, Peter Mensah, Christina Cabot, P.J. Kerr, Nicholas Rose, Martin Starr.
Director: Louis Leterrier | Writer: Zak Penn (based on Hulk by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) | Producers: Avi Arad, Gale Anne Hurd, Kevin Feige | Music: Craig Armstrong | Cinematographer: Peter Menzies Jr. | Editors: John Wright, Rick Shaine, Vincent Tabaillon
Available: DVD; Blu-ray; YouTube
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