While The Hulk is arguably one of Marvel’s most recognizable characters the big green lug hasn’t had a solo feature worthy of praise. The 2003 Hulk, directed by Ang Lee, was bloated, suffered from a leaden pace and perhaps took itself too seriously. “The Incredible Hulk,” (2008) starring Edward Norton, suffers from problems which are the polar opposite.
“The Incredible Hulk” was once a passion project for Edward Norton, supposedly penned as a love letter to the TV series, which starred Bill Bixby as Dr. Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the emerald giant. The series focused on Banner’s struggle to survive in the modern world while he was cursed with his affliction. Bixby’s Banner was lonely, both before his transformation and after. The film certainly falls short of the success that the series once enjoyed because it only commits to the idea of a solitary Bruce Banner part of the time.
It’s pretty evident that Norton’s vision for “The Incredible Hulk” ran afoul of the studio’s perception of what a movie about the Hulk should be. This film devolves into a special effects monster movie. Normally I’d be fine with that, but the visual effects, already mediocre when it was released, have aged tremendously in a short time. The Hulk does look more menacing, taller and more muscular than Ang Lee’s version, which looks like a giant green toddler mid-tantrum. However, the animation makes him look less like a superhero and more like a cartoon character.
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The movie does have a pretty solid cast. Edward Norton, Tim Roth and Will Hurt make for a strong acting triumvirate. However, the script doesn’t give these veteran actors much to do.
Norton does a pretty good job as a Banner that has learned how to effectively hide. He’s careful to blend in, working tirelessly to research his condition, while being mindful of his surroundings. The time the film spends in the favela is no doubt the best part of the film, but it unravels after that.
What we get afterwards is a sort of boilerplate buddy cop film starring Norton and Liv Tyler. There’s too much comedy happening in a story that’s supposed to be about a guy who’s haunted by the monster of Id lurking just beneath the skin. Add to that a villain who’s never really a threat and it gets lost in the shuffle as another mediocre superhero flick. By the time the final action sequence, featuring The Hulk versus a newly christened Abomination, rolls around, your brain just kind of checks itself out of the movie.
I’ll come clean and say that I did find this film enjoyable when I first saw it in theaters. Subsequent viewings have revealed a whole host of problems. Chief among these are mediocre special effects, a plot which starts off with promise yet abases itself to the lowest common denominator and undeveloped characters.
Marvel fanboys would have us believe that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one the greatest artistic achievements of mankind, on par with the Sistine Chapel or the works of Salvador Dali. “The Incredible Hulk” is conveniently left out of these discussions. Upon seeing this film again, I understand why.