Esteemed AD reader and incorrigible commenter RRA wondered why we’ve given scant attention to The Incredible Hulk and offered to fill a few column inches with his own unique take on the film. Here’s his personal perspective on a movie that may not be Oscar-bait but as solid entertainment is surely as worthy of attention as other summer movies that have promised more and delivered not nearly as much.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008) ***(out of 5)
(guest perspective by RRA)
If you’ve ever seen the early Bruce Lee flick FISTS OF FURY (aka THE BIG BOSS, aka FISTS OF GLORY), it’s a good example of exploitation action cinema: A badass fighter goes away to work a foreign job with his cousins, but his mother made him promise not to fight. He wants to honor that vow, but as his family gets harassed and beaten by the local gangster, his commitment strains but he still keeps it. But there comes a critical time where he has to break it and become a pure ass-kicking machine to save the day.
Well, that’s sorta the deal with Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) in THE INCREDIBLE HULK, five years on the run after his gamma radiation “accident,” and he’s hiding out in Brazil (or for Americans, the middle of nowhere). He works as a non-payroll janitor at a bottling factory, and takes some shit from a few of his asshole co-workers because he’s the foreign gringo worker, but he keeps his cool by using yoga and martial arts techniques. If he wanted to, he could get angry (or make his heart rate hit 200), transform into the unstoppable green “Hulk” monster and literally rip them a new asshole… but no. More than those jerks, he hates that as the Hulk he loses control, and also the big guy ruined his life with scientist Liv Tyler back home in America. Bummer.
Also, the U.S. Military, led by William Hurt, want Banner’s blood so that they could produce a whole “Hulk” Army… which Banner aint down for either. Besides the fact that its an unstable human weapon, what would America do once our enemies develop their own Hulk arsenals? Would we all get embroiled with a Hulk Cold War?
More than anything else, the dude simply wants to be left alone as he tries to create a cure for himself. There is a nice scene when a co-worker of his is getting bullied around, and Norton sees it… only to walk away. We hate that, but we understand why…then he comes back. Yeah he’s threatening his safety this side of pissing on an electric fence by helping his pal, but something must be done…
Unlike the fanboys, I respect Ang Lee’s cerebral HULK even if didn’t care for it. Hell, even their biggest reason for hating it, Lee’s comic book panel editing narrative, I actually dug. No, the reason why Lee’s HULK failed for me was that it was “a tragedy without a tragedy.” Really, The Incredible Hulk is the Marvel Comics’ own take on the Universal Studio’s movie “Monsters” like Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. You feel bad for those persecuted guys, but at the same time, its sad in that you know that they’re just too dangerous to exist. With Lee’s HULK, I never felt that connection with the hero, and since that was the dynamic that Lee had banked his movie around… nada.
With this sequel/reboot, what inspired star/uncredited scriptwriter Norton and the filmmakers is that element from the ole HULK television series from the 1970s. He’s an anti-hero who doesn’t want his superpowers, and obviously they understood this. French director Louis Leterrier delivers a competent action movie, with Leterrier’s narrative being a fusion of handheld cameras from Paul Greengrass’ BOURNE sequels, and the steady cam of Andrew Davis’ THE FUGITIVE (which was based on the TV show who’s formula the HULK show ripped off.) Leterrier’s INCREDIBLE HULK is nowhere as good as those great “chase” movies, but it‚Äôs a good aping. Trust me, there are far worse genre films to be inspired by… like those of Michael Bay.
But what I dig is the touches to the well-worn comic book action genre, of which apparently Norton should be credited for. Take that throwaway scene with Norton trying to learn Portuguese. Every other flick which has someone learning a foreign tongue usually cut a shot of him reading through a dictionary, including this one, but we see Norton compare his copy with a dubbed episode of SESAME STREET… which is sorta what I did myself back in high school for Spanish, except I did it with a dubbed edit of STAR WARS, so that’s cool.
I liked how despite his literal inner-strength, big guys like Lou Ferrigno still intimidate Norton when he is in his normal state. I even laughed at the look of Norton’s face when awakening from a Hulk transformation; he discovers that he traveled from Brazil to Guatemala within a day.
But my favorite detail was when Norton and Tyler, having good chemistry to make us buy their emotional reunion, start to have sex until he realizes that he can’t risk getting “too excited.” So not only has this guy not gotten laid in 5 years, but he probably hasn’t been able to spank the monkey either.
Maybe it‚Äôs just me, but having the ability to grow huge and smash shit up just so isn‚Äôt worth it.
Critics have slapped at Tim Roth’s villain role as being one-dimensional and an excuse for massive CGI (which it is), but I see him as like a Professional Wrestler, the top cheese killer of a promotion, or in Roth’s case, the military. He’s over the hill and wants to stay in the main event scene, i.e. kicking ass in the field, so he takes taking steroids, which for Roth was the Super Soldier serum. He’s faster, stronger, and energized more than ever, so he abuses the injections to the ass, and becomes over-aggressive and paranoid. Eventually, he becomes insane and goes all Chris Benoit on poor Harlem, even destroying the Apollo Theatre.
So by the finale, Norton is like Bruce Lee in FISTS OF FURY, having willingly become the Hulk just because he’s the only person who could defeat Roth. It’s a good nasty brutal brawl, with the awesome highlight being Hulk breaking a police car in half and using them as boxing gloves. People have groaned about the conclusion to their fight after “Hulk SMASH!!!” as being an excuse for Roth returning in a sequel, but to me it works like a Walter Hill or John Milius “tough guys” flick in that killing your enemy isn’t the goal as much as beating the shit out of him into submission and making a point that:
You may be bigger and more powerful than me, but bitch I’m still the champion.
I think what hurts for THE INCREDIBLE HULK for me is that unlike say BATMAN BEGINS or even this year’s IRON MAN, you don’t have the emotional investment with not just the hero, but the myth itself. Maybe its the fact that technically its a sequel to a movie that doesn’t exist, or that maybe the material isn’t anything more than an adventurism take on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dimension, I don’t know. Also, couldn’t William Hurt have gotten some good writing to work with instead of simply being the custodian of Sam Elliot’s moustache?
Either way, this is a solid action movie that I enjoyed, the HULK film that many people probably wanted all along. With the Robert Downey Jr. cameo in the ending, I had a thought. What if Brad Pitt does the CAPTAIN AMERICA movie, and later leads the AVENGERS in their big-screen outing? We would have ourselves a FIGHT CLUB rematch when Pitt confronts Norton.
All I can say is, “Hulk SMASH!!!”