Well, that was a mess.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m as big a fan of the Hulk using a cop car for boxing gloves as the next nerd, but something about the second installment of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe just falls a little flat for me. Several somethings; namely the first act of this movie, most of the characters I’m supposed to care about, and the also the second act.
At the same time, The Incredible Hulk isn’t a bad film per say, and as mediocre and play-it-safe as it ultimately is, it was still better than the Ang Lee movie which preceded it, and in this sense it moved the Marvel brand further. There’s not much here to love; nothing even remotely in realm of Robert Downey Jr’s charisma, but seen in the wake of Iron Man, you could be forgiven as a Marvel fan if you were optimistic about where this was all going.
The film runs into trouble fairly quickly; Bruce Banner is in South America, and a point is made to show him learning Portuguese. This means that he has no meaningful interactions with another human being for the first half hour of the film. Instead you get a lot of this:
And it’s boring. Keep in mind that by this time, Iron Man had shown us Tony Stark at his best and worst, painting a vivid character within the span of a few scenes. The Incredible Hulk paints us a character that is isolated and lonely and painfully dull. It’s a relief on multiple levels when the monster finally shows up and starts smashing stuff. After all, no one ever attributed the word incredible to Bruce Banner.
This leads us into the second act which is tedious where the first is boring. Searching for the cure to his Hulkness, Bruce reunites with Liv Tyler, the ex-girlfriend he beat up in the opening credits. Now, as romantic leads, Edward Norton and Liv Tyler are fairly unconvincing – which is to say that I had no problem believing they were actors pretending to care about what was happening and being well-paid for their efforts. None of the spark of Pepper Potts and Tony Stark to be seen here; these guys just read the lines and cash the cheques. At one point, they have a tear-felt reunion on a bridge in the rain:
It’s just lazy, lazy film-making, and I won’t lie, I spent most of this movie wishing it were over so I could watch Iron Man 2. People hate Iron Man 2, but point an Incredible Hulk Bridge Reunion at their head and I bet they’d change their minds in a hurry. Liv Tyler even wears a white shirt in this scene because of course she fucking does.
Some of this shit is just embarrassing. But what is not embarrassing, what is in fact, awesome, is Tim Roth.
Unlike Bruce Banner, Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky has an arc. Sort of an ‘ultimate warrior/soldier of fortune’ type, Blonksy becomes obsessed with the Hulk and it’s fascinating to see him destroy his humanity in his quest to be the equal of his nemesis. Compelling, even. Unfortunately, it also amounts to roughly two minutes of screen time, so never mind. Sequel-hungry Marvel was careful to sign Tim Roth for multiple films, but it seems unlikely we’ll ever see him again – although I would have said the same for General Ross and hey, whaddaya know, he’s in the next movie, so who knows? But Marvel, who has struggled to create compelling villains, had a gem with this one.
Unfortunately, when he turns into the Abomination for the films climax, the character loses a lot of his charm. On the bright side, him and the Hulk are now having the contractually obligated computer-generated fight that we demand as fans, so it’s a wash.
The final battle means that the movie’s almost over and I think everyone was happy to have it over and done with.
Especially this guy.
So on the whole, I’m giving the Incredible Hulk a total of 3 out of a possible 7 Smashes. It happened, and people saw it happen, so we might as well learn to live with it.
Live with it, learn from it, and move on.