Rating: 3.5 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
Everyone knows that when Bruce Banner gets angry, he transforms into the rampaging thing known as the Hulk. But in The Incredible Hulk, it doesn’t even have to be anger; any emotion sufficiently exciting is enough to cause him to change. This has led Banner to live as a recluse in Brazil, focusing on meditation and other self-discipline enhancing practices to always keep his heart rate steady and the monster inside in-check. Later, after the U.S. Army has tracked Banner down, and he’s returned to the States looking for a cure, his ex-girlfriend Betty Ross tells him that there must be some part of Banner inside the Hulk, because the Hulk seemed to know her, but Banner refuses to believe that. As far as he’s concerned, the Hulk is just a mindless beast that takes over his body, and needs to be eliminated as one would a parasite.
As Banner and Ross try to reach a doctor named Samuel Sterns who may be able to cure him, soldier Emil Blonsky begins to embrace the beast within, deliberately subjecting himself to the same experiments that created the Hulk (and, kind of, Captain America, but I digress) in order to defeat him. When they find Dr. Sterns, he doesn’t think he can remove the Hulk entirely, but he believes he can suppress the Hulk even further, clamping down each manifestation before the Hulk can fully emerge. We’re set up for an ultimate showdown between conflicting ideologies: suppressing emotions versus releasing emotions. But the final battle doesn’t involve Banner using his brain or a sense of inner peace to defeat Blonsky’s Abomination; instead he reverses course, deliberately releasing the Hulk, letting all his emotions rage out, and engaging in a monster bash in the streets of Harlem. In the end, the Hulk wins because apparently he just wanted it more, then he stops short of killing Blonsky when he sees Betty, proving Banner and the Hulk truly do share a mind. We conclude with Banner returning to his meditation, but this time to control the Hulk, not suppress him.
I shouldn’t be surprised that a Hulk movie comes out in the end as pro-Hulk, and I can see the moral argument that it’s better to learn to embrace your feelings than always bottle them up and hide them (“Serenity now, insanity later”), but Banner isn’t finally telling a mean coworker that he doesn’t appreciate his snide remarks or allowing himself to cry at a phone commercial, he is literally turning into an unstoppable force of destruction. This conclusion also muddies the Hulk vs. Abomination conflict; besides a disagreement on acceptable collateral damage, what really differentiates these guys? It’s important to note that in the movie version of the Hulk’s origin, Banner becomes the Hulk, not in a risky act of altruism, but because he chose to test a new super-soldier serum on himself.
I really appreciated the way the opening credits quickly establishes the Hulk’s origin and lets the movie get right into it, instead of spending the first hour going over the same material.
The chase scene between the Army and Banner through the favelas is very exciting and just fun to watch. Actually all the stuff in Brazil was pretty good, and the opening scenes did a good job of establishing what Banner’s life was like in that moment.
The fight scene between Hulk, the Army, and the super-soldier version of Blonsky at the college campus is great. It was nice to see Hulk vs. the Army in some place other than a desert. When the Hulk literally crushes Blonsky, it’s brutal.
It’s a shame things didn’t work out between Marvel and Edward Norton, because Norton really is a good choice for Bruce Banner (better than Mark Ruffalo, in my opinion, who is too conventionally handsome and charming).
In hindsight, all the backpedalling they needed to do in Iron Man 2 and The Consultant make it seem like a waste of time, but when it first came out the stinger with Tony Stark coming to talk to General Ross about (we assumed) the Avengers was pretty exciting.
“Don’t make me hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.”
Why bring in a character called Leonard Samson and then pretty much salt the earth? Let’s pretend this movie was a huge hit, bigger than Iron Man, can you imagine a sequel in which Ty Burrell gets super-strength and long green hair? Because of the name, you keep waiting for him to do something interesting, and he just doesn’t.
On the subject of casting, Liv Tyler is a non-entity here. I don’t want to be mean about it, but I have never found her compelling outside of music videos. Every scene between her and Edward Norton utterly fails to convince me they’re a romance worth fighting for.
The final battle, besides being thematically troublesome, is basically two not terribly convincing cartoon characters punching each other. It’s probably the least exciting action scene in the movie, and not a great way to end things.