Movie Rewind: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

I have to be honest, I haven't watched The Incredible Hulk since it's original theatrical run in 2008. Up until this rewatch, I am not sure if I would have ever returned to the film. I remember sitting in the theater and feeling a bit let down by the whole affair, especially in comparison to the critically and financially successful Iron Man that came out just a month and a half before. The movie wasn't bad, it just didn't pack the same punch that Iron Man did. The Incredible Hulk was actually the second film to feature the character in the decade. Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee released Hulk in 2003 to mixed critical reviews and a less than stellar fan reaction. The film was praised Lee's stunning style and his attempt to provide dramatic depth to the character, but ultimately there wasn't enough action for a character known for smashing. Despite the lukewarm reaction, Universal Studios still planned to move forward with a sequel set for a May 2005 release. By 2006, production on a sequel had yet to start, and Marvel Studios stepped in to finance the film with Universal serving as the distributor. With Marvel backing the project, producers Kevin Feige and Gale Ann Hurd set out to move away from Lee's dramatic, character-driven narrative to create a film that was more aligned with the comics and television series. Louis Leterrier, who initially expressed interest in Iron Man, was brought in to direct the film from a script written by Zak Penn. The script development process for The Incredible Hulk was notoriously troublesome in many aspects. Penn wrote three drafts before having to step away in 2007 to focus on another project. When Edward Norton accepted the role of Bruce Banner, he did so only on the condition he could re-write the film himself. Norton continued to work on the script well into principal photography due to time constraints with filming. Here is where things get interesting. Despite Norton's work on the script, Penn has the sole credit as a writer. Many of the changes he made to Penn's story where left on the cutting room floor by Marvel. While the studio did leave some of Norton's dialogue changes, they weren't substantial enough to warrant a writing credit. Penn was frustrated with Norton for taking credit for the script in public. Norton was frustrated with the lack of fo creative freedom Marvel allowed. For Norton, this experience played a major role in his later departure from the MCU as a whole. Much like its predecessor, The Incredible Hulk received mixed reviews. The end product largely ignores Lee's film, serving as a reboot to the franchise rather than a sequel as originally planned. While critics generally agreed that The Incredible Hulk was full of well-constructed action sequences, the film lacked a depth of narrative that felt more familiar than fresh. Fans were warmer to the film, which outperformed the low expectations many subscribed too; however, the box office for The Incredible Hulk only performed slightly better than Hulk. Overall, The Incredible Hulk is one of the least successful films the MCU has produced. Despite being the second film in the MCU's timeline, The Incredible Hulk doesn't always feel like it connects to the rest of the Infinity Saga. Had it not been for a Tony Stark cameo at the end, there was no connective tissue to the larger universe. Of course, William Hurt's General Ross has taken on a more prominent role in the MCU over the last few years, but The Incredible Hulk feels more like a stand-alone film than anything else. Plot At Culver University, Dr. Bruce Banner, a renowned physicist and the leading authority in gamma radiation, participates in an experiment as part of the government's plan to recreate a War Wold II super-soldier program. The experiment goes wrong, exposing him to massive amounts of gamma radiation. Dr. Banner subsequently turns into the Hulk, killing several people as well as injuring his girlfriend Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and her father, General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) in the aftermath. Five years after the accident, Banner works at a bottling factory in Brazil as he searches for a cure. Using encrypted internet messages, he communicates with an anonymous colleague named "Mr. Blue" who claims he will be able to help him. He is also learning yoga techniques to help him control his heartbeat. Banner's search is turned upside down when an accident at his plant causes a drop of his blood to get into a bottle which is eventually ingested, causing an elderly man to suffer gamma sickness. Using the bottle to track down Banner's location, General Ross puts together a team, led by British special operative Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), to apprehend Banner in Brazil. When confronted by Blonsky and his men, Banner tries to escape but gets cornered, forcing the Hulk to appear and defeat Blonsky's men. Blonsky, a man driven by the fight, agrees to let Ross inject him with a small amount of the serum that turned Banner into the Hulk. The serum gives him enhanced strength, speed, and agility but also begins to warp his mind and body. Meanwhile, Banner returns to Culver University to retrieve information about his failed experiment for Mr. Blue. While there, he reconnects with Betty and her new boyfriend Samson (Ty Burrell). Suspicious of Banner, Samson informs General Ross about his whereabouts, setting up a second showdown with Blonsky and the Hulk. Though better prepared to take on the Hulk, Blonsky and his men fail again. Blonsky, whose mind is beginning to falter due to the serum, confronts the Hulk, nearly resulting in his death. Banner is able to escape with Betty to New York where they meet Mr. Blue, who is cellular biologist Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson). Dr. Sterns has developed a potential antidote for his condition, though it may only reverse each individual transformation. A test of the antidote proves to be successful, preventing Banner from turning to the hulk. Of course, Dr. Sterns isn't altruistic in his pursuit to help Banner though. Dr. Sterns wants to synthesize his blood for medical applications. Bruce isn't keen on this idea as he is fearful others will use it for their own personal gain. Before Banner can convince Dr. Sterns to destroy his blood sample though, a recovered Blonsky is able to take both Betty and Banner into custody. Blonsky, wanting the strength of the Hulk, forces Dr. Sterns to inject him with some of the synthesized Hulk blood, subsequently turning him into the Abomination. As the Abomination lays waste to Harlem, Ross releases Banner to try and stop him. For the third time, Hulk faces off with the newly transformed Blonsky. The two level Harlem as they smash each other to oblivion. The Hulk is able to defeat Blonsky and escape to Canada. What Holds Up The main reason I never returned to The Incredible Hulk, aside from not being a great movie, is because it just didn't feel like it was a part of the MCU. It didn't help matters that Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton and the rest of the cast was largely forgotten until phase three, but as Marvel produced more movies, it felt like the film was the forgotten wasteland we would never visit again. What surprised me the most was the little touches added to the film that provided more connective tissue to the MCU at large then originally thought. Granted, we now have the hindsight of rewatching this movie after seeing the totality of the Infinity Saga, but I was still caught off guard by how much this felt like an MCU movie. Marvel can sometimes have issues with continuity, but they have a strong sense of world-building. No better example of that is Bruce's soda factory. Ad's for the soda brand can be seen in Ant-Man years later but helps this movie feel more part of the larger universe upon rewatch. It's a subtle reminder that these movies, though stand-alone films, do fit into a larger story even if we cannot see the direction that the story is going in. The strength of The Incredible Hulk rest in the action sequences. Director Louis Leterrier does a great job sequencing fight scenes between the Hulk and Blonsky, a feat made especially tricky by the incorporation of CGI. While it could be argued that the CGI was a little too cartoonish, Leterrier was able to create engaging action sequences. What Doesn't Hold Up Let's be honest, the movie is better than remembered but it still isn't a great movie. If I were to rank it against the other MCU films, it would come in towards the bottom if not last. The film suffers from a lot of issues, from the cast to the story. As with Terrence Howard from Iron Man, Edward Norton would later be replaced in the MCU by Mark Ruffalo. It is natural than to compare the two upon rewatching this film. One of my criticisms of The Incredible Hulk when it originally debuted was Norton's portrayal of the character. He was trying his best, but there wasn't a sense of inner conflict the character desperately needs. In contrast, Ruffalo treated the role like a Shakespearean character. I once heard him call the Hulk this generations Hamlet, a fact that clearly informed his portrayal of the character. He brought a certain pathos to the role that Norton lacked. Having watched Ruffalo over the course of the Infinity Saga, I don't know if Norton would have brought the same level inner turmoil that Ruffalo did. Likewise, the cast didn't really stand out. Tim Blake Nelson puts on a fun performance, but the rest of the cast is kind of just one note. Everyone is fine, but that does little to add to a film that needs something to help it stand out. More Tim Blake Nelson would have done the movie wonders. I will say, I have liked the performance of Hurt as he returned as General Ross in phase three of the infinity saga. His character then is rumored to be taking on an important role in the MCU moving forward, so that does make me appreciate what he was doing here more. The biggest issue with the movie though is by far the story. It does feel more like a Marvel movie than originally thought (at least on my end) and does provide more lighthearted humor than Ang Lee's film, but the movie lacks heart. It's a paint by numbers movie really that doesn't have anything new to say or offer enough wit to be enjoyable once the action sequences are over. Part of the dislike for this movie is the fact it was released right after Iron Man, a movie full of heart, wit, and great characters. Is it Worth a Rewatch If you haven't seen the movie since it originally aired, I actually would recommend watching it again. While still not great, it did offer a whole new level of appreciation for what its place in the MCU.


If you aren't and MCU fan though, maybe skip this one for now. It doesn't offer enough story for the average MCU fan to enjoy. It isn't a terrible movie, as the action sequences are fun, but there just isn't enough there throughout the rest of the movie to warrant a watch. Unless you are a huge Hulk head, in which case, please enjoy! And just like that, the first two movies of our rewatch are done. Next up is Iron Man 2. In case you missed it, check out our first rewind review of Iron Man or any of our other rewinds!


Previously On: Movie Rewind: Iron Man (2008)

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