The Incredible Hulk presents for me a grave error in movie decision-making, because it’s got good characters and desperate performances but ends with a showdown between computer effects, not people. Like the endless misfortune of watching Transformers going at it in a virtual world, we admire the craftsmanship but fail to see where the human story is.
The argument here is that no showdown that involves a comic character like The Hulk can be visualised in any other way except through computers. This is true. So maybe it’s an unfortunate marketing strategy to pick out The Hulk as a candidate for a solo film.
What is The Hulk essentially? He is a man who morphs into a monster whenever he’s angry or, in the case of this film, excited. This idea of dual personalities dates back to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story of a bizarre scientist whose alter ego was a monstrous abomination who lived in a separate neurological time zone. Jekyll had no recollections of Hyde’s doings, and Hyde, well, he pretty much did whatever he wanted and added the price to Jekyll’s tab.
Bruce Banner and his green buddy are very much the same, except that The Hulk has bad guys to fight on a regular basis, and he’s constantly on the run from the army, who keeps firing so many bullets and missiles into the poor guy without effect that you have to wonder how the government is still funding their ammunition supply. By the end of the first onslaught any sentient individual should be able to assess the damage and arrive at the conclusion that The Hulk is impervious to virtually everything.
Leading this ceaseless battalion is General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), a seasoned soldier who makes the fatal error of thinking he has the answer to the Hulk crisis. He recruits a tyrannical mercenary named Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to track Bruce (Edward Norton) down and return him to the States (Bruce has fled to Rio de Janeiro and lives in secret in the favelas).
This sets up one of the film’s better sequences in which Ross and Blonsky corner Bruce on the streets of Rio, and Blonsky is absolutely astounded at the ginormous green hunk of mass Bruce becomes when he’s agitated. He’s a rewrite short of “I didn’t sign up for this!”
Bruce, meanwhile, desperately wants to find a cure for his gamma radiation problem and corresponds anonymously with a scientist back in the States (Tim Blake Nelson) who expresses an interest in Bruce’s case so profound that when they finally meet he resembles a geeked-out Hulk groupie at a meet-and-greet.
But Bruce is not so self-preserving. Part of the reason he wants to be cured is so that he can reunite with his old flame, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) — that’s right, daughter of the Thunderbolt Ross — who has, since Bruce’s disappearance, hooked up with the local psychiatric hero played thanklessly by Ty Burrell.
By the time the third act kicks in all the main characters have made their necessary decisions and have settled down to watch the climax unfold (no prizes for guessing if Betty throws herself at Bruce upon his return or loyally makes the Burrell character a happy man). This is where The Incredible Hulk paints itself into a corner and resorts to special effects and a thinly designed antagonist to pull itself out. Who is this Blonsky fellow? Why does he suddenly crave power so much that he’s willing to lose his humanity just to throw a few cars around the street?
The visuals are thoroughly convincing; they do a splendid job of destroying much of the surroundings. Transformers (2007) did the same thing a year earlier, and even though it obliterated more real estate per square kilometre than this film, it at least had the decency to provide us with robots that lacked any kind of personality, so that when we saw them clashing into each other in a flurry of sparks, it didn’t occur to us to care about them. The Hulk, on the other hand, when not green and smashing and giant, is actually a sweet little scientist who just wants to be normal again. His transformation is a nuisance that gets him into trouble. Considering he’s barely lucid when he’s angry, it could be argued that The Hulk, after all the deliberations have concluded, might not even be a superhero.
Best Moment | Honestly, there is little in the story or the action to deeply enjoy. Everything exists on a singular, rather monotonous plane.
Worst Moment | The blatant vacuum of chemistry between Tyler and Norton.