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The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Rating: **1/2 out of 4

"I’ve had missions go wrong, and seen good people go down, all because someone didn’t tell them what they were walking into. I moved on because that’s the job, and that’s what we do. But this…this is a whole new level of weird, and I don’t think I want to step away from it.” - Emil Blonsky

“You don’t deserve this power.” – Abomination

Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, and Tim Blake Nelson.

Writers: Zak Penn (and Edward Norton - Uncredited).

Director: Louis Leterrier

When treading on the heels of a great and unexpected success (Iron Man) it is almost inevitable that you would lose your footing, and this film is they very embodiment of that. This was a film that seems as if it was doomed to disappoint from the very get go. In the early scripting stages, it began as a direct sequel to Ang Lee’s 2003 think piece; Hulk, but once Marvel Studios launched as its own entity they reworked it to be a launch title for their Cinematic Universe. Described as a Re-quel, the film is designed to both work as a follow-up to Hulk (picking up right where that film left off) as well as being a soft reboot that ushers in the story media res.

The movie thrusts us into the story with Bruce Banner on the run from the military who wants his body for the U.S. government. He is hiding in Brazil trying to find a cure for himself. When all attempts fail and the government finally catches up with him, he journeys back stateside and delves into his original works re-teaming with his long, lost love. In an attempt to bring Banner down for good, General Ross pumps one of his commandos with a Super Soldier serum turning him into an Abomination that only Hulk can stop.

Problems emerge early on because the whole Re-quel thing doesn’t really work. As a sequel to Ang Lee’s film, the tonal shift to hard and heavy action with many comedic beats feels jarring and out of place. As a reboot that starts in the middle of the story, the audience is never really invited into what makes Banner tick and, thus, fails as a standalone story. What’s left is a film that exists for the sake of existing. Now, that is not to say that the film is an absolute failure. There is quite a bit in it that works

Oddly enough, the first half hour of the picture where they play up the ‘man on the run’ story angle really gels. It keeps the early parts of the film finely paced and pulls the viewer in. The score is haunting and lovely. William Hurt and Tim Roth chew up their scenes and are at the center of what makes the picture almost work. I also really dug the nods to the larger universe that Marvel was unfolding. The cameo from the Armored Avenger was a delight. I liked the visual references to Stark Industries and Nick Fury as well as the allusion to Captain America and how he ties into Banner’s science research.

Unfortunately, Banner comes off as a flat and uninteresting character. We are told repeatedly that he is a brilliant scientist, but never really see it in play to make it believable (outside of a throwaway scene early in the film). And, Edward Norton, a usually stellar actor, plays him all wrong. He is too mild mannered and even tempered. You don’t sense buried rage within him. He captured Banner’s exhaustion, but nothing else. The weak performance could be credited to the fact that he was focusing his energies to strengthen the script (and by the sounds of it, he did work hard to elevate a rather mediocre script). But the whole Hulk problem speaks to a larger issue.

In both this film and Ang Lee’s original, Banner spends all of his time and energy trying to stave off the one thing the audience has come to the movie to see. Banner actively tries to not become the Hulk and tries to remove himself from the scenarios wherein the Hulk would emerge. That’s unusual, no? Imagine if you went to a Basketball game and all the players are there and the team is ready to go, but they refuse to bring out the ball. You would be left feeling cheated, right? It’s a little like that. Audiences didn’t respond to Ang Lee’s first attempt with the character because he offered a think piece that gave you nothing to think about and Hulk only emerged a handful of times in mostly bland and uninteresting scenes. Here he works a little closer to his comic counterpart, but the lesson wasn’t really learned. He still is kept off screen except for three scenes and the payoff falls short of the goal. It could have worked if they had placed any commentary on rage that simmers within man but, alas, we are just pelted with another rendition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A Hulk Smash? No. More like a Hulk Thud.

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