The 2003 Hulk film is controversial among fans at best. It deals with the Hulk’s origin story and Bruce Banner’s relationship with his father David Banner. But it wasn’t thought of as that great by fans, and because of that it is easily one of the most polarising, if not the most polarising, of superhero films ever made.
Honestly I though the 2003 Hulk movie was a good movie but not a good Hulkmovie. While I understand that you obviously can’t have the Hulk go off, fight monsters and cause huge amounts of property damage all the time, it needed to have a lot more than it did. That and the fact the Hulk CGI was terrible in that movie. The Hulk looked like he was plastic, or a rather large guy in a rubber suit. Yes, I now CGI technology has made all kinds of leaps in the last ten years, but it didn’t look go then and it certainly doesn’t hold up now.
And while we need some emotional context to this, there was too much of it here. It did feel like a Hulkmovie, it felt like a particularly dark human drama with monster occasionally in it. That’s fine on its own but when I’m paying to see a movie about the Hulk, I expect the “With monster occasionally in it” to be given much more of a focus. Overall, the Ang Lee Hulk, while decent as a movie in its own right, failed if it was trying to be a Hulk movie.
Because of the mixed reactions the Hulk film got, the sequel film was made into a reboot that came out five years later (2008) as the second entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Even though it technically takes place after Iron Man 2 and before Thor). In the end, Hulk and The Incredible Hulkboth did about the same critically and finically, even though this one is thought of better.
As mentioned, this movie is a continuity reboot, but it’s also a sort-of sequel to Ang Lee’s Hulk(If very, very, very loosely and unofficially). There are elements in this film that are different to Ang Lee’s Hulk film, such as the Hulk doesn’t get larger the angrier he gets, Ross isn’t a sympathetic figure and Banner’s project was tied directly to the military, as opposed to just attracting their attention when things went crazy. But it still uses elements of the 2003 Hulk movie, as the Hulk is created in a freak lab accident, learns what he has become, fights against the military, etc. Plus, the 2003 Hulk movie also ended with Banner hiding from the government in South America, where this movie picks his story.
However, the best thing about this reboot was that the Hulk’s origin is conveyed in a three minute flashback sequence during the opening credits. When the film starts properly, its five years later and it’s your standard Hulk story with General Ross explaining any further details we need to know.
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how you should do a superhero reboot. Not by telling us the same damn story we saw ten years ago, but slightly different bits. But by telling us the essentials as quickly, and of course as clearly as possible, and giving us a story.
Anyway, Bruce Banner is portrayed by Edward Norton in a way that comes across as someone suffering from HIV or another STD. For example, the scene when Banner freaks out after he cuts himself in the Brazilian factory and has his blood contaminate some of the bottles. Then there is the fact he refuses to have sex with Betty and the fact that his fluids are deadly. Just ask Stan Lee.
Banner’s transformations into the Hulk are portrayed as incredibly painful, and his episodes as the Hulk often come back to Banner in the form of PTSD. But unlike most depictions of the Hulk, where Banner’s transformation are portrayed as being tied solely to his anger, Banner’s transformation happens any time that his heart rate goes above a certain point. This means that Banner’s transformation into the Hulk can be triggered by anything, from anger to strenuous exercise to fear to even sex.
This, if I’m honest, makes more sense for the Hulk and offers more dramatic potential than simply pissing Banner off. Anything from being pissed off, to being terrified, to acting upon certain feelings can set off the Hulk. Interestingly, unlike most portrays which just have Banner running around looking for the cure and feeling very sorry for himself, this Banner seems like one that has learnt that until if and when he does find a cure, he’s going to have to learn to live with it, again like a HIV sufferer. Because of this, Banner learns meditative breathing techniques from a martial arts master in order to suppress his transformations.
We also see the aftermath of Banner’s transformations into the Hulk more. Often Banner transforms into the Hulk, refers back at the end of the story, and then at the beginning of the next story, appears fully clothed and occasionally with enough money to get himself some food. For example, Following his transformations, Banner is often left with nothing but pants he is wearing and at one point, he was forced to beg in order to survive. Plus, whenever Banner has to buy trousers, he specifically asks for stretchy ones (Which explains why the Hulk’s trousers always stay on).
As you would expect in a Hulk adaptation, Banner is forced to stay on the run because of the government forces chasing him. A particularly memorable example is the footchase through the Brazilian location which while not really having much to do with whatever the hell genre the Hulk is meant to be in, does establish that Bruce Banner is a pretty cool and pretty capable character in his own right. Plus, it’s fun to watch.
Interestingly, one of the very last scenes of the movie, where Bruce is meditating in a cabin in the woods, when he opens his eyes, there is the bright green of the Hulk in them, combined with his knowing smirk showing that he is now in complete control. That scene, while a bit odd to watch at first, did open up huge amounts of speculation about what had just happened and what would happen next.
Overall, Edward Norton was great for this role. He’s geeky, uncomfortable in his own skin, and about as unlike an alpha male as you would expect, and a perfect opposite to his un-jolly green giant double. Shame Edward Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo, but for the brief period that he was the Hulk, he was a much better Banner than Eric Bana.
As for the Hulk himself, the Hulk CGI effects look a hell of a lot better here than they did in Ang Lee’s Hulk. Is it perfect? No, but it’s a good step in the right direction considering this time Hulk looks less like a massive fat guy in a plastic suit and more like a genuinely imposing and destructive figure.
As you would expect, the Hulk’s strength increases the angrier he gets, and while he is a destructive monster can’s quite seem to control, the reason he is able to survive his battles is not through just sheer strength, but by out-thinking his opponents and finding new ways to use his strength to over-come his problems. For example, when the Hulk tears a car in half and uses the pieces as impromptu boxing gloves, like the Steel Fists move in The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction game.
But he comes off as a noble one as well, for example, during the fight at the university, when General Ross decides to order a gunship to fire on the Hulk while his daughter is still in range, the Hulk’s first instinct is to shield Betty from the bullets until it was safe.
The only problem with the Bruce Banner and Betty Ross dynamic is Edward Norton and Liv Tyler don’t have a great onscreen chemistry. Don’t get me wrong, Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross is a decent enough character, and one very loyal to Banner, as she drives out in the rain to find him, cuts his hair, finds him clothes and willingly becomes a fugitive to help cure him. The problem is, she isn’t explored that much and, while a great character, she’s a forgettable one as well as she doesn’t really do anything particularly memorable.
Even the boyfriend she dumped for Banner, Ty Burrell’s Dr. Leonard Samson is a much more interesting character than her. And, for one with very limited screen time, is a very sympathetic character. He’s portrayed as a pretty decent bloke who’s just had the bad luck of dating Betty Ross when the love of her life walked back into town. He doesn’t hate Betty for it (He’s a psychiatrist, he’ll understand why) and he doesn’t hate Banner either, mostly because as the Hulk, he saved Betty’s life from General Ross and co. It would be nice to see him back in the next film transformed into his superhero alter ego, erm, Doc Samson.
Because of this Doctor Samson, because he’s a psychologist, claims that he knows when people are lying to him (Lie to Me joke here>) and can therefore tell that General Ross is lying to him when he says he cares about Betty, adding I never knew why she never talked about you… I do now.”
General Ross is played by William Hurt in this movie (He’s never called “Thunderbolt” in his movie), and, as previously mentioned, he’s about as sympathetic as a serial killer thanks to his obsession with the Hulk. While he tries to claim that he is well intentioned, in private Ross admits that he admires the power that the Hulk has and wants to “Cut it out” of Banner. Thus he can the Hulk’s power loose on American’s enemies despite of the huge amount of collateral damage that the Hulk creates. Hell, even the drink General Ross keeps knocking back at the end are called “The Incredible Hulk.”
That said, General Ross can’t decide if Banner’s experiment went horribly wrong or horribly right. However, he sees Bruce Banner/the Hulk as the “Property” of the USA. Furthermore I believe that General Ross never particularly liked Banner in the first place. He tells Blonsky at one point that Banner is “A scientist. He is not one of us,” further implying that Banner’s pacifism is common in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and therefore scientists aren’t to be trusted with military matters in any form.
In the end, as you would expect, Ross’s forces in the end have to team up with the Hulk to defeat the Abomination but interestingly, Ross looks just as surprised as everyone else when a military helicopter starts chasing Banner after Blonsky’s defeat, ending their brief alliance. That reaction at the end raises a lot of questions about why Ross looked so surprised, but I think Hurt himself had the best answer to this question. You see, Hurt once described Ross as being “Humiliated by Hulk’s conscience: he actually sees and recognizes that it’s more developed than his own, even though he’s a patriot and a warrior for his country. He’s sacrificed [much] for that purpose, but at the expense at times of his humanity – which he occasionally recovers.”
And let’s face it, the film does not show the US army in a particularly good light but they don’t seem to suffer any consequences from it. I mean, Ross sends a team of soldiers to into one of the world’s most densely populated neighbourhoods, a neighbourhood that also happens to be on foreign soil. Okay, fine, I’m guess it’s highly probable that governments do this all the time in the real world. (Not speaking from experience here), but then Ross goes an invades a university campus in a similar manner that you expect a general to go about taking down a terrorist training camp (Again, not speaking from experience here), with apparently only two students noticing (But that’s just university students for you. Speaking from experience here at last).
But then, while battling the Abomination, Ross basically orders everyone to fire at it indiscriminately to the point that by the end of the movie, Harlem’s probably just a smoking ruin and most of the people living there are probably dead. No wonder General Ross at the end of the film goes off to a bar to drown his sorrows. Which is where Tony Stark finds him.
That’s right Ladies and Gentlemen, in one of the most awesome fanboy pleasing ends to a comic book film ever, Robert Downey Jr. appears as Tony Stark to talk to General Ross, reprimanding him on the consequences of the super soldier project that had resulted in its prior cancellation, and tells him that they are putting together a team.
Tony Stark’s appearance was the first moment that this Marvel Cinematic Universe felt like, well, a universe, and the Avengers movie really did feel like it was a real possibly at last. Sure, Nick Fury appeared at the end of Iron Man, but Tony Stark and Nick Fury have long shared a history together. In fact, Stark appeared in Nick Fury’s first modern day/SHIELD adventure. But, outside of the Avengers, I genuinely wasn’t expecting to see him here, and that was rather exciting, even if it was only a minute long.
Two Hulk villains show up to this film, the Leader and the Abomination. I’ll get through the Leader quickly because there isn’t a lot to say about the Leader/Samuel Sterns/Mr. Blue. Tim Blake Nelson appears in this film as Samuel Sterns, who comes across as a mad scientist type but a very underdeveloped character. However, a wound of his forehead in his last scene does get infected with a genetic cocktail that he had just used to create the Abomination, thus starting his transformation into the Leader, so maybe we’ll get to see him again better developed a sequel someday. Probably.
The real villain of the piece of film however is Emil Blonsky, better known the Abomination, as played by even if he does one of the most stupidest things ever. Namely going up to the Hulk and asking “That it? Is that all you’ve got?”
That said, why he does this makes him one of the more interesting villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in my opinion.
Emil Blonsky, like in the comics, was born in Russia but, unlike the comics, spent most of his life in England, making him a Brit of the cockney sort. Mostly so that Tim Roth can use his normal cockney voice. He was a sociopathic soldier to begin with, and while he was a bit overly gung-ho, but still a relatively decent guy who is loyal to his work and his men.
But Blonsky is one of the finest soldiers in the British Military, but the years have taken their toll and he admits that he is not even close to his peak level ability before getting the first dose. But still, he is on the special black-ops team that Ross sends at the beginning of the film to capture Banner, but all he does in the end is watch the Hulk completely destroy a military division, shrug off bullets, and cause all kinds of property damage.
Because of this, he is reminded that he is not at his peak and how “If I could take everything I know now and put it in the body I had ten years ago, that would be something I wouldn’t want to face.” But he still sees the Hulk as a challenge, a worthy opponent and goes out of his way to be able to become strong enough to fight him in combat. So he undergoes a treatment made up of does of the failed super soldier serum and exposure to gamma radiation, but as he gets stronger, he gets slowly more and more power mad.
So by the time Blonsky encounters the Hulk for the second time, he’s outrunning soldiers years younger than he is, dodging blows from a vey pissed off Hulk and taking him on with a pistol and holding his own. But he’s grown cocky. He thinks that he is good enough to take on the Hulk because he’s put everything he knows now and put it into a body better than the one he had ten years earlier.
This over-confidence in his new-found abilities make him drop his weapon and advance on the Hulk to ask him if that is all he has. Which is answered by having the Hulk boot Blonsky so hard that he files backwards into a tree and breaks every single bone in his body.
This now means Blonsky has a very quick, but probably very powerful, recovery in a hospital bed fully wrapped up in bandages and casts. And it makes Blonsky think “Hey, my current knowledge in my superhuman body ain’t good enough” and because of that, he becomes more and more addicted to power. He no longer wants the body he had ten years ago, he wants the Hulk’s body. The one that’s humiliated him time and time again. Thus, he forces Stern to transform him into a Hulk-like monster.
In a way, Blonsky has fulfilled Ross’ desires; He’s cut the Hulk out of Banner and turned himself into a weapon worthy to be used against America’s enemies. Plus, while he is bigger and stronger than the Hulk (In his normal level of strength) he retains his intelligence, making him a much more focused and direct version of the Hulk’s power.
The first problem with Blonsky thought is that he can’t transform back into a normal human. The second is the constant humiliations that he has suffered under the Hulk. The third problem is the fact that Blonsky has been driven insane by the Hulk to the point that he no longer sees Hulk as worthy as his power. Let’s face it, Banner got the Hulk’s power by accident, while Blonsky has had to walk for it.
But, as I have just said, Blonsky has been driven insane by the Hulk’s power and what he has gone through to get it and has become less of a weapon of defence as Ross hoped, and more of a menace. Like a gun in the hands of a madman. It’s proven that Ross was right, the Hulk’s power is a fantastic weapon, but not one anyone other than the Hulk himself should have.
Interestingly, Blonsky’s slide into madness after taking the serum mirrors that of the 1950s Captain America. And since this movie is in the same continuity as Captain America: The First Avenger, it could be the same serum. I mean, it would explain why it was blue when everything else science-y is green in this film.
But despite how interesting I found Emil Blonsky, and how well I thought Tim Roth played him, a lot of what I have seen in these characters could probably be me over-analysing the film. You see, the script by Zak Penn and an uncredited Edward Norton does feel a little lightweight. But then again, it is a film based on a very pulpy comic book in a very pulpy film genre.
And besides, even if the script did feel a bit light-weight, the energy needed to pull this film off was there, particularly in the action scenes. And the Louis Leterrier film is beautifully filmed, particularly during the Brazil parts and the action sequences. We are given enough time to look a clear spectacular shot before we move onto the next clear spectacular shot. It’s still fast pace, but it’s not some manic Michael Bay like editing that makes me wonder if they are trying to make an art film out of a cartoony medium, or if the director has never heard of a damn tripod. Plus, The Incredible Hulk is also quite violent and gruesome at times, but what do you expect from something that is basically a monster movie?
Plus, this film does have a lot of cool references from all over Marvel mythology. Highlights include the ton of references we get to The Incredible HulkTV show, such as the ending theme to the series after Banner’s first “Hulk Moment”; or when Banner’s eyes turn green whenever he “Hulks Out.” But best of all, Luo Ferrigno, the Hulk of the series, makes a cameo as a security guard, as well as doing the voice of the Hulk.
Also of interest is the fact that we are also told that the Super Soldier Serum was created by an organisation known as Weapon Plus, which had many different programs within it, including the Weapon X program (So maybe Wolverine’s around in this continuity. If he is, I hope he’s still played by Hugo Jackman).
Really, in a lot of ways, there aren’t really that many differences in terms of content between The Incredible Hulkand Ang Lee’s Hulk. But I’m sorry Ang Lee, this film handled its subject matter fair better than you did. This film was fun both in terms of action and in terms of actually being a bit funny at time. While the 2003 Hulk film was way too arty for its own good, The Incredible Hulk gets done to business and gives fans of the character the film they wanted back in 2003 and then gives them more.
And while it’s not the best entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, it stands up successfully both as an entry in the series and as a film on its own. If you’re a Hulk fan, or a fan of any of the other Marvel Cinematic Universe films, go check it out. It’s a fantastic fun movie to watch.