Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Approaching Infinity Part Two: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Episode 2 of the Marvel soap opera series is barely recognised as part of the MCU at all, from the way people talk about it. If Iron Man was a weird opening gambit because no one really cared all that much about the character, Hulk should've been an easy shot at an open goal by comparison. The old TV series is still thought of disproportionately fondly, given how simplistic it looks to a modern eye. In fact, I'd probably argue that the key weaknesses of The Incredible Hulk grow out of the inspiration it draws from the Bill Bixby show. From the replication of the TV classic origin sequence to the light slicing across Ed Norton's green-lensed eyes in the first transformation sequence - not to mention the Ferrigno cameo part-way through - the first wall The Incredible Hulk smashes is the fourth wall.

All that said, I really like this film.

Norton plays his neurotic little heart out as Banner, William Hurt does a damn good job bringing a second dimension to a furiously one-note character and Liv Tyler makes the brave decision to act exclusively through motions of her upper lip. It basically hangs together pretty well, all things considered.

The Villain
For the sake of argument, I'm going to call Tim Roth's Emil Blonsky/The Abomination the villain of this film. There's definitely a case for Ross to be made, but I think it's pretty clear where the main threat's supposed to come from.

If Obadiah Stane's motivations were a little tough to pin down at times, they were clear as day compared to Blonsky's. He's a weathered career soldier given a physical boost by the military. He instantly becomes addicted to... well, either the power or the face-punching and goes about ramping up his treatments any way possible. By the end, he's totally batshit and just wants to fight the Hulk, Ross and anyone else with literally no end game in sight. Suppose everything had gone right for him and he killed both the Hulk and the army. What was his next move? He's huge, angry and - let's not dodge the subject - naked on the streets of a major US city. Does he think he's still getting paid for any of this? Is he planning on getting more mercenary work, or will he be changing career? Does he even know where his next protein shake's coming from?

Oh, yeah - chalk this one up alongside Iron Man in the Evil Shadow column as well.

The Story
This is a Louis Leterrier film, so the story is necessarily about people doing parkour. Like, virtually everyone. Banner does parkour, the army does parkour, Blonsky does major parkour - even the Hulk does parkour.

Somewhere in the middle of the parkour, basically the only story that's ever been told in live action about the Hulk gets told again. Banner's trying to hide from the army and cure himself. The army's trying to hunt him down and weaponise him and eventually Hulk has to save everyone from something worse than himself. It's serviceable.

The Universe
There are a lot of orphaned ideas in this one, so as a world-building exercise it's kind of a dud. Betty Ross vanishes after this moment. The Abomination never shows up again, despite the fact that he's definitely still alive and the authorities clearly have absolutely no way of restraining or containing him. The Leader's here, kinda - but again we'll probably never be picking that thread up again. I guess the major lasting legacy of the film is the revelation in the final moments that Banner can now transform more or less at will. Of course, it also muddies the waters a bit by linking the Hulk's emergence strictly to Banner's heart rate, rather than specific emotional states. Meh...

The Stinger
Not much to say about this, really. It's pretty much a repeat of the one from Iron Man, but with Tony Stark playing Nick Fury and General Ross playing Tony Stark. Good to keep the ball rolling, though.

The Take-Away
I think The Incredible Hulk's been neglected a bit, as pretty much the last MCU film before the MCU (and Marvel Studios itself) became a thing. There are apparently legal issues preventing further stand-alone Hulk films, and the switching in of the non-parkour, non-yoga-doing Ruffalo as Banner more or less draws a line under the while thing. Nevertheless, this is still a very watchable flick and a worthwhile brick in the MCU wall for me.

Previously: Iron Man
Next: Iron Man 2

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