Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth, Ty Burrell, Tim Blake Nelson
Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Film length: 2hr 15mins
Theatrical Release: June 13th, 2008
Blu-ray release: 2008
I was a kid during The Incredible Hulk TV series first run from 1978 to 1982, and of course I loved it. The adventures of the tormented scientist Dr. “David” Banner (Bill Bixby) who after a failed experiment with some gamma radiation turns into a 7 foot tall, muscle-bound, green monster known as The Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) when agitated was a treat. Every week Dr. Banner would enter into someone’s life and help them with a problem with science. When that didn’t work he would get angry, turn into The Hulk, and like a one man A-Team would smash things until they did.
The Hulk was a misunderstood hero and considered dangerous by some (mostly one reporter with an axe to grind) so, he was always on the run as he could never stay in one place for too long. It was a fun show for the most part but there was always a sad tone. Especially towards the end when the melancholy theme would begin as Dr. Banner would say his goodbyes before moving on to the next town. There was some who complained how the show didn’t closely match the fantastical comic book (which would have been too expensive for a network show to pull off back then), but it nailed that Hulk vibe. The core of the book would be Dr. Banner’s struggle to deal with this angry beast in him and the show delivered.
Since I was disappointed in Universal Studios’ first attempt to bring the Hulk to the big screen (Ang Lee’s melodramatic Hulk from 2003 was a steaming pile), I was all on board for Edward Norton taking on the role of Bruce Banner. Hopefully he and director Louis Leterrier would steer the ship in the right direction. I don’t remember much from my first viewing of the film from almost a decade ago other than a large part of it was shot in Toronto. Well, lets see if this one nails that Hulk vibe.
The film (3/5)
“Is that all you got?”
US military General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) enlists colleague Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) to revive the top-secret “super soldier” program (the same one that gave Captain America his abilities) from World War II. When an experiment fails and exposes Banner to high levels of gamma radiation, he is left with the curse of turning into a large green monster known as the Hulk for an uncontrollable period of time whenever his heart beat rises above 200 BPM.
Banner begins looking for a cure but Ross wants the Hulk to be made into a weapon. The two clash heads and it escalates into the Hulk trashing a military lab and injuring many people. Banner avoids capture and he successfully remains in exile for five years in the slums of Brazil while working on a cure.
An accident at a bottling plant Banner is working at tips the military to his whereabouts. He barely escapes before circling back to the US to enlist help from his former girlfriend Betty Ross (also the General’s daughter) and another scientist, Mr. Blue (Tim Blake Nelson) who he only knows through a long distance relationship. After missing Banner in Brazil, General Ross decides to kick it up a notch and enlists the Russian-born British Royal Marine Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to capture him. Blonsky allows the General to inject him with super soldier serum, but the mission of capture turns into revenge for him after failing to ensnare the Hulk during their first encounter. Blonsky tracks down Mr. Blue who adds some of Banner’s blood into his own, and he becomes The Abomination; a beast just as strong as the Hulk who is hell-bent on killing Bruce Banner.
Although The Incredible Hulk doesn’t always nail it in the execution department, there is a lot to like about this one. The entire back/origin story of the Hulk is told in the opening credits and they are done with a big salute to the TV series. With “how Banner becomes the Hulk” out of the way, the film is able to then focus on him trying to find a cure.
Banner is just beginning to learn how far he can push himself before he changes into the Hulk, and constantly checks a heart rate monitor while learning breathing techniques to control his temper. There are moments that someone like myself, who at times struggles to control my own temper, can relate to. Banner even helps out the bottling plant he is working at with some equipment failure and finds the time to help out a pretty co-worker who needs saving from a creepy co-worker. This was, by far, my favorite parts of the movie as it felt like an extension of the TV show.
The rest of the film is well paced, seeing Banner and Betty seek out Mr. Blue for a possible cure, and try to stay one step ahead of General Ross. Blonsky makes for an interesting match against the Hulk until he becomes the Abomination. After that, the last 20-30 minutes of the film becomes bogged down with obvious CG-heavy battles between the Hulk, the Abomination, and a helicopter. It’s fine for what it is, but it is just not as interesting as what led up to it.
Memorable Moments / What Stood Out to Me
There is A ton of “Hey Look” moments in this film, like:
Hey look, it’s Bill Bixby. Bruce is flipping through the channels on his TV and watches a few seconds of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father starring a young pre-Hulk Bixby.
Hey look, it’s Stanley’s (Stan Lee’s) Pizza… Get it?… This was a lot funnier in my head….
Norton 360 Antivius
Hey, it’s Ed Norton using an Antivirus program called Norton 360…. This was a lot funnier in my head….
Hey look, it’s the guy from Modern Family pre-Modern Family
I never could get into that show but I do like this guy when I see him.
Cap incognito alert!
I’ve noticed characters in the MCU pull out the ol’ ball cap whenever they go on the DL and wish to be unseen. I’ll be keeping an eye our for this for all future entries in the series because it is important.
Bonus: Stan Lee cameo review! (3/5)
This time, Stan accidentally ingests some Hulk blood when having a drink from the bottling plant Dr. Banner is hiding out in. The reporting of his unusual illness tips off General Ross that Bruce is hiding in Brazil. I give credit for making the “Stan the Man” cameo into a part, but he is really just filling in for a d-list actor. Clever-ish but not clever. But, in fairness, they did have to work in a Lou Ferrigno cameo too…
Like Iron Man, this is another perfect-looking Blu-ray. Crisp, deep colours with just a hint of film grain. I expect nothing less from a 2008 Blu-ray.
The audio for this film was spot on. Every speaker was working hard during that action sequences. A great DTS-HD audio track. No complaints.
Special Features (3/5)
There is a solid bit of extras here but nothing you really need to see unless you REALLY liked the film. Let me bullet point what we got:
- A 30 minute “Making of” documentary. Since this is a first run Blu-ray it is all shot on set, so everyone is in full on promo mode and expecting nothing but greatness from the “upcoming” film. I prefer these to be retrospective made years down the road when you have people reflecting on the good and bad.
- There is a bunch of extra scenes that are in SD. All stuff that was cut all in in the name of pacing. I agree with the director’s choices after watching them.
- A couple of short documentaries about the CG Hulk and Abomination. A lot of thought went into the look of the beasts, but there wasn’t much for me to appreciate since I didn’t find the CG to be all that great.
- There is an alternate opening which at the time gained a lot of internet buzz for showing a sneak peek of Captain America. It is really just a “don’t blink or you’ll miss it” kind of cameo though. It is mostly about Banner heading to the Arctic where he attempts to commit suicide… yeah, I can see why it was cut. It is apparently referenced in The Avengers, so there is that.
- The audio commentary with director Louis Leterrier and Tim Roth is standard stuff but I did listen all the way through. Locations, special effects, Stan Lee’s cameo, etc are all discussed. The conversation moves well and is constantly about what is currently being shown. Nothing ground breaking, but entertaining.
- Finally there is a scene from Hulk Grey #5 done with an animated comic book that the film took inspiration from for the scene with Betty and Hulk hiding out in the park.
What I remember about Hulk in The Avengers is how he was the stand out character and Mark Ruffalo’s take on Bruce Banner was better than Ed Norton’s. So, even though I hardly regret how this film wasn’t greatly received and we didn’t get a continuation of this version, there are a couple of things I think we miss out on because of it.
For one, it is highly likely that a direct sequel would have had Tim Blake Nelson coming back as The Hulk’s main foe, the Leader. The Leader is featured in some of my favorite Hulk comics and TBN would have been fantastic at portraying him.
The other is the unlikely chance of another stand alone Hulk film. This was the second time Universal Studios put the dough up for a Hulk film and didn’t get the return they were expecting. So a third kick at the can right now is very unlikely. Coincidentally enough (notice I didn’t say IRONically?) Mark Ruffalo just publicly gave Universal a big knock for leaving a ton of dough on the table by not using his more popular version of the Hulk in his own film. Don Cheadle was with him and was busting his chops by telling him it was too late since he is so old now. He was joking, but he isn’t wrong when he says he is getting up there.
Perhaps there is a chance for another Hulk film to receive a green light if his appearance in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok is well-received. For now, its fit into the MCU is awkward, but lettuce celebrate the only non-made for TV live action Hulk film that is worth relishing.