Top Ten MCU Films: #8 – The Incredible Hulk

Sick of films from Marvel Studios? Think list articles are cliche? If your answer to either of those questions is ‘no,’ then there is a chance you will not hate this countdown of the best (and only) films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

There’s a monster unleashed upon the world. One solider foolishly tries to stop him on his own, but he nearly dies in the effort. He sacrifices his own well-being to become a monster himself in order to fight the original monster just one more time. He still cannot quite defeat the original monster though.

Unfortunately, said soldier in that story is the main villain in The Incredible Hulk, and the original monster is our hero.

While I don’t think it should be impossible to make a movie about the Hulk, the very nature of the character has proven difficult to tackle so far. As you can tell from the italicized section above, the basic structure of The Incredible Hulk‘s story is a bit bizarre for any film (let alone a summer blockbuster). It’s a movie about a giant green monster, and his human half does everything in his power to prevent the audience from seeing the main attraction.

As constructed in this film, it’s very hard to care about our hero as his journey/quest lacks clear direction (or at least a direction that lends itself easily to an action movie). The character wants peace and tranquility in a universe that demands action and excitement.*  A story about Bruce Banner could get around that if there was some air-tight story for his character to have that would involve a clear goal to escape his affliction. Instead, what we get here is an unfocused and unclear chase for a “cure” that may or may not be a cure. This potential cure (again, unclear if it’s even a remote possibility) is Banner’s whole reason for coming back to the part of the world that wants him captured, and it’s never executed in a way to make us care. It’s just a device to inorganically bring Banner back together with Betty Ross and to create some Hulk action scenes that contribute little to the actual story.

The lack of clear story forces the film to rely on the characters to salvage what’s left of this experience. Unfortunately, the characters in the film were a bit of a mixed bag. Edward Norton does a great job at the start, but he’s increasingly given less and less to do as Bruce Banner as the film moves along.* More focus is then given to William Hurt, Liv Tyler, and Tim Roth. Hurt and Tyler give some of the worst performances of their career in this one, but their characters have so little substance to them that it’s hard to fault them much. Who is General Ross? Who is Betty Ross? Why do they do what they do? This film doesn’t show or tell me anything about them in a way to humanize them. Instead, they are just stock characters serving as plot devices. As far as villainous henchmen go, Tim Roth does a solid-enough job. He’s able to convey that there is a little bit more beneath the surface with him than someone might think. He does not get enough screentime though for that to mean much.

*It’s hard to compare his performance to Mark Ruffalo’s take on that character because the latter is truly put in a position to succeed. Norton never stood a chance in this one after the first thirty minutes or so.

In the end, this film left me cold and never needing to revisit this particular world. The whole premise of the MCU is basically reliant on the ability to make audiences want to spend time in it again and again. This film’s failure to do that makes me glad the Bruce Banner character seems destined to only be in ensemble films for the foreseeable future. At the moment, I have no faith that the studio could make a good film that is solely about him.

The Best Aspect of the Film: The Opening Twenty-Five Minutes

There are not too many sequences in the MCU that are executed better than the opening twenty-five minutes of this film. There’s a great sense of tension and horror, as we get acclimated to Bruce Banner’s world and mindset. His strategies for coping with the Hulk are clearly working now, but he’s obviously set off again. The film shoots the debut of the Hulk in this sequence like a horror film.

 

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