After the ok but not great reception of Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk (it made pretty decent coin and critics didn’t hate it as much as you might think,) Marvel decided to kick-start the character with The Incredible Hulk. Changing stars, directors, and tone made for a more entertaining film, but, not unlike Lee’s version, it doesn’t climb to the top of the superhero pile.
The Incredible Hulk had the misfortune of debuting during the same summer that Iron Man and The Dark Knight set a new gold standard for superhero movies. Reacting to the criticism that 2003’s Hulk was too much “Bruce Banner Think” and not enough “Hulk Smash!” director Louis Leterrier crafts a nice compromise between the two. Edward Norton’s Banner thinks and worries and tries to keep things under control until The Hulk comes out and starts picking up jeeps, tossing scrap metal at helicopters, and swatting away bullets and tranq syringes like so many gnats. The result doesn’t stand up with the epic stories of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, but it’s a nice way to kill two hours.
Rather than putting us through yet another origin story, Leterrier and screenwriter Zak Penn start Banner down in Brazil working at a bottling plant and trying to control the beast within. All of the backstory needed by someone completely unfamiliar with the plot is shown in a concise summary in the opening credits. It’s a rather muted beginning, but never particularly introspective or slow. Norton projects the desire of Banner to be normal and find a “cure” for his “condition” while learning martial arts and breathing techniques in order to stay off the rampage. Unfortunately, a cut sends his blood to the United States in a bottle of soda (can you say, ewww) and that alerts the military in the form of General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) to his location.
Ross sends a team of soldiers led by Emile Blonsky (Tim Roth) to grab Banner and bring him back to the U.S. in hopes of using what’s inside Banner in a military application. This brings out the green rage for the first time and Leterrier is smart enough to make sure he shows up regularly and for extended periods, as if to remind us that this movie is called The Incredible Hulk not The Incredible Bruce Banner and All His Worries. Banner hoofs it back to the U.S. in hopes of finding help for a cure and runs into his old flame, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), who is estranged from her dad. Blonsky also returns and his desire to get some of what turned Bruce into the Hulk makes Blonsky his foe, the Abomination. Their ultimate fight has a little too much “superhero fight at the end of the movie” cliché about it, but it’s enjoyable.
While there is some discussion of the problems that come from being the Hulk and the relationship between Betty and Bruce gets some play, Leterrier keeps things moving along and it doesn’t drag down into one of those moments where you say “enough already!” at the TV. It’s not just all smash all the time, but the pace moves nicely and even when there is some lingering, it advances the plot rather than focusing too much on feelings or rehashing things the audience already knows but the characters don’t.
While I can’t get super excited about The Incredible Hulk, I recognize it as a strong second-tier Marvel movie. It’s not going to fly up there with Spider-Man 2, Iron Man, or the first X-Men, but it’s not Electra, X-Men 3, or, well Hulk either. It’s a straightforward superhero flick that should be watched with a little popcorn and middling expectations.
I’m a little surprised that the version of The Incredible Hulk Universal sent me to review was the basic single disc. There is also a Special Edition which includes a separate disc of extras and a digital copy. There isn’t much to recommend with the single disc and anyone but the most casual fan of the movie is going to want the Special Edition since that has almost all the extras.
The single disc does have about 13 minutes of deleted scenes. About two-thirds of them take place while Banner is still in Brazil. Mostly they set up other scenes that happen later in Brazil and were likely cut for pacing (although there isn’t any explanation or commentary.) It makes sense that there was probably a desire to not spend too much time in Brazil and to get the plot moving. It’s interesting that there were stories on the movie’s theatrical release that Edward Norton was not happy with the editing of the film and wanted more emphasis on the non-action elements. If scenes exist that show more of Banner with Betty Ross or in other contemplative moments (and there certainly are,) they aren’t included in this selection of extras. None of the extras would likely meet the definition of what Edward Norton was supposedly going for, so that means more deleted scenes exist and why not include them?
The only other extra is a commentary by Tim Roth and director Louis Leterrier. It’s pretty interesting and Roth adds a lot, not just about his own scenes. Unfortunately, Leterrier’s French accent is THICK and when he and Roth are speaking quickly in half sentences, he is really hard to understand. I almost wished he would have gone back in certain scenes and re-recorded what he was saying as I would miss certain words or phrases making it hard to follow along. This wasn’t a regular thing, but did happen occasionally and detracted from my enjoyment of the commentary.
That’s it for the extras. If your only interest is in watching the movie and you could give a flying flip about the extras, then I guess this is an ok version to get. It has a nice crisp picture and booming sound. I just have to think anyone who is a big fan of the movie or the character is going to want the Special Edition which has all the featurettes and other goodies. This version is more for the casual renter.