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From Under A Rock: The Incredible Hulk

April 30, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
6.5
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From Under A Rock: The Incredible Hulk  

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So unless you are very far under a rock, you know that Captain America: Civil War is coming out next week. Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe creates a unique viewing experience where going back to watch earlier movies in the franchise can be a totally new adventure, with the benefit of hindsight. Something like Iron Man 2, for example, doesn’t work all that well unless you understand all the connective tissue (and even then…), while on the far end, something like The Avengers is enjoyable even outside of context. But it’s more enjoyable if you understand the various visual callbacks and in-jokes. Civil War is looking to make us appreciate the second film in the franchise by returning General Ross to the MCU. With that in mind, I thought I’d invite Michael along for my revisiting of the movie.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael finally showed Aaron the sequel to his all-time favorite movie, Aliens. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock and launches him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s early days with The Incredible Hulk.

The Incredible Hulk
Released: June 13th, 2008
Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Written by: Zak Penn
Starring:
Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/Hulk
Liv Tyler as Betty Ross
Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/Abomination
William Hurt as Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross

Aaron Hubbard: I don’t know if this film is quite “bad” enough for me to consider it a guilty pleasure, but I’ve always sort of considered it to be. I enjoy throwing this one in about once or year, and not out of obligation or anything. I think the film fascinates me because of where Marvel Studios was at the time, where Hulk was at the time, and what they did with it. And with it largely being estranged from the greater universe due to Norton leaving, Betty Ross never coming back, and at least one major plot thread never being resolved, I’ve always been fascinated by what a strange movie this is in greater context.

Michael Ornelas: To start, this was the final remaining MCU film for me to see, so I wanted to see it if for no other reason beyond that. I also really like Edward Norton. That said, having seen it now I think it was just okay. My expectations were higher given how well Hulk has been portrayed in the Avengers films.
Norton
You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Sorry
Aaron: So when Marvel began this experiment of a shared universe, the one character they had at their disposal with real name value was The Hulk. The Hulk has been on TV since the 1970’s and has a built-in fanbase that far exceeds the typical comic book or action movie fans. They also had released a film recently in 2003 with Hulk, directed by Ang Lee. It was met with what could generously be called a “mixed” response, and even those who enjoy the film have to admit that it doesn’t really work as a Hulk movie. This one strives for something closer to the Hulk’s old TV show, as well as tries to give fans the epic actions scenes we were hoping for in 2003. It’s an apology, and while I don’t think the film succeeds on all fronts, I think it is the Hulk film that fans were asking for at the time.

Michael: It’s hard for me to comment on this specific topic as someone who’s largely unfamiliar with the way Hulk is “supposed to” be portrayed. That said, I have a certain way in mind and this movie more or less attempted to achieve that — a calm Banner being tormented by his duty to use his ability responsibly being juxtaposed with the need for the Hulk to come out in order to save the day. I could definitely see parallels in this movie with how Hulk is portrayed in The Avengers, but he wasn’t fully there. I think the group dynamic brings a better version of this character out, so I’m okay with Hulk not getting another solo movie for the foreseeable future.

Aaron: More importantly, I think Hulk does better in group movies because it gives Bruce Banner people to play off of. Everyone in this film feels very transient, including his love interest. It’s hard to get invested in the human drama of Bruce in this film, so it’s not unusual to just be sitting around waiting for Hulk to show up. The Avengers played it smart by managing to make Hulk’s appearance something we can cheer for or dread depending on the circumstances. But I did think that the film did a respectable enough job of playing the “man on the run” aspect of Hulk that people loved in the TV show. I also enjoy how “lived in” this film seems. I think one of the best moments in the film is the opening credits; they wrap up the origin story so nicely that the film can get going with new material. (Take notes, Spider-Man: Homecoming crew.)
Action
Best In Action
Michael: The best scenes in this film are when the big green Hulk made an appearance. Those were the midpoint and the climax of the movie, and they were both awesome. Fending off the military onslaught did a lot to both define a clear line between the antagonists and protagonist as well as provide something visually interesting which the movie was lacking up to that point. And then the climax vs. Abomination was just an awesome monster fight. It was nice seeing Hulk take on someone roughly his size for a change. Everything about that climax worked for me.

Aaron: I’m going to disagree, but only slightly. The final fight between Hulk and Abomination always goes a little too long for my taste. I know fans (myself included) were disappointed with the lack of action in Hulk, and this set out to give fans the best villain fight ever put on film. And it was, at the time. I probably would have tried to work another action scene in a little earlier on. Although, in my defense, I love the foot race through Brazil at the beginning, and when Hulk and Blomsky fight in the factory. The movie takes cues from horror films like Jaws and Jurassic Park by treating Hulk as a monstrous attraction, not giving us a really good look until halfway through the movie and it’s incredibly effective. But I’m in total agreement on the mid-movie action scene; it stands out as one of the best Marvel has done, with both sides fighting hard and escalating action. It’s a blast.

Michael: You mentioned the horror approach to the Hulk character, and that’s apparent in the way it was presented…but I don’t know if it’s as effective for me as you claim it is. Maybe that’s because I’ve already seen the Hulk in later movies but on the flip side, I really don’t know how I would have handled it. This movie seemed to have a tricky set of circumstances to navigate in achieving perfect execution and while it didn’t get there, it certainly wasn’t a disaster. I felt like there was a clash of genre styles that to me didn’t blend the way they had hoped (or maybe they were unaware they were doing it) — from horror to action to drama to romance…it was just a little too much without slick execution.
Villains
Villains: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Aaron: Aside from a few of the action scenes and continuity nods, my favorite thing about this movie is the villains. Tim Roth is watchable in anything, and the idea of him playing an old fighter who’s consumed by the thrill of combat and craves power to the point where he starts acting like an addict is an inspired one. It’s a perfect counterpoint to Bruce, who has infinite power at his disposal but spends his life running away from a fight. Emil Blomsky is a simple villain, but an effective one, and dare I say underrated. William Hurt plays General Thunderbolt Ross and… honestly, this casting is just perfect. Hurt’s a great actor anyway, but he sinks his teeth into this character and it’s a joy to watch him interact with everyone. He even manages to make Liv Tyler enjoyable for a few seconds.

Michael: You make good points, but I don’t feel like I was able to really appreciate them that much during the movie until you spelled out why you enjoyed them just now. I don’t think that’s necessarily a criticism on the performances so much as it is on the movie’s ability to engage me. I personally find the trope of “consumed military villain” to be played out. The military has always been and always be my least favorite obstacle for a potentially-dangerous-but-misunderstood hero-type. Blomsky carried more weight for me, especially in the second half when he was on his Abomination kick. Is this movie a “have to be a fan of the comics” one, or did I just miss something?

Aaron: I think there is something to that. Fans of the Hulk are kinder to this move than general viewers I think, as it does capture the spirit of old Hulk comics, with Bruce being on the run from the military being the general status quo. What I like about Ross is that he’s a largely despicable human being, someone who readily dehumanizes Bruce Banner because he is a living weapon. But you can also understand why he has his opinions and you could possibly even justify them if this was a real situation. I’m interested in seeing him return for Civil War, because he carries history and personal values with him. But for me, where this movie fails is in “Mr. Blue”, Samuel Sterns. Sterns is “The Leader” in the comics, a villain whose intellect is roughly proportionate to the Hulk’s strength. The movie hints at that happening, and it leaves me wondering; why hasn’t The Leader shown up in any capacity since? I mean, I know we don’t have a Hulk sequel, but can’t somebody drag Tim Blake Nelson out for an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode or something?

Ratings:
Aaron: I remember being eighteen and seeing this in theaters, and having my mind blown when General Ross started explaining about the Super Soldier program in World War II, and thinking about how Captain America was in the same universe as Hulk. And there was all the Stark Tech in the background, and then Tony Stark himself showed up at the end. All of this was just insane. Marvel’s goals were “make the explosive, action packed Hulk movie fans wanted” and “set up the shared universe in coherent ways”. They achieved both of those goals, but the film definitely doesn’t hold up to most of it’s fellow MCU films. I’d still place this above Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World, though.

C+

Michael: I had a really hard time getting through this movie, and it’s not that it was bad, but it just didn’t grip me the way I’d hoped it would. The action pieces were the best parts, but they were far and few between. I don’t want to seem harsh, but my rating for this isn’t as shining as our past several entries have received.

C+

Aaron: I don’t think you’re being overly harsh. The movie lands at about “not bad” levels, and “not bad” isn’t the worst thing in the world. I mean… this could have been Fantastic Four.

Michael: But you wouldn’t be so cruel to pick something like that for me, would you?

…Aaron?

Are you glad Mark Ruffalo is now the Hulk, or would you have preferred to see Edward Norton stay with the franchise?

Next week:

Michael: I’ve only seen this next pick once but it certainly left an impression. It’s not a pleasant movie, but it’s powerful and such a fantastic character study.
Orange
Aaron: I’ve been holding off on this one since I knew you were wanting to pick it. I’ve been watching different Stanley Kubrick films in the last several months and I generally enjoy him more than you do. So I’m excited as hell for this.

Michael: Yeah, I’m certainly not his biggest fan, but I hope that changes. This is a masterpiece though.

What’s your favorite Kubrick film?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk

MICHAEL HAS A NEW WEB SERIES
Michael’s Spin on Things is a comedic YouTube product review parody channel in which Michael Ornelas will review ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in accordance to the criteria provided by the spin of a wheel.

In this week’s episode, Michael reviews a Vitamix 5200 Blender and for some reason needs a baby on hand? *shrugs* This should be interesting…

AARON HAS A NEW COLUMN
But it goes up tonight, so we don’t have a link. But go read it! It’s the one about comic books!

6.5
The final score: review Average
The 411
An interesting relic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Incredible Hulk isn't exactly incredible, but closer to average. Functionally, it's an action movie, but it has a lot of moving pieces that don't work together well all the time. If you're a completionist or a fan of Bruce Banner and The Hulk who's willing to forgive flaws, it's an okay way to waste a couple of hours. If you're someone who prefers to cherry pick your superhero movies and only watch the very best, you might want to give this one a pass.
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