The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writer: Zak Penn
So, for our MCU re-watch, I took it upon myself to write about my re-watch of 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. This Edward Norton-starring film is probably the most forgotten MCU film; I bet even Iron Man 2-3 and Thor: The Dark World got more watches than this. I volunteered to write this because, somehow, we own it. So here’s how I’m going to split this up: We’ll have a “Gone Too Soon” section and another “General Observations” section. Ready? Let’s Hulk out.
GONE TOO SOON
- The obvious first entry to this list would be Edward Norton. This was his one-and-done MCU film. Mark Ruffalo has done a tremendous job filling his Hulk-sized shoes, but still…I know Edward Norton is reportedly a dick to work with. I don’t know how he would have fit into the cast-loaded films like Avengers and Civil War. But still, he’s such a tremendous actor, and he gave The Hulk his all. Could you imagine his interactions with Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth? Oh, what could have been! Edward Norton is probably the biggest MCU casualty since Terrence Howard had his lone shot at playing War Machine.
- Liv Tyler as the doe-eyed, daddy-issued Betty Ross! Who remembered that Liv Tyler was in this movie? I didn’t. Tyler provides us with some reminders of how super high-tech 2008 was when she pulls out her spiffy digital camera. Only to see the digital camera battery die while she’s longingly looking at a picture of Bruce. The digital camera does not get a “gone too soon” treatment for good reason.
- Tim Blake Nelson as Samuel Sterns honestly stole the show for me. He starts the movie as the mysterious “Mr. Blue” who is trying to help Bruce Banner’s “Mr. Green” find a cure to being The Hulk via encrypted chat. Later, Bruce and Betty visit him, and we soon learn he is just as morally ambiguous to the situation as General Ross is. He delivers one of the film’s best lines as he’s whacking a faulty machine in his lab: “Oh, come on! Stupid…graduate students.” The last we see him, Bruce’s gamma-enhanced blood is dripping into his brain, transforming him into The Leader. We got no follow up on this! What a crime! The Leader was teased 11 years ago and has been all but forgotten! Take note, Kevin Feige!
- Brazilian actress Débora Nascimento makes a cameo early in the movie as a sweaty, blue-collar co-worker with Bruce. More like sweaty, blue-collar fox. I hope my wife isn’t editing this.
- The purple pants! Betty finds them, and Bruce totally rejects them. Absurd play for laughs.
- We had survived Ang Lee’s 2003 take on Hulk. It wasn’t good. Marvel decided to use the opening credits of Incredible Hulk to swiftly tell the origin story, which was a smart move.
- There were a lot of cameos on this movie that I will be sprinkling through this list in basically the order they appeared. Rickson Gracie of MMA fame appears as Bruce’s trainer/heart-rate instructor and gives us possibly the greatest stomach gif of all time. Behold:Incredible.
- Bruce Banner’s place of refuge at the beginning of the film looks like the Favela map in Modern Warfare 2. Tell me I’m wrong.
- William Hurt playing General Ross wasn’t in the “Gone Too Soon” section. You know why? Because he is the longest-tenured Hulk actor! He not only made it in this film but two others (Civil War and Infinity War)!
- The movie is about 1h50m long. The first Hulk-out happens approximately 23 minutes into the film once Bruce’s heart rate hits 200 bpm. The first clear Hulk sighting (we get a full look at his face) happens a couple of minutes later at around 25:50.
- After Bruce Hulks-out in Brazil, he wakes up the next day in Guatemala. That’s like…almost 3,500 miles. It’s too bad he didn’t have a FitBit, because he would have enough steps to cover a long time!
- Stan Lee’s cameo was decent. He drinks the gamma blood-tainted imported Brazilian soda. Not a lot of follow up on that. Kinda meh, if I’m being honest.
- This was a tightly acted film. I noted the other performances above, but Tim Roth did a great job as Emil Blonksy/Abomination. He delivers another great line in the film: “You’re gonna have a lot of professional tough guys pissing in their pants. Sir.” Delivered more perfectly than a Domino’s pizza on pizza tracker.
- Maybe you remembered Liv Tyler was in the movie…but did you remember TY-FREAKING-BURRELL? That’s right! Phil Dunphy himself has a minor role as a psych professor/Betty’s stand-in boyfriend. He doesn’t have the Dunphy charm turned up in this one, but he delivers another great line directed at General Ross: “You know, it’s a point of professional pride with me that I can always tell when someone is lying. And you are.” Sick burn!
- Did I mention this movie has cameos? Lou Ferrigno cameos as a security guard. Edward Norton ends the scene appropriately by telling him, “You’re the man.” Ferrigno also provided the voice for The Hulk. HULK SMASH!
- It had been so long since the last time I saw this movie that I had actually forgot who the mysterious Mr. Blue was. So that made for fun watching!
- Bruce and Betty reunite with a classic movie trope: A rainy, romantic encounter. No kissy-kissy, just a lot of awkward sexual tension. Also, why isn’t the Army watching her? Shouldn’t she be, like, priority number one?
- Emil Blonsky’s operation to become a super-soldier looked painful. They put a needle that is approximately the size of a small child into his spine. Nope.
- Martin Starr of Freaks and Geeks sighting! He was rumored to play Amadeus Cho.
- Halfway through the movie, we get a full Hulk battle on a college campus. It’s a great battle! Hulk fights Blonsky in human form, and we see his first of two uses of giant metal hunks as (more or less) brass knuckles.
- The graphics in the movie hold up pretty well. Hulk is very veiny.
- Toward the end of the escalated battle, Hulk holds Betty while protecting her from the surrounding flames of an exploded helicopter. It made for a pretty good visual.
- Bruce and Betty break their awkward tension 1h5m into the film and get kissy-kissy. Until Bruce’s heart monitor goes off. Betty says, “It’s ok. I want to.” Betty is a freak.
- Poor General Ross gets roasted left and right in this movie. Betty delivers another blow to her dad: “You made him a fugitive to protect your failures.” Betty spares no one.
- Ok…here’s the most mind-blowing cameo to me: OMAR LITTLE??? Michael K. Williams pops up randomly while Abomination is causing mayhem in New York. This is supposedly because Norton was a fan of him in The Wire.
- Speaking of Abomination (debuts around 1h30m into the film), I don’t know if I liked his re-design. The filmmakers eschewed his classic, comic-book look with the bat-like face in favor of a bony, thumb-headed nightmare. It grew on me, but…meh.
- Do all of the MCU films have an after-credit scene? The answer is…NO! Hulk has no after-credit scene…just a scene right at the end where Tony Stark walks into a bar where General Ross is getting drunk. Stark gives us all nerd-goosebumps when he says, “What if I told you we were putting a team together?” The rest is MCU history.
Ok, so, why is The Hulk such an underrated, forgotten part of the MCU? I have a couple of little ideas that all add up into multiple factors that worked against it. First, it was released right after Iron Man had blown us away. Iron Man debuted in May, and Hulk showed up one month later. Hulk does just as good a job as every other first-time MCU film at presenting us with origin, character, and action, but it’s pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. At the point it had come out, we had three X-Men movies, three Spider-Man movies, the sucky Hulk, and Iron Man (I might be forgetting some), so, while this was only the second official MCU movie, we had our fill of superhero stories in a way that didn’t make this one particularly stand out.
Part of the reason it didn’t stand out is that it wasted its potential. The pacing was good, but there could have been way more time to explore Bruce’s inner-psyche. There’s a lot to explore about The Hulk in terms of disability, feeling like the outsider, and feeling bullied. The deeper side of the movie was left out for standard summer flare, which is a shame. Hopefully, someday we get Hulk 2. And hopefully, they didn’t forget about The Leader.