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July 3, 2008


Movie Review – The Incredible Hulk (2008)


The Incredible Hulk follows Iron Man as the second in a planned series of films produced by Marvel Enterprises and adapted from popular Marvel comic books. Scientist Bruce Banner and his super strong, rage-filled, green alter-ego The Hulk are the subjects of a long running comic book series (and appear in crossover stories in other Marvel series) and previous TV and movie adaptations. Prior success is a double-edged sword to a comic book movie. On one side is a loyal fan base and high public recognition of the title; on the other, the artistic constraints imposed by fandom-demanded fidelity to the source and the sometimes conflicting brief to create a work that will appeal to an essentially indifferent public.

That’s another way of saying that Hulk, like all comic book movies, must navigate the shoals of fan expectations and the demands of the general audience. Because it wants and attempts to be both a movie for fans and non-fans, it is to a degree two films in one. I came to it as a non-fan with no more prior knowledge than the average woman on the street in touch with popular culture. However, I saw it with a friend who is a serious Marvel comics fan and this review is written with the benefit of our post-movie discussion.

Hulk respects its fan base and wants to please it. The story and characters are faithful to the source and the movie retells popular and significant parts of the character’s origin story. In addition, the filmmakers work in a shout out to the fans in numerous places by including seemingly throwaway bits of dialogue or visual cues that fans are able to read as meaningful references to the comic universe.

Hulk also aims to please non-fans. The story is straightforward and uncluttered. (The in-references included to please fans are, almost without exception, unobtrusive and unlikely to alienate those not in the know.) There are several lavishly staged action sequences spaced at regular intervals. The principal human cast consists of three excellent actors, Edward Norton, William Hurt, and Tim Roth, plus the less accomplished, if much better looking Liv Tyler. A reasonably well-executed CG Hulk and antagonist the Abomination round out the main cast.

Unfortunately, in the desire to make a film that will be all things to all people, the filmmakers have smoothed out the complexities of the Banner/Hulk character to the point he is psychologically flat. The Banner of the comic is a tragic hero in a classical mold. He is a good man, but he is not psychologically whole; he has buried his darker impulses instead of coming to terms with and integrating them into his personality. The monster is a physical manifestation of the man’s sublimated rage and violent desires, a literalizing of a split personality. This characterization can be read into the film without violence to the fabric of the story, but it must be read in. Nothing in the film contradicts it, but nothing supports it either. Standing on its own, the film depicts Banner as just a likable average Joe who is the unfortunate victim of medical research gone wrong, and the Hulk as a purely physiological response to a nasty drug.

Hulk is unsatisfying to fan and non-fan alike because Banner’s dilemma, the heart of a serious and generally somber film, is not sufficiently dramatic or emotionally compelling. Comparison with Iron Man is instructive. Iron Man is unquestionably the better realized adaptation and the more entertaining film. Its principal strength is the characterization of Tony Stark (especially as it is realized in Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance). Stark is not a one-dimensional good guy. His character arc is dramatic and emotionally compelling precisely because he is a flawed man with both good and bad impulses and character traits. He is interesting. The Banner of The Incredible Hulk is not.

2 stars

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jul 3 2008

    I was afraid it might turn out like this. I didn’t see any indication in the trailers that the filmmakers even understood the real Jekyll/Hyde aspect of Banner, which is an obvious subtext. Did they omit it on purpose? I can’t imagine why.

  2. Jul 4 2008

    Extremely well written review, I had so many doubts for this film from the very start, possibly due to my undying love for Lee’s HULK. I think Lee told a beautiful story whereas Letterier’s (SP?) was okay at best, some pretty decent action sequences, and as much as I do not like to admit, a far better looking Hulk. I still have faith in Marvel Studios and their upcoming films, but they really should learn to explore the Hulk’s extreme rage, much more like the comics where he loses all control and ends up hurting and even at times killing people. Maybe I just ask for too much…

  3. Helen
    Jul 5 2008

    To the question of why the film shirks away from portraying the dark psychological conflict that defines Banner/Hulk, I think the producers wanted to make a film that fit the mold of a “summer popcorn movie” – action scenes at these minute marks, love scene here, lighthearted moments there and there, crowd pleasing climax – and perceived the Jekyll/Hyde characterization as falling outside the mold. The same strategy paid off with Iron Man because the story and character are compatible with the summer movie formula. It produced an indifferent and unmemorable film in Hulk because the darkness of the character is the dramatic meat of the story.

  4. Mister X
    Oct 12 2008

    The problem with making a film these days is that it’s difficult to come up with ideas which are both fresh and exciting. So many great superhero films have already been made that it may be difficult for the Hulk to compete by comparison. The Hulk character is broad enough for growth and he may get his due yet.

  5. Donovan
    Apr 2 2016

    I Hope the movie makers look at my review……….. Really really really hope so..
    Y’all sons of bitches make hulk A Fuckin Hoe… Stupid Fuckheads,, hulk is a fuckin beast(rage.)
    Why do you make hulk stop choking the abomination, because the bitch says so, fuck that y’all should have let hulk kill the abomination.. That shit was so whack.. You fuckin how ass movie makers,, hulk was just about to kill him so why would you sons of bitches change that… I don’t even know what to say… Y’all some how ass bitch ass cunt ass mothafuckas.. Next time y’all wanna make a movie.. Don’t.. Because nobody wants to see a punk ass bitch tell 2 grown ass men to stop fighting,, Hulk should have killed his bitch ass…………….. I waisted A Couple hours of my LIFE,, To see an empty ass last scene.. Hulk should have kilt his hoe ass.. But y’all asshole sons of bitches wanna make a bitch stop the fight.. WTFuck.. I’m soon fuckin pissed off.. Next time make in worth my while and make Hulk kill that son of a bitch…..
    Ironman was probly pissed off too that’s why he handled the hulk in : Age Of Ultron,, y’all keep making these super heroes more and more BitchMade… Punk sons of bitxhes.. I hope y’all block my messages because I’m going to send letter after letter to the editors of the movies.. Because y’all bitch ass hoes is bitch make fucks.. Please block me cause after The Incredible Hulk (2008).. I’m pissed off because hulk should have killed the abomination.. I watched that whole movie to see the abomination live, when hulk should have killed him.. Y’all movie makers is some hoe ass Sons Of BITCHES………