Directed by Louis Leterrie
Written by Zak Penn
The Incredible Hulk has this weird place in the Avengersverse. On the one hand, it is undoubtedly a part of the movie universe, what with its links to Stark Enterprise and even featuring a Robert Downey Jr. cameo. On the other hand, it still acts like it’s partially a sequel to Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk movie and the references to Iron Man could have been excised without losing anything. And there’s the Bruce Banner problem.
Here’s the thing: Edward Norton’s portrayal of Bruce Banner is perfectly fine. It is no Mark Ruffalo. This does not mean it’s worse than Mark Ruffalo’s performance. The problem is that they’re portraying different versions of the same character. Ruffalo is in a movie that leans more towards the fun side of things, and this gives him a character that hides under quirks and snarkiness, but still has a darkness within. Norton is in a slightly darker movie, so he focuses on the darker parts of Bruce. He’s quiet, reserved, and vulnerable, which creates a perfect contrast to a brutal Hulk who only shows his own vulnerability during one scene with Betty Ross. At the end of the day, there’s no best performance here. It’s like debating which of two writers better wrote a comic if both of their runs were great. They might’ve written the main character in completely different ways, but they’re still doing good writing.
It’s probably not fair here to say that Incredible Hulk is a very action-focused movie. After all, for all the quiet details that make the Marvel movies what they are, they’re all action movies at the center. And this movie has plenty of quiet scenes. In fact, its non-action scenes sometimes lean towards non-verbal, with long sequences of no dialogue. But these quieter scenes also feel like transition scenes. The non-action scenes in the other Marvel movies tend to be core to the characters, while the scenes here focus on moving the plot to the next action scene. Not necessarily in a bad manner. You’re not looking at your watch, waiting for the next action scene. You’re just not going to remember every moment from these scenes at the end of the day.
What makes Incredible Hulk’s action particularly stand out is probably the fact that it’s like they wrote it as an apology to the 2003 movie’s poorly lit action scenes and its poorly computer generated Hulk. The Hulk here definitely has more details, more to him. He’s not quite the Hulk from Avengers. He doesn’t have the full weight of him, the full details. He’s getting there, but it’s not perfect. The action itself is over-the-top in the best way. Things blow up, Hulk smashes things. There’s enough innovation in the scenery and what Hulk does (such as using a modern art structure as a makeshift shield) to keep things interesting. What’s striking is that, while the first two fight scenes are fairly fun, the final one is almost too violent, in an out-of-place way. It’s a knock-down, drag-out brawl between Hulk and Abomination, and involves Hulk stabbing Abomination and brutally choking him. If there’s any marker that the Avengers tone wasn’t set with this movie, this is it.
The Incredible Hulk is still a rather odd beast at the end of the day. Its tone isn’t there, its sequel hooks feel out of place, and The Avengers just acts like it’s the movie reintroducing Hulk. It ends up a little confused, but getting towards that comic book style. If you missed it in the middle of the summer battle between Iron Man and The Dark Knight, now’s the time to come back and have a little mindless fun.