THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS
Released just over a month after Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk is largely considered to be the ‘black sheep’ of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Many casual audience members tend to forget that the film is even a part of the MCU. It’s not exactly hard to see why considering just how different the film is compared to the rest of the MCU. Ignoring the obvious fact that Bruce Banner/Hulk is played by Edward Norton, The Incredible Hulk has a completely different tone compared to every other MCU film. The humour, introduced in Iron Man, and continued throughout the MCU, is completely absent. This is a film that takes itself seriously, in the same way, that The Dark Knight trilogy took a serious approach to Batman.
The Incredible Hulk tells the story of Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), desperately searching for a cure to rid himself of the Hulk, whilst on the run from the United States government.
Originally conceived to be a loose sequel to Ang Lee’s Hulk, the script, written by Zak Penn, went through several rewrites by Norton himself, although he received no credit for doing so. This was because the Writer’s Guild of America argued that Norton had not dramatically altered Penn’s original script. Regardless, the script is for the most part, good. However, there are several flaws, most notably with the character of Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson), who comes across as overly cartoonish and therefore, feels awkward in a film which wants to be taken seriously. His role in the film wouldn’t be an issue if he was a minor character. Unfortunately, he plays a crucial role in the overall plot of the film, despite the fact that he only appears in the final half hour. What’s worse is that the film attempts to set up Stern’s future as supervillain Leader, which is almost definitely never going to be explored. The script is one of the strongest aspects of the film, if it wasn’t so reliant on Samuel Sterns, it may just be great.
Norton delivers a great performance as Banner, however, considering Mark Ruffalo’s excellent performances as Banner since The Avengers, I for one am glad that Norton did not return to the role. The rest of the cast is the most forgettable amongst the MCU, despite the talents of Tim Roth and William Hurt being present. Roth’s portrayal as villain Emil Blonsky is fun to watch however, he like the film, is largely unmemorable. William Hurt is arguably the standout, seemingly destined for the role of General Thunderbolt Ross as his charismatic performance was deemed worthy enough for a reprisal in Captain America: Civil War. However, Liv Tyler is surprisingly poor as Bruce’s love interest Betty Ross, with every line of dialogue that she utters feeling forced. She and Norton have very little chemistry together and therefore, their relationship only serves as a distraction to the more interesting plot revolving around Thunderbolt’s hunt for Banner.
For a film about the Hulk, there are surprisingly few action scenes. The highlight is easily the first appearance of the Hulk during Blonsky’s first attempt to arrest Banner at the factory in Brazil. The scene plays out like something from a horror film, with Hulk initially attacking from the shadows only to reveal his monstrous form at the end of the sequence. The other two action scenes are exciting, however, as you can expect with a Hulk film, are extremely reliant on CGI, which makes the scenes feel more like a video game cutscene rather than a Hollywood blockbuster film.
In the end, The Incredible Hulk is a mediocre film. For me, it is the worst of the MCU, although there are many that would argue differently. The film is just so tonally different from the rest of the MCU and appears to be actively ignored by the rest of Marvel’s films (with Thunderbolt Ross’ Civil War appearance aside). Despite Louis Leterrier’s rather poor direction and the inconsistent GCI, The Incredible Hulk just about manages to survive as a piece of entertainment.