It’s universally acknowledged that The Incredible Hulk is the black sheep of the MCU. Really, how could it not be, when the studio had to replace its lead actor and recast the role for The Avengers? Well, the issues with the film go far, far beyond the Norton v. Ruffalo debate. (There’s really no debate at all – Ruffalo is a far better Banner than Norton, for reasons we’ll get into shortly.)
The Incredible Hulk is an important film. In quality, it’s closer to Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer than it is Iron Man, and it marks the last time that Marvel made an objectively bad superhero film.
It’s bad for a number of reasons, but none are bigger than its CGI. Being that it’s a Hulk story, it should be obvious that the film relies heavily on computer-generated imagery, but unfortunately, the visuals are bad beyond being simply dated. As mentioned in the Iron Man review, 2008’s CGI capabilities were far better than The Incredible Hulk was willing to showcase, and the result is pretty underwhelming.
While the overuse of poor-quality CGI is an obvious black mark against the film, it’s not everything. The overall story was good, albeit with a few small holes and jarringly unexplained jumps in location, but the people bringing it to life – i.e. the actors – failed spectacularly in the doing.
Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner seemed intent on mumbling every single one of his lines, whereas Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross whispered all of hers. Tim Roth delivered all of Emil Blonsky’s lines so casually that it seemed as though he’d been captured having a conversation on a street corner, and Time Blake Nelson’s Samuel Sterns was just generally hammy (possibly due to bad writing). In fact, the only actor that wasn’t entirely disappointing was William Hurt as Thaddeus Ross, and Robert Downey Jr. in his ten-second cameo.
It’s not entirely on the actors, though. The film’s dialogue was poorly scripted, and it all came out sounding incredibly wooden, which in turn makes all of the actors seem lazy when they were likely just entirely disillusioned by the whole process. It doesn’t seem that any one of them believed that they were making a good film, and were all simply there for that fat Marvel paycheck.
It’s hard to talk about the film without entirely dragging it, so I’d like to mention one thing that I genuinely found excellent: the score.
Composed by Craig Armstrong, the score for The Incredible Hulk made use of “The Lonely Man”, the theme from the 1978 Incredible Hulk TV series, as well as several other brilliantly composed pieces that are genuinely wasted on a film of such poor quality.
Again, as I feel that I’ve done nothing but trash the film, I do have one more small appreciation for The Incredible Hulk. Instead of giving us another bland origin story, the film establishes Banner’s transformation as the Hulk in flashes during the opening credits, making way for the film to start with the doctor on the run, trying (and failing) to control his volatile alter-ego. This skipping of the
character’s over-done origins was something I found genuinely refreshing, and I found myself grateful for the slightly different approach to Hulk’s story.
When all’s said and done, though, there’s a reason that The Incredible Hulk is the MCU’s lowest-grossing film – it’s simply not very good. It’s by far the weakest entry in the franchise, and the recasting of the character meant that Marvel was able to wipe the slate clean and skim over ever having to readdress the mess that was this film.
Summary: A bland mess of poorly scripted bad acting and visually unpleasant CGI, The Incredible Hulk is a film that will likely only ever be re-watched during MCU marathons.
Highlights: The casual inclusion of “The Lonely Man” theme and Lou Ferrigno’s cameo were nice nods to fans of the character’s earlier iterations.