6. The Incredible Hulk
Largely due to Mark Ruffalo and Joss Whedon’s outstanding interpretation of the character in The Avengers, Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk has become the ugly stepchild of the Marvel Studios family. It’s technically canonical, but since we’re never going to see Edward Norton’s uniquely grounded, warmly pragmatic take on the main character again, the film will always feel like an outlier in the Studio’s filmography.
It doesn’t help that The Incredible Hulk is clearly the weakest of the six movies. Its story is not as creative or involving as other Marvel works, and the characters don’t pop off the screen as memorably as they do in Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America.
All that being said, I like The Incredible Hulk. I really do. Though it is a bit irrelevant to consider now, I think it serves as a very solid foundation for future Hulk stories, setting up various characters and bits of mythology in succinct, compelling ways, and works pretty well as a standalone Hulk narrative in its own right. It’s certainly a massive step up over Ang Lee’s disastrous 2003 film, achieving the thoughtful, entertaining balance Lee failed to capture.
As with all of Marvel’s films, the casting of the main character is the key to the film’s success. Edward Norton is excellent as Bruce Banner, believably capturing the character’s intelligence, humanity, and world-weary attitude. Norton is not as immediately ‘perfect’ as Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, or even Mark Ruffalo were in their respective roles, but I still contend he made for a great Banner, and is the heart and soul of the film.
The supporting cast is, perhaps, where The Incredible Hulk most clearly fumbles the ball. William Hurt, Tim Roth, and Liv Tyler are each capable of strong work, and each do as much as they can with what they are given, but their roles are underwritten. Other Marvel films made sure to build a strong, enjoyable ensemble, but The Incredible Hulk devotes most of its character work to Banner, a decision that hurts the film overall.
Leterrier stages some very strong action scenes, and the film is well paced throughout. The thirty minutes of deleted scenes removed at the last minute probably should have been included – they add weight and introspection to a film that can feel fairly hollow at times – but the film works fine as is. The Incredible Hulk is not an all-time great superhero film, nor does it quite stack up to the rest of the Marvel canon. But it is enjoyable, and deserves a little more credit than most are currently willing to give it.
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