Please excuse the screencaps in this one. I only have the fullscreen version of this one, so no widescreen goodness for you.
Last week, we concluded our recap of Ang Lee’s Hulk. And though the critical reception was pretty lukewarm, the film made enough money to make a second film featuring the Hulk seem like a good idea. As long as it wasn’t Ang Lee’s Hulk. No dwelling on childhood traumas, no slow contemplative pace, no weird conceptual ending featuring Hulk fighting a lake. No Hulk dogs. NO LICHEN!
And so, in 2008, we got a completely retooled Hulk universe. New Bruce, new Betty, new General Ross, new Hulk. What wasn’t new: the concept.
Because The Incredible Hulk was not so much an adaptation of the comic as a feature film update of the TV series created by Kenneth Johnson and starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno with some comic book elements spliced in.
You know from the first moment of the opening credits that this will be a completely different Hulk. Instead of Danny Elfman’s bright strings, there is a deep booming chord that connotes bestial power. But like Ang Lee’s film, The Incredible Hulk uses the opening credits to tell backstory.
Only this time, instead of starfish getting their legs cut off, we see Edward Norton as Bruce Banner in the tilty seat with the green crosshairs on his head, as in the opening credits of the TV series, complete with flashing red DANGER light. Banner changes into the Hulk during the experiment and destroys the lab, injuring Betty and General Ross in the process.
Like the TV series, he becomes a fugitive, trying to evade capture while searching for a cure to his condition. We also see our first subtle nods to the larger comic book universe, with Stark Industries blueprints, a memo to Nick Fury, and mention of known associates Doc Samson and Rick Jones.
But in one of the few nods to the Ang Lee movie, Bruce Banner is in Brazil as the film opens (he was in a South American jungle at the close of the last film) and he still has a beard. He lives in this amazing slum city.
This is followed by another nod to the TV series, as he clicks past The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, an earlier Bill Bixby series, on his way to watch Sesame Street (to help him learn Portuguese). He’s also trying to learn how to control his emotional responses by learning Gracie Jiu Jitsu with martial arts legend Rickson Gracie.
As in the TV series, he takes whatever temporary work he can get, like working day labor at a soft drink factory, refusing to go permanent even when the owner offers. His co-worker is hot Brazilian babe Martina, but even though it looks as if romance might be in the air, it never goes anywhere.
Especially after Bruce accidentally bleeds into one of the empty bottles about to be filled and almost gets into a fight with another of Martina’s suitors. There’s a little labored humor built around Banner trying to deliver the “Don’t make me angry” line in Portuguese.
Meanwhile, in America, General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) gets a report about a man suffering gamma sickness after drinking a Brazilian soda. Cue the Stan Lee cameo.
Ross puts together a team to go to Brazil. He gets a special elite addition to the team, a Royal Marine on loan to SOCOM named Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth). When Blonsky asks if Banner is a fighter, Ross lists a string of incidents he is involved in, including the possible death of two Canadian hunters, which for comics fans could be an oblique reference to Incredible Hulk #181, the Hulk/Wendigo battle in Canada that introduced Wolverine.
Bruce meanwhile has been communicating with a certain Mr. Blue on ways to cure his radiation poisoning. He tries a serum from a certain rare Brazilian flower, but it doesn’t work. Mr. Blue says he has a possible cure, but he needs more complete data, which Bruce doesn’t have. He knows where to get it, though.
The team assaults Banner’s apartment, but his dog has alerted him, so he escapes downstairs into Martina’s apartment. No time for love, Dr. Banner! She hides him until the soldiers leave, but Blonsky spots him in the street and it’s a parkour chase across the rooftops! He temporarily eludes the soldiers, but runs first into Ross, and then into the bald-headed dude from work who hates him! FBBL!
Everybody ends up in the soft drink factory, where Bruce is cornered by the thugs and punched just as he’s noticing the Special Forces operators taking up position. Bixby eyes!
The thugs go flying, and the soldiers start shooting. The thing that was Banner stomps through the shadows undeterred until someone throws a grenade. And then the thing says “Leave me alone,” very quietly, like he’s very tired. Does this mean the Hulk will actually talk in this one? Not so much, no. Blonsky finally gets a glimpse of the thing’s face before he gets away.
The CGI Hulk in this one is different from the first film: more striations in the muscles, more veins, more gray than bright green. There is an amazing close-up of his foot where you can see the ridges that make up the thumbprint on his big toe. But I wouldn’t say he’s more realistic than the other Hulk. Just unrealistic in a different way. And aside from the scar on Ed Norton’s cheek being echoed on the Hulk, he once again looks nothing like the actor playing Banner, no more than Ferrigno looked like Bixby.
Anyway, General Ross is not happy when the Hulk escapes. Bruce comes to in a peaceful glade beside a waterfall. In Guatemala. Which, BTW, is not Brazil, so the Hulk did some traveling. And to the strains of the “Lonely Man” theme from the Incredible Hulk TV series, Banner begs in the street for money to buy food and new clothes to replace the ones he tore up. This is just pitiful, and a brief moment of real misery in a film that is otherwise full of amped-up comic-book silliness.
But of course, we can’t have a TV series reference without a comic book reference, so Banner is looking at purple pants once he gets some money.
Meanwhile, Ross is filling in Blonsky on Banner’s background, which the script ties in to a certain super-soldier research program initiated in WWII.
And even though they said Blonsky was a Royal Marine, he’s wearing an American uniform with American rank and a whole lot of fruit salad. Ross hints that he can juice Blonsky up a bit to help in the fight.
Two weeks later, and Bruce is in Virginia (crossing the border was apparently easy as pie). He’s at Culver University, trying to get the data Mr. Blue says he needs to finalize a cure. He gets a job with a pizza guy who knew him back in the day, and uses the pizza to bribe a university guard into letting him in. The guard is Lou Ferrigno, in a double nod to TV series (Hulk) and Ang Lee movie (security guard cameo), because the Zak Penn script is so full of in-jokes and references that they have to double up.
Bruce gets into the computer lab and bribes another guy with more pizza (who is chewing even though his slice hasn’t had a bite taken out of it yet) and logs in as Betty, but the records have been deleted. No data for Mister Blue. But then Bruce runs into Betty (Liv Tyler) at the pizza place…
She takes him back to her place and gives him a copy of the data she has kept on a flash drive.
Meanwhile General Ross is using a version of the old super-soldier formula (the one that was used to create Captain America in the later film) to turn Blonsky into a fighting machine.
Betty is walking Bruce across campus to the bus station when Bruce notices soldiers. He runs, and the soldiers chase him. He ducks out of sight long enough to swallow the flash drive, then is trapped in glassed-in walkway, where they try to gas him. Which might have worked if he hadn’t seen a soldier tackling Betty, which makes him angry. And so…
To be concluded…