At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Incredible Hulk “08”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action/ Stars: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt/ Runtime: 112 minutes

I think it is a safe bet to make that movie goers will surely remember the first 2 decades of the 21st century due in no small part to the larger than life, and decently-budgeted adaptations of beloved comic book heroes from both the lands of DC, Marvel, and other assorted parties. Indeed much in the same vein as the sci-fi craze of the 50s, the gritty crime drama-filled 70s, or even the over-the-top muscular popcorn action fare of the Go-Go 80s, people will remember this time period as the one where we finally got serious adaptations of such dignitaries as The Amazing Spider-Man, Iron Man, and The Uncanny X-Men which, due to their release typically coming in summer, has by now almost become a rite of passage of sorts for those of us who love and cherish these films and truth be told this summer really hasn’t been as complete without the presence of one of those in our day to day lives. At one time however, there was a summer known as the summer of 2008 which showcased itself really in a lot of ways as the first truly great summer for superheroics in cinema. I say that because this was the summer that a trinity of films known as Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and The Incredible Hulk all came to make people aware that this genre was here for the long haul and that the good times were only just getting started. A welcome thing really because for every X-Men or The Punisher that came out before that summer we as movie goers had also been treated to quite a few other shot in the dark attempts to take our hard earned movie dollar, even after 8.50 for a small bag of popcorn, and these attempts were seriously starting to weaken the genre’s credibility with the major studios. Indeed these were movies not only like Daredevil, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which I do have a soft spot for, but still), and film helmer Ang Lee’s 2003 stab at one of Marvel’s more iconic characters: Hulk. Indeed even though it made quite a pretty penny and did nobly try to bring a comic book to life through unique work in the visual effects department, the film was still quite a drag in certain spots thus leaving Hulk in a rather precarious position. Thankfully, following the first Iron Man back in 2008, Marvel quickly released a 2nd film in their, at the time, blossoming and still quite experimental MCU and it was one which featured the Big Green Guy and his meek yet brilliant scientist alter-ego. Thankfully this was just what was needed for fans to not go and Hulk out since Marvel managed to give us quite a winner with The Incredible Hulk. Indeed the narrative is intriguing, the acting is actually good, the pace is just right, the runtime makes it easy to sit through, and the special effects were truly astonishing true believers! Indeed it may certainly be seen as the least of the three major comic book adaptations to be released in that now far-gone summer of 2008, but The Incredible Hulk still has managed to remain a truly distinct and, dare I say it, incredible entry in the MCU when it was merely in its infancy.

The plot is as follows: The Incredible Hulk tells the story of a man by the name of Bruce Banner who is on the run from the U.S. Government and is currently in hiding and working at a soda bottling plant in Brazil. It seems Dr. Banner was at one time a truly incredibly gifted scientist who was hard at work on some truly intriguing and revelatory experiments including the creation of a way to shield people from the truly potent effects of gamma radiation. Confident his serum worked, Banner decided to test it on himself only to quickly and horrifically discover a most unexpected and undesired side effect of sorts. A side effect that consists of the fact that nowadays if Banner’s heart rate ever gets close or over 200 beats per minute, he finds himself unwillingly turning into a giant green creature known simply as The Hulk. A creature that, it is worth noting, gets stronger the longer he stays angry and who can’t be killed with conventional weaponry thus making him hard to contain and even more difficult to subdue. Thus, when our movie opens, we learn that Banner is in Brazil not only to hopefully find a cure to rid him of Hulk, but also to run from people like General “Thunderbolt” Ross since he sees Banner as nothing more than runaway government property and wishes to capture him so he can use his blood for his own nefarious experiments. Thus when Banner’s location is accidentally revealed, Ross quickly and promptly sends in a team of commandos, led by a ruthless and driven major by the name of Emil Blonsky into Brazil to help him capture his prey. Of course it should come as no surprise to learn that Banner is barely able to escape, and decides to head home to New York not only to get further answers from a mysterious source of his known as Mr. Blue, but also to reunite with his former girlfriend, and Ross’ daughter Betty. Unfortunately Ross and Blonsky aren’t too far behind, but eventually it will be Blonsky more than Ross who will find a way to present both Banner and Hulk with their greatest challenge to date….

Now it should be noted that The Incredible Hulk at it’s bigger than average core is pure entertainment at its absolute best. Indeed this film will surely satisfy and delight in equal measure every lover of the action genre. I say that because this film has some of the more visceral, thrilling, and actually realistic to a degree action beats this side of Marvel’s Iron Man also released in 2008. Indeed it also, for all intents and purposes, utterly annihilate the take on this character helmed by Ang Lee in practically every way. Not to mention, but the moment in the film where we see Hulk take on both the military and Blonsky in daylight and on a college campus is one of the best moments that this film has to offer. Indeed by being such a joy for the senses, the moment also manages to completely immerse the audience, like the majority of this film, in everything going on and as such makes for a more engaging sit. Also of note that in this take, the special effects are far and away better done than they were back in 2003. Indeed not only does Hulk look a heck of a lot more real in this one, but just as crucial, all the effects are inserted quite flawlessly into the movie and never once do they manage to take you out of the film due to either how shoddy or unbelievable they seem.

Yet buried under all the action beats and terrific special effects work that this film has to offer is a genuinely intriguing story about a guy who is constantly searching. Not only for who he is, but also for just what it is he has become, and how to keep it in check for everyone around him least of all himself. Indeed in the eyes of this reviewer, the Hulk seems like an intriguing metaphor for the creature that surely exists in all of us. A creature that for a few is comprised of our anger and hostility, and for others is either a struggle with an addiction of some kind or a conflict with all the regret and guilt that so many of us choose to pile up on our inner selves. Indeed as we are able to see throughout this film Banner may go to these truly enormous lengths to tame both this inner monster to say nothing of this destructive power he possesses which has the capability to harm anyone at any time, but the person who suffers the most is Banner through and through. A fact that is apparent since even though his intentions for doing so are good, the fact still remains that he cannot for the life of him come across a way to achieve balance, psychologically speaking, in his life. Thus we soon see that is only through love, comprehension, loyalty, and dedication on the part of Betty not only to Banner as a person, but to the cause he is tied himself to that proves to be his best chance at preventing the Hulk from coming out and wreaking all kinds of havoc. Indeed this may be a truly good entry in the action genre, but it is also a lot deeper than you might think at first and even manages to showcase not only some truly intriguing ideas, but also provide the audience a chance to privately reflect on the monster in themselves should you be able to look past the surface ingredients in this film.

Now with the release of both Iron Man followed by The Incredible Hulk in the summer of 2008, Marvel Studios managed to show that they were capable of conjuring up movies that were not only entertaining, but that did not come to the respective characters in these movies with too much material. I say that because one of the best things about what Marvel has been able to do, even way back then, was make their movies viewable by not only longtime comic book readers, but also to those who have never opened a comic book a day in their lives thus making it easy to see both where their characters came from and also why they are doing the things that they do. The other thing that Marvel has done brilliantly is not only made a truly complete and diverse yet also connected universe in their films that makes them feel like the comics come to life, but they also take each film on its own merits as well and make sure they work well both individually and collectively at the same time. This is only possible through the manner in which Marvel establishes each film’s cast of characters, and then making them individuals who you can find yourself not only empathizing with, but also connecting with on a deeper level as well. Indeed each camera shot or line of dialogue spoken is there for a reason and nothing is unnecessary, degrading, or poorly executed. Yes these are action movies before anything else, but they are also movies that care just as much if not more so about the characters involved since these are characters that people have grown up knowing and, in many cases, loving since they were first put to paper by Marvel Comics all those years ago.

All in all its flaws aside, I think it is safe to say that The Incredible Hulk is a wonderful little example on just how comic book films can be done and done right. Yes it gives audiences quite a bit that is extraordinary in both the visual and action departments, but even more crucial to the narrative that is being told, the film doesn’t let audiences down in regards to how the film’s cast of characters as well as the narrative itself are developed which are two things that are of the utmost importance in conjuring up for audiences a more satisfying movie going experience. Suffice it to say then that, its loosey-goosey ties to the overall MCU aside, the trinity of films known as The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight are all wonderful examples of what was possible when Hollywood finally started taking comic book films seriously and 2008 will always be held as an amazing year for this genre; as for why it wasn’t extraordinary well….that’s because even better lay ahead even if we didn’t know it yet….On a scale of 1-5 I give The Incredible Hulk a solid 3.5 out of 5.