Assembling the Avengers #2: The Incredible Hulk

It’s kind of ‘Avengers Week’ here on The Nuge, whereby I watch all the previous Marvel movies in a barefaced attempt to drive geek traffic to the blog whilst everyone’s talking about the Avengers. Yes, it’s shameless. I don’t care, ok?  

Coming just one month after Iron Man in the summer of 2008, The Incredible Hulk reboots the mean green smashing machine, following Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003). Less thoughtful, less value-neutral (‘incredible’, eh? let me be the judge of that, thank you very much!) and generally more enjoyable than its predecessor, this second attempt at a big screen green giant is perhaps the most complex of the Avengers, and the trickiest to portray. How do you take a troubled genius scientist and a raging alpha-male monster with no regard for human life, and make him a hero?

The first act, largely set in Brazil, is great. It sensibly decides that everyone knows the Hulk backstory, and so condenses the character’s origins into a lightning-fast pre-credits sequence, before spending an enjoyable first hour pitting Bruce Banner on the run, chase-movie style, from some grumpy US special forces.  Undoubtedly enjoying the benefit of Ed Norton’s rewrites, the script is relatively cliché-free, and there are some delightful moments. Tim Blake Nelson nearly steals the show in his brief appearance as scientist Samuel Sterns.

It struggles to leave a mark, though. Marvel have been brave with some of their director choices (Whedon, Branagh, Black) but with Louis Letterier, they went for the safe route. His career spans the full Meh gamut, from OK, I Guess (The Transporter) to Definitely Shouldn’t Have Bothered (Clash Of The Titans). So whilst The Incredible Hulk is very capably directed, and looks fine, it’s tremendously difficult to get excited about. It’s powerfully unmemorable, too.

And ultimately, the problematic elements of the original character become ever-present. Yes, Hulk Smash, but Hulk Wisecrack? Hulk Reflect On The Nature Of His Identity? Hulk Able To Appear Without The Use of CGI? Sadly not. As thoughtful and considered an actor as Norton is, he basically stops acting when transforming, and his presence is keenly missed as ILM take over the reins. Hulk is a blunt knife of a character. It will be interesting to see what Ruffalo does with him in the Avengers. Because you know what, Bruce? You’re right. I don’t like you when you’re angry.

Previously: Iron Man. Tomorrow: Iron Man 2.

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