Assembling the Avengers – The Incredible Hulk

This is the sixth article in the coverage of the movies related to 2012’s The Avengers. To get to the overview click here.

Editor’s note: I have delayed this review as well as the final Avengers review for some time due to my disappointment with Avengers. Because I didn’t want to unleash the full nerdrage right after the cinema I decided to wait a little and let the dust settle.

But before we get to the final team up we have one final member to introduce

The hero
Exposed to gamma-radiation scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is turned into a green ragemonster whenever he gets mad. Chased by the Army Banner has to find an antidote to stop the Hulk from taking control over him.

The Hulk has been a very problematic protagonist and it took Marvel three tries to get it right. In 2003 Ang Lee’s version of the Hulk was a very psychological approach but it was brought down by its over-seriousness.

Five years later Marvel semi rebooted the Hulk story with The Incredible Hulk. It’s a semi reboot due to the fact that it does not give us the origin story of the Hulk – instead it is relying on the audience to know the Hulk’s story and for those who don’t know the story get a little exposition from General Ross (William Hurt) after the first act.

On the other hand the movie is not really connected to the 2003 incarnation.

The new version of Bruce Banner is played by Edward Norton who in general is a pretty damn good actor. According to reports Norton was very much into the character and the story but to be honest his version of Bruce Banner is very unremarkable. He is a person who is constantly under pressure and is consumed by the gravity of his condition.

Because of this Banner becomes very dry, bland and uninteresting. Unless he is turning into a green blob of CGI. The monster within Banner can be something to draw a lot of drama or it’s just…

A misunderstood monster
It is a common problem in unremarkable stories that they don’t lack ideas but execution. Many ideas are hinted which could lead to interesting conflicts but eventually they never happen because it would force the writer to get creative.

This is one of the biggest problems that plague the abysmal Twilight movies: the characters keep stating what could happen. The protagonist keeps insisting that he could kill Kristen Stewart any second because he is a monster – but he never does anything like this so that it could actually affect the plot.

Similarly to the Hulk. He is an uncontrollable monster. The Mr. Hyde of Bruce Banner who keeps ruining his life. He is so wild and full of rage that Banner is afraid of himself. There is even a storyline that the prologue hints at: when Bruce first turned into the Hulk he almost killed his love Betty (Liv *whispering* Tyler). So there is plenty of room for a dangerous Hulk who will do things that might haunt Bruce Banner – but this would require a thought out script. Let’s just go through the motion so we can fight…

The villain
Emil Blonksy (Tim Roth) is a soldier hungry to go to the limit. When he witnesses the Hulk he has only one goal: to beat it. To him it is less about being evil – he sees it like a sports competition, like a big hunt.

Like pretty much all other villains in the current MCU Blonsky is the inverted version of the protagonist. They share a similar origin story (like Red Skull, Vanko, Iron Monger and Loki) and are more or less equally powered.

But while Blonsky is a very predictable character the movie gets one thing dead on that Iron Man 2 failed at: having a constant conflict between the rivals.

Blonsky and the Hulk meet three times and every time the balance of power is shifted.
First it is a chase through Rio that ends in a warehouse shootout.

The next confrontation is a physical one between a Blonsky who has had a first taste of the Hulk Serum.

Both confrontations are teasers for the big final battle between a fully formed Abomination and Hulk. The battle is actually done quite nicely and much like the overall film it is passable for an evening without leaving that big of an impression.

The bigger story
The Incredible Hulk is stuffed with little Easter eggs to the entire MCU:

  • Bruce Banner was investigating a new version of the supersoldier-serum
    (Captain America)
  • The Hulk is freaked out by a thunderstorm (Thor)
  • Stark Industries is providing new weapons to catch the Hulk (Iron Man)
  • The SHIELD database is used to track Banner
    (all MCU movies minus Captain America)
  • Tony Stark appears at the end (Iron Man)

Aside from the last scene all those Easter eggs are surprisingly well integrated into the story without drawing too much attention to themselves. Especially the SHIELD connection is very well integrated. Much like the Agent Coulson scenes in Thor our knowledge of the MCU enhances the routine investigation scene and shows us that SHIELD is everywhere.

Because the story for Avengers hadn’t yet been decided in 2008 the actions in this movie (as with Iron Man 2) feel free of consequence beyond this story. While the MCU is sold as something to connect small stories to a bigger one the five pre-Avengers movies didn’t really feature a cohesive narrative. They are more two hour adventures connected via cameos.

Also because the MCU was about deciding what worked and what not Hulk suffered from set up that wouldn’t pay off eventually because someone decided otherwise.

This is very true for Dr. Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) who gets knocked into the corner by the Abomination only to have some Hulk blood leaking into his brain to have a cheap set up for a possible villain. But it is only that – a set up that is not really integrated into the narrative and is only there to serve as a possible backdoor for future Hulk movies.

The cameo by Tony Stark is even more disjointed as it hints at a storyline which is never picked up again. They even had to come up with a convoluted short that requires a Ph.D. in MCU-studies to justify why the scene was even there. The short superimposes a completely new meaning onto the scene and shouts “this is why we didn’t continue the story we hinted at”.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgUjlH4vywM]

But at the end there is not much point in thinking about the narrative – the scene speaks less to the story but to the audience. It is there to promote another movie, not to add to an existing story – which is what the MCU eventually would turn out to be.

But more on that later…

Verdict
Chronologically The Incredible Hulk is the last one before The Avengers is happening yet because it already came out in 2008 there is little connection to the big upcoming movie. Contrary to Thor which is in spirit the true prequel to Avengers this movie is more of a one shot than the movie to watch before the big event.

Overall it has big flaws and takes itself too serious for the the little drama it is actually providing. But it is a passable albeit forgettable action flick.

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