When Ang Lee made his big screen Hulk in 2003, I was incredibly excited. I loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and I was in great anticipation to see what this auteur director would do with one of the top tier Marvel heroes.
And it was awful.
So when Marvel took another crack at the character I was especially skeptical. But The Incredible Hulk was the movie about the Green Goliath I had been waiting for.
This movie skips over the entire origin story and starts with Banner (Edward Norton) already on the run, hiding out in Rio de Janeiro as a simple factory worker. While living underground he tries to search for a cure to his problem. This eventually leads him on a journey back home and through the country until he has a final epic confrontation in Harlem.
The biggest improvement on this film to other (of which there are many) is the fact that the Banner scenes are incredibly (pun intended) exciting. In fact, when I think back on this movie, the scene that sticks out most for me is the scene where Banner is being chased by General Ross' (William Hurt) thugs led by Emile Blondsky (Tim Roth). Director Louis Letterier expertly used his camera to not only create a dynamic action sequence but also to show off the unique city scape of Rio. Norton is particularly effective as a man who is hounded and hunted, but he never appears weak. He fights back with his wits, but that does not preclude him from being a man of action. Roth is also very effective as Blondsky. While his character is single-minded, Roth gives the character enough scrappy charisma to make him very interesting to watch.
The love story between Banner and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) was also tender and poignant. You could feel the sadness at the barrier between them. No matter how close they became emotionally and physically, they could never truly connect with each other because of the Hulk. This leads to a particularly funny scene where they are being amorous and Banner tells her that he cannot get too excited. "Not even a little excited?" she asks.
Letterier knew how to fill the shots with awe or heartache or dynamism. I still can see so vividly his ariel shot of Rio as he sweeps across the mountainous homes stacked on each other like a house of cars in a seemingly endless landscape of poverty. And he made such a beautiful frame of the sitting Hulk next too the comforting Betty as the monster feels childlike rage at the thunder.
And while the movie is wonderfully effective as a superhero version of The Fugitive, it does not overlook how to use the Hulk. One of the big problems with the original Hulk movie was that it had horrible opponents. Can anyone say "atomic poodles?"
But this film nicely amps up the challenges. We first see the Hulk dispatch some common thugs. Then he takes on a state-of-the-art military. And finally, he must face off with the Abomination, a monster every bit as evil as others fear the Hulk to be. I especially love the shot of Banner falling out of the helicopter as Betty slips from his fingers.
And like Thor, this movie has one of the best scores in the Marvel Cinematic universe. It was exciting and scary and gave each scene the added adrenaline rush.
After getting the Hulk right, Marvel used him to even greater effect in the Avengers. But without this movie, we may never again have seen Hulk smash!