They have an Army, but we have a…
2008’s The Incredible Hulk is underrated. It’s not great by any means, being underwhelming in certain aspects and lacking in others. But its heart is in the right place, and more importantly, it helped continue the groundwork its same-summer companion Iron Man had just recently begun. Again, this sort of thing is taken for granted in Marvel movies now, but all throughout the film you can feel a solid sense of respect & affection for the source material, an understanding that these people get the property, and want to have fun with it.
Certainly it can be credited with swerving the franchise sharply away from the dour, pretentious Ang Lee version. The director of the reboot, Louis Laterrier, is generally known as a genre schlockmeister, but in addition to all the competent action Laterrier actually pulls off some very striking shots and a few other nice tricks.
Unfortunately, while the movie fulfills its action quota, only two of its action beats could be reasonably qualified as “fights.” The first real Hulk-out, in a bottling plant after a tense chase through Brazilian favelas, is excellent but over too quickly and takes place mostly in the shadows; in one of the film’s smarter moves, it’s seen mostly from the perspectives of Hulk’s tormentors, and plays out more like a horror sequence.
But there’s still plenty of fun left to be had.
2) Hulk vs The Army
- The Incredible Hulk, aka Bruce Banner. In case you haven’t heard, Banner is a mild-mannered scientist who, thanks to a lab accident involving gamma radiation, turns into a nigh-unstoppable rage beast whenever he becomes too angry or afraid. (This movie seems to tie the transformations directly to his heart rate reaching a certain threshold, a rather bland interpretation.) The Hulk is enormous, incredibly strong, durable, and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. He’s also typically seen as “dumb” in contrast to the brilliant Banner, but this varies with each adaptation and even more so throughout the comic’s history; some Hulks are child-like idiots, some have a normal intellect, and some have just flat-out been Bruce Banner in a big green body. More recent work has even claimed that all incarnations of the Hulk retain Banner’s genius on some level, allowing the creature to intuitively calculate his seemingly random destruction so as not to harm innocent bystanders. Also important: not only does rage trigger the Hulk’s transformation, increased anger will amplify his power. “The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets.” Played by Edward Norton, who acquits himself well as a brooding & thoughtful man of action, and also apparently did extensive but uncredited re-writes of the script.
- A small element of the United States Army, maybe a few dozen. They’re mostly equipped with small arms, but have several Humvees, a few of which are mounted with .50 caliber machine guns, and two more have some other interesting tech. Additionally, there’s a helicopter gunship nearby. (They’re also all wearing the woodland-camouflage Battle Dress Uniform, which the Army had fully phased out before 2008, the year this was released– let alone by 2011, the year this apparently takes place. Oops.) The troops are led by Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, a general deeply involved with the DoD’s gamma radiation/”special weapons” department, who has been obsessively hunting the Hulk for years and is also the father of Banner’s ex-girlfriend, Betty (awwwwwwkward). Played by William Hurt.
- Emil Blonsky, Ross’ point man in this endeavor. A British Royal Marine “on loan” to Ross for the Hulk chase, Blonsky is a cold-blooded special forces veteran. As the lone non-casualty of the bottling plant encounter, Blonsky has a bone to pick with Hulk, and Ross has worked to enable this rematch by pumping Blonsky full of an unthawed attempt at a re-creation of the super-soldier serum– the same one that made Captain America. Played by GFS hall-of-famer Tim Roth.
The Setup: Ross, as usual, is chasing Bruce Banner. This time around he’s pinpointed the fugitive’s location to the sprawling university campus where Betty works, after he’d re-surfaced there seeking assistance. Uncle Sam wants Banner alive, so they can figure out from his body how to re-create the Hulk, so as before they’re going after the guy with non-lethal means. After the hero bolts, Betty tracks down her father and implores him to stop. She is less than successful, and gets detained on the sidelines.
Though Banner’s inside, Blonsky and the majority of the troops remain out front, knowing that’s where they’ll need to be if they can’t subdue him before a transformation. In a neat practical effect, Blonsky is shown very easily out-running the rest of the infantry behind him– a cool way to introduce the effects his “treatments” are having.
Banner leads them on a merry chase across the campus, stopping at one point to swallow a thumb drive containing important data. Gross, but a necessary move for a guy whose pockets are about to get jacked up. Eventually, Banner finds himself trapped in a nifty glass walkway separating two buildings. Soldiers lock the doors on either side, and on Ross’ orders they fire knockout gas into his confined space. He starts to succumb, but when he looks outside and sees Betty distressed, his eyes turn green….
The Fight: At Ross’ order, all the soldiers start to unload on him, mostly with M16s. It’s little more than an annoyance to Hulk’s thick skin, and deters him not at all as he charges forward. A few Hummers with mounted .50 cals show up and begin firing, but even good old Ma Deuce can only cause Hulk moderate pain. Before they can even try to do worse, Hulk knocks over the nearest Humvee to him, then picks up another and smashes it repeatedly into a nearby sculpture, then the ground. Not one to let a nice piece of wreckage go to waste, the beast rips out part of the vehicle’s engine block and hurls at at a third Humvee, hard enough to knock that one into another Humvee. They both explode, which is always welcome.
This leaves Blonsky to take on the Hulk directly. Armed with a grenade launcher, he starts closing in on the Hulk, firing at intervals the whole way. The first couple rounds catch Hulk before he can react and do knock him back a bit, but soon he’s able to display some battlefield improvisation, and seizes two huge chunks of the metal lawn sculpture and uses them as shields.
After he gets in close enough, Blonksy drops the weapon, though it’s not clear if it’s because he ran out of ammo or if he lost his grip when he has to leap forward to avoid Hulk’s first counter-swing. Either way, Emil is reduced to just using his sidearm from here, which obviously doesn’t faze the big green guy at all. But his acrobatic dodging is quite incredibly, leaping and flipping all around Hulk’s would-be swings.
Ross, impressed, orders Blonsky to draw the target into the next phase of the plan: the sonic cannons.
These new weapons (apparently made by Stark Industries, of course) are non-lethal devices which fire visible waves of “sound” into the air and somehow incapacitate the target. It’s not clear if they do so merely by causing overwhelming pain to the target’s hearing/inner ear, or if they have their own concussive force, as is implied when Blonksy gets grazed by one just as he’s jumping out the way, which sends him tumbling too. But either way, you have to love these things: they’re SUCH a deliciously comic book-y contrivance, symbolic of how much fun this movie’s willing to have.
The cannons, once they’re both trained on Hulk, actually fix him pretty well at first, bringing him to the ground in pain. But once again, Hulk draws his strength at the sight of Betty’s visible distress over him, and forces himself back to his feet. Mitigating the sonic waves somewhat by first putting the metal shields in their path, and then he throws one right down the middle of the vehicle it’s mounted on, blowing it up. With the damage output reduced by half, Hulk is free enough to leap right onto the other cannon, destroying it personally.
Nearly out of options, Ross calls in the nearby gunship. Overly confident and disregarding orders to stand down, Blonsky takes a few more rifle shots at Hulk. When he’s out of ammo, he confronts Hulk face-to-face, daring him to continue their wildly disproportionate duel. “Is that all you got?” he taunts.
Disgusted, Hulk casually but swiftly boots Blonsky right in the chest, propelling into a tree about a hundred feet ahead. It looks like it hurts.
Betty tries to get close to the Hulk to make him calm down, which her dad somehow fails to notice before the gunship closes in. He tells them to not fire but it’s too late, leaving Hulk to use his body to protect her from the hail of powerful ammunition. The entire patch of grass they’re standing on is reduced to a smoking pit by the strafing helicopter, but Hulk survived it. Cradling an unconscious Betty, he leaps away to safety. Mark this one as another loss in the government’s War on Hulk.
This is good, if not great, stuff for the superhero genre. It’s a tight and confined to one location, but still fairly epic in its small-scale way; the 2003 Hulk disaster had another, bigger confrontation with the military which eventually wore out its welcome. Hulk goes up against not just conventional Army might but also some wonky sci-fi weaponry and a deranged, British version of Captain America (not to be confused with the other British version of Captain America), which adds to the fun. And throughout there’s nice beats like the Hulk’s improvised shields, proving the creature’s tactical intelligence.
We even some nice character moments: right after the Hulk transforms, Ross mutters to himself, “now she’ll see,” thinking that Betty will lose her affection for Bruce now that she personally witnesses how much of a monster the Hulk is. But ultimately it’s the Hulk who bravely rescues Betty from Ross’ own monstrous bad decisions.
Coming Attractions: Something abominable.