The Incredible Hulk


The Incredible Hulk (2008) is the second installment of the MCU and acts as both a reboot of the Hulk cinematic presence as well as a loose sequel to Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003). It stars Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner, a role that was recast with Mark Ruffalo for all consequent MCU films.

As I make my way through the entire MCU, I braced myself for The Incredible Hulk, aware of the stigma attached to it. I got the feeling that after Ruffalo’s successful portrayal of Banner/the Hulk in Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, Norton’s version of the Hulk was swept under the rug. I expected this to be the worst of the MCU, but I was pleasantly surprised. I was impressed with the first half of the film. The opening credits multi-task by summarizing Banner’s origins with the Hulk and his need to flee the United States. Once the film begins, no time is wasted on yet another origin story. The film starts with Banner in Brazil, trying to keep a low profile while also learning techniques to repress his anger. During the first act, Banner does not speak very much; the narrative is told mostly through visuals, which I found refreshing. I like to be engaged by the film without relying on dialogue to make up for creative deficiencies. As Banner makes his way back to the United States, he desperately wants to reunite with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), but he finds her with another man, Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell). I find Banner’s and Ross’ relationship very organic in this film. He looks at her with such longing, and the second she sees him again after who knows how long, her face radiates the same longing. It’s during scenes between Banner and Ross where Craig Armstrong’s score truly shines. His music adds a depth to their relationship that I feel may shine brighter than pairings in the other MCU films. The first half of the film felt like a character study on Banner, whose portrayal by Norton was nuanced and sensitive. I enjoyed that the narrative was exploring his character through his time on the run, his relationship with Betty, and his incredible sense of self-control.

That being said, what follows cheapens the solid foundation set up in the beginning. Tim Roth plays a strange character, Emil Blonsky, who is hired to help contain Banner. After seeing the Hulk in action, he starts to lust for his power and ends up convincing General Ross (William Hurt) to expose him to some of the same radiation that was exposed to Banner. This doesn’t make much sense. General Ross is hellbent on containing Banner, to take his blood and make him a weapon and to keep him from unleashing terrible destruction — but he somehow thinks Blonsky may be able to control himself? Well, Blonsky ends up getting the full gamma treatment and becomes Abomination, making the last act basically a monster showdown. It’s a superhero film cliché becoming more prevalent, notably in Man of Steel. It’s so disappointing watching a sensitive and thoughtful set up unravel into a pit of convention and mediocrity.

Along those lines, it’s also disappointing to explore Norton’s Banner only to leave him forever. I didn’t see The Incredible Hulk before the Avengers films, so I feel connected to Ruffalo’s Banner — but I enjoyed seeing what Norton did. Despite all his professionalism problems, his work is marvelous and he brought a subtlety to a Marvel character that perhaps hasn’t been seen since. The next time I see The Avengers, I’ll wonder if Banner thinks about Betty.

Man of Steel


Man of Steel (2013) is the latest reboot of the Superman franchise, directed by Zack Snyder. The Superman film prior to Man of Steel was Superman Returns (2006) directed by Bryan Singer.

The film takes a different approach to a familiar and often-told story. The origin story of Planet Krypton is told in greater detail, illustrating an Avatar-like world that combines advanced technology and weaponry with savage structures and flying beasts. In the final moments before the planet explodes, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends his babe son into space, heading for Earth in order to preserve the race, against General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) wishes, who aims to preserve the race himself.

The film, after that point, takes a thoughtful approach to Superman’s upbringing. The next hour of the film has no linear plot. The film progresses through various flashbacks to Clark Kent’s (Henry Cavill) childhood, which allow the viewer to understand Clark’s present-day morality. They present the trials and tribulations that a young Clark faced, which molded his nomadic adulthood. Cavill’s portrayal of Superman is sensitive, expressing subtle changes in his voice and eyes. He fully utilizes his rugged features to exhibit Clark Kent’s wholesome, small-town America vibe.

The flashbacks continue as Lois Lane (Amy Adams) begins chasing down leads to write a story about Clark Kent. She delivers a strong portrayal of Lois Lane without risking vulnerability and compassion. Adams creates a driven female journalist with a hint of her signature sweetness.

Man of Steel expresses some religious imagery throughout the film, almost as if Superman is the ‘Man of God’. The way Superman is shown floating in the air is almost Christ-like, which comes as no surprise since his father describes him as a savior of mankind. These depictions are stunning yet curious — is he one of the human race or is he akin to a god? On a similar note, the scenes that showed Superman overcoming a considerable challenge were inspiring. The look on his face, the determination, the struggle, it all drew in focus and inspired. Superman becomes a stirring figure, comparable to a deity.

The film thrives on a thoughtful pace of meaningful memories, mirrored by calm and reflective music by Hans Zimmer, but the film unfortunately takes a turn from that introspective tone. In fact, the film makes such a stark change that it feels like Michael Bay came in and directed the second half of the film. As a concrete plot line is established, the tone and the story feel aggressive and somewhat false. This film tried to capitalize from previous superhero movies, particularly Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, that presented superheroes and villains in an authentic way. That worked incredibly well for Nolan’s Batman films, because his villains were human, albeit crazed and extremely flawed. They worked in a real-world scenario because real life has shown eccentric and despicable beings. It did not work in this film for two reasons: 1) Superman’s world involves aliens and 2) the movie becomes action-centric. Aliens are always challenging to make realistic, and the entire encounter and communication with the human race is not believable.

The movie tries to be exciting and action-packed, like J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek is, but it overshoots the mark. The amount of destruction is laughable. There is a point in all the action when the viewer shuts down and waits for it all to stop. And when that stop finally arrives, the action just picks right back up and bombards the viewer with more. The writing, the one-liners, and the story all took a blow in the second half — where it feels like an entirely different film.

The reboot has tremendous potential, and if the movie gets a sequel, one can only hope that Snyder focuses on the thoughtful and unique storytelling from the first half. That is where the film shined.