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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - The Incredible Hulk

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  I watch a movie I own and blog about it.  It's just that easy.  I'm currently doing a run through Phase I of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and today we land on The Incredible Hulk.  I did my run through and originally wrote this on January 14, 2018.  

People rarely the second person to accomplish something.  No one remembers the second person who flew non-stop from New York to Paris.  No one remembers who was on Apollo 12.  And it seems that the second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Incredible Hulk, is the most forgotten of the MCU films. 

Maybe it's because the references to The Incredible Hulk have been more subtle, but they are there.  In The Avengers, Bruce Banner says he "broke Harlem" the last time he was in New York, which was a reference to the final battle in The Incredible Hulk.  It took 10 films, but they finally brought back William Hurt as Gen. Ross in Captain America: Civil War.  And Joss Whedon says he tried to bring back the Abomination as one of Loki or Ultron's henchmen in Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, respectively, but wound up cutting him because it was just too many characters.  (In case you're wondering what did happen to the Abomination, Agent Coulson let slip in an episode of Agents of SHIELD that he's cryogenicly frozen at a SHIELD facility in Alaska.) 

Perhaps the most overt reference came in The Avengers, when Banner tells a story about when he was in a dark place and though the only way he'd be free of the Hulk is through suicide.  Banner tells of how he placed the gun in his mouth, but at the last minute, he turned into the Hulk and the Hulk saved his life.  That's actually a deleted scene from The Incredible Hulk.  They say on the running commentary how it was originally meant to be a pre-credits sequence, but in editing, decided it was a really grim way to open the film. 

But I'm sure it was forgotten mainly because of the re-casting of Bruce Banner.  This was Edward Norton's only appearance as Bruce Banner, as he was replaced with Mark Ruffalo for the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  According to Norton's official statement, he decided to pass on reprising Bruce Banner out of fear of typecasting.  From what little I've read online over the years, Norton is the kind of guy who likes to have a lot of creative control on his films, and he and the Marvel bosses just had one too many clashes. 

It's also kind of in this weird transition place, in that it also tries to be a half-hearted sequel to Ang Lee's 2003 film.  Ang Lee's Hulk ends with Bruce Banner hiding out in South America...The Incredible Hulk opens with Bruce Banner hiding out in Brazil.  Gen. Ross mentions that Banner had been on the run for five years...five years had passed between Hulk and The Incredible Hulk.

Although, that's where I do give Marvel boss Kevin Feige and director Louis Letterrier credit.  Establishing the pattern that Feige repeated with Spider-Man Homecoming, they knew there was no point in rehashing the origin story because it was still fresh in people's minds.  So they skip the origin altogether.  But, in order to make sure everyone's up to speed, Leterrier chooses to retell the origin story...during the opening credits.  I always thought that was a very smart way to get the origin tale done with and out of the way. 

So Banner is hiding out in Brazil.  He makes his living as a day labourer at a soda pop bottling plant.  He spends his nights communicating online with a scientist known only as "Mr. Blue," who's helping Banner find a cure for his condition.  But of course, things eventually go wrong.  Banner cuts himself at work one day, a drop of his blood gets in a bottle of pop, and when Stan Lee drinks it, this is a new lead for Thunderbolt Ross to bring in his Hulkbusters to apprehend Banner. 

New on Ross's team, on loan from the British Royal Marines, is Emil Blonsky.  Blonsky is getting a little long in the tooth, but refuses a promotion to a desk job, as he prefers to be in the field...in the fight.  Ross sees a kindred spirit in Blonsky, and makes Blonsky a tempting offer. 

You see, they kind of follow Ultimate Hulk's origin here, in that Bruce Banner's experiments with gamma radiation was an attempt to re-create Captain America's super-soldier serum.  Gen. Ross mentions to Blonsky that, in Ross's research, they did develop a serum that was "promising," so of course Blonsky volunteers to be injected.  This manages to enhance Blonsky's speed and strength, and he is able to go toe-to-toe with the Hulk in their second encounter...until the Hulk kicks him into a tree. 

I should follow up on Banner's story.  After the incident in Brazil, Banner figures it's time to head home, hoping that his original research notes would provide Mr. Blue with the extra data he needs.  Of course, back home, he runs into his one true love, Betty Ross, played by Liv Tyler.  As far as I'm concerned, Tyler is probably the only weak spot in the film.  She only has two modes as Betty Ross:  sleepy and hysterical. 

Anyways, once they collect Banner's research, and have the second encounter where Blonsky is kicked into a tree, Bruce and Betty make their way to New York City and Banner finally meets Mr. Blue face to face...Dr. Samuel Sterns.  They try an experimental cure on Bruce, and it appears to have worked, but Bruce is horrified.  Turns out that Sterns has taken the blood samples that Bruce has sent him over the years and synthesized it into a serum that may be able to Hulk-out other beings.  Bruce wants Sterns' serum destroyed, but before that can happen, Gen. Ross busts in and Bruce is apprehended. 

However, the healed-up Blonsky, who got a second dose of super-soldier serum, heard just enough of Sterns' describing his research, that he gets Sterns to inject him with the serum.  All these super-soldier serums turn Blonsky into the Abomination, and he begins to tear up New York City. 

And we get our greatest tease for a Marvel film that we'll never get.  After Abomination trashes Sterns' lab, we see Sterns on the floor, some of his gamma serum dripping into his open head wound.  Sterns' head starts pulsating, and he grins an evil grin. Hello and good-bye, Leader. 

And then Hulk and the Abomination duke it out in Harlem, which is totally-not-Toronto.  Seriously, though, to us Canadians, the legendary Sam the Record Man sign is a dead give away that it was actually Toronto. 

Watching this battle, I am reminded of one critic I saw online that said a Hulk movie has to be the kaiju film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The big draw is watching the giant monsters fight. 

You can see, though, that this was the one where Marvel really started experimenting with a cinematic universe concept.  When Gen. Ross starts talking about a super-soldier project during World War II, we, the audience, all know he's talking about Captain America.  We the Stark Industries logo on a lot of military weaponry.  Gen. Ross uses the assistance of SHIELD to track down the Hulk.  And it all culminates with that final scene, where Tony Stark makes a gratuitous cameo to console Gen. Ross.  I still maintain that was meant to a be a post-credits stinger, but the gigantic success of Iron Man made them move it up to be the very last scene in the film, so as not to leave the audience waiting. 

And it's pretty Easter-egg-a-riffic.  In addition to the requisite Stan Lee and Lou Ferigno cameos, you're also treated to Paul Soles, who did the voice of Spider-Man in the 1967 cartoon!  They even manage to work in a cameo by Bill Bixby, who played David Banner on the original 1978 TV series.  The best, though, is composer Craig Armstrong working the classic TV show theme into his score. 

My feelings towards the Incredible Hulk really haven't changed since I saw it in theatres in 2008.  It's fun, but it's pretty formulaic as superhero films go.  I'd still love to get another Hulk solo film.  Let's finally get the Leader.  Hell, thanks to Wonder Woman proving it can be done, let's get a She-Hulk film.  But, Marvel seems to be content right now with making the Hulk a supporting player in other Marvel films.  But, as I recently read Marvel boss Kevin Feige say, I like that the conversation has changed from WHY make another Hulk film to WHEN will they make another Hulk film.

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