A lot of young people won’t believe this but there once was a time when a family dice game featuring the lovable idiot from Parks and Rec, a lady from Kirk’s spank-bank, a stick, a trash panda, and The Invisible Man on the box would have been regarded as a very silly idea. But now no one bats an eye when they see Guardians of the Galaxy-themed Yahtzee, because the MCU flicks have become such a huge part of our culture. And it all started with the Phase 1 movies.
These first Marvel blockbusters paved the way for some of the highest-grossing movies in history, but when people remember them, it usually goes something like this: “The first Iron Man was gritty! Thor was epic! Captain America was endearing! The Incredible Hulk … was!” So our question is: Why all the hate/indifference for the Ed Norton Hulk movie? Is it because of the actor playing the Unjolly Green Giant? Did the lot of you get confused and thought that American History X was a documentary? Probably, because it couldn’t have been the movie itself, which is and always has been great.
Even if you haven’t seen the film, you know the story: Dr. Bruce Banner lives in fear of the monster inside him while someone else tries to use said monster for their own gain. That’s literally the plot of every Hulk story out there, from the 1978 TV show to The Avengers or Thor: Ragnarok. So why are the latter two considered better takes on the character? Maybe because Hulk is overpowering, literally and figuratively, so he needs to be balanced out by other characters and stories, which the Ruffalo films obviously did. The fact of the matter is that it might be impossible to make a strictly Hulk-focused movie work.
Okay, cool. The Incredible Hulk is not a strictly Hulk-focused movie. It’s ultimately a story about regular humans feeling left behind in a strange, new world and desperately trying to keep up. It’s all there in Tim Roth’s character.
In the movie, Roth plays Emil Blonsky, a Royal Marine and one of the best soldiers on the planet. Though maybe not for long. Blonsky is starting to get on in years, and isn’t as spry as he used to be, and in his business, it means that death is just around the corner. And then the Hulk shows up, making him feel even more useless. A human being could never dream to match up with Hulk, and that messes with Blonsky’s mind. His fear of becoming obsolete drives him to get injected with an experimental super soldier formula, but it’s not enough to take Hulk on. We see him going more and more off the deep end, losing his professionalism and taking the conflict between him and the monster personally, until he gets so unhinged, he injects himself with Banner’s blood, turning into the monstrous Abomination.
This isn’t a tiny detail hidden somewhere in the back of the movie. Roth’s Blonsky/Abomination and Norton’s Hulk share almost the exact same amount of screentime because the movie understands that Hulk must at least be a double act, and here, it pairs him with a fascinating character that’s also acted to perfection. Marvel is literally refusing to accept a heap of money by not bringing him back to the MCU. They’re bringing back Molina’s Doc Ock so why not Roth?
But perhaps what people dislike about Norton’s Hulk was the Hulk himself. Admittedly, him and Ruffalo’s character are very different creatures. They are sort of like the two Kongs in the 1933 and 2005 movies. Ruffalo’s Hulk and the 2005 Kong had better effects but both characters also exhibited signs of intelligence. You could read their emotional states from their faces. Norton’s Hulk and the 1933 Kong, on the other hand, were more like wild animals. Most of the time, you didn’t really know what was going on inside their heads, and no one is saying that is a better interpretation but it’s still an incredibly fascinating one.
Is The Incredible Hulk a perfect movie? What kind of a dumbass question is that? With the exception of this …
… there are no perfect movies. Every film has its problem, and TIH is no exception. But that doesn’t make it bad. It still understands the character and has some kick-ass fight scenes with a super fun villain. No one is forcing you to like it (because stupid politicians don’t accept piles of IOUs as bribes) but maybe now you can understand why some of us love it so.
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Top Image: Marvel Studios