We’ve all been that person in a discussion: something pop culture related comes up and everyone around you immediately starts bagging on it. “Too hokey”, says one. “Horribly written” says another. “Why would anyone like that?” says someone else.
“Well I do”, you think to yourself, realizing that, once again, you’re the lone person that seems to appreciate a work, even for all of its faults. You chime in and quickly find yourself as the lone voice of reason in a sea of negativity. Even though your arguments are logical and sound, you know you won’t win, but you can’t just sit there while everyone else rips on a work that you enjoy.
For me, that work is the black sheep of the MCU, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk starring Ed Norton as Bruce Banner, William Hurt as General Ross, Liv Tyler as Betty Ross and Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky. Coming on the heels of Iron Man’s mega-success, Hulk was the second MCU movie (though produced by Universal) and the first to bring in someone from another movie (albeit in what was basically a teaser for the rest of the MCU at the end). It was also an attempt to re-launch the character after Ang Lee’s arthouse version a few years before that was met with a resounding “meh” from critics and audiences alike, mostly due to the presence of mutant poodles. Unfortunately, while the movie did over a quarter million at the box office and had decent reviews, it still is the only property in the MCU that still doesn’t have a sequel (in part because Universal still retains the solo film rights to the character and also because Norton was apparently a gigantic pain to work with).
It’s really too bad, because Louis Leterrier created what I thought was the perfect encapsulation of Banner’s struggles and his life as a fugitive. Aside from a brief opening montage where we see how Banner became the Hulk (which takes the origin from the TV show, not the comics), he drops the audience into the middle of the tale and focuses almost entirely on Banner’s hunt for a cure, and Ross’ hunt for Banner. Norton, Hurt and Roth were outstanding in their roles. Norton brought a quiet desperation to Banner, someone who is desperate to maintain control. Hurt’s portrayal of Ross as being desperate to find Banner to weaponize the Hulk is spot on. And Roth’s obsession with becoming as powerful as the Hulk and gradual descent into madness is amazing to watch.
In my opinion, the movie had the great blend of action, gravitas, emotion and humor that are hallmarks of the MCU, plus it had a fantastic score that utilized that great piano theme from the 70s TV show. It’s not perfect by any means. The thankfully brief appearance by Ty Burrell as Betty’s boyfriend Dr. Samson (sigh) is unnecessary (though leads to a great line by Ross about her daughter’s choice in men) and there’s a scene where they follow a couple of soldiers after Blonsky becomes the Abomination that felt thrown in. But just about any MCU movie has throwaway moments that seem to be there just to pad the run time (though Hulk is one of the few MCU movies that clocked in at under two hours in theaters).
So why does this movie get knocked down in the MCU rankings (with some putting it as the worst of the bunch)? There’s a few reasons in my mind. First, there’s definitely some revisionist history at work, thanks to Mark Ruffalo’s turn as Banner (which Norton could have done if he hadn’t been such a prick about the script and promoting the film). His chemistry with Widow in the second Avengers was the best part of that movie, and made Norton/Tyler seem shallow in comparison. Second, as was proven when Lord of the Rings came out, the nerd community seems to hate Liv Tyler. She wasn’t great in this movie but, just like with LOTR, she doesn’t drag the whole movie down either. Finally, and biggest in my mind, there wasn’t enough time between Lee’s version and this one for people to forget, which colored perceptions of this movie. Lee’s version isn’t bad, but it was so different from what people think a Hulk movie should be that it’s left a stain on the whole franchise.
Despite its flaws, I will continue to not only watch this movie when it’s on (as recently as a week ago), but also vigorously defend it (as I have on this very site!). So what movies, shows, books or games will you defend against the hordes? Same rule as before applies: NO JUDGING!