Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Recap: "The Incredible Hulk" Part 2: Isobars

It's at this point that the film slows down and begins to tackle some existential questions of life and existence regarding the psychology of the Hulk and... nah, I'm kidding. Stuff gets smashed.

Like Hulk, questions remain unanswered. But unlike Hulk, they don't even bring them up. So I can't complain.
Bruce Banner arrives at Culver University after 17 days without an incident. And because the counter is back, you know that it’s going to reset to zero quite soon. Bruce’s way into the science building ends before it begins after he notices the guard, the metal detector, and the fact that all the students and faculty have ID’s. He watches Betty Ross (who is a professor here) in a totally non-creepy way from afar as the strings of sad love play over the soundtrack. To make the sadness go into overdrive, Betty meets up with her current boyfriend, who is obviously supposed to be Dr. Leonard Samson, played by Ty Burrell.

Later that night, Bruce gets a place to stay from Stanley, an old friend who owns a pizza joint (played by former animated Bruce Banner Paul Soles). They talk about Betty’s new boyfriend for a bit before Bruce asks for another favor. The next day, Bruce bikes towards the science building in his new pizza delivery gear. He runs into a Lou Ferrigno cameo guarding the lobby and whips up a story about somebody ordering a pizza. After bribing the guy with an extra pizza, Bruce gets entrance and a handshake. It’s actually kind of heartwarming to see the Hulk doing Bruce Banner a favor like this.

"Yeah, I just transferred from Berkeley."
With his disguise as a pizza guy, Bruce manages to get to the computer lab and log in using Betty’s old password. And that's why you change your passwords, people. Meanwhile, the random guy he gave the pizza to smiles at Bruce and wiggles his pizza slice at him for no real reason. According to the novelization, this is none other than Amadeus Cho, Hercules’s sidekick. In real life, it's just a Martin Starr cameo.

After Bruce waits for Norton 360 to check the computer for any spyware (clever joke), he looks for the old project in the database. But it’s gone, along with any records of this “Bruce Banner” person. He starts up an encrypted chat with Mr. Blue and informs him that the old data is no more.

Later that night, Bruce packs his bag and gets ready to leave Stanley’s spare room just as Betty and her new boyfriend enter at closing time to beg their old pal Stanley for a quick meal. And of course he happens to walk out of the kitchen right as Betty looks in that direction. She follows him outside, but he quickly gives her the slip by hiding behind a dumpster. She goes back in and confronts Stanley as Bruce walks down the rainy streets. Somehow, Betty manages to find out which direction he went and catches up to him in a car. She gets out and they embrace.

I'd quote The Notebook here, but I've willingly blocked every memory of that movie from my mind.
After some embracing and convincing, he agrees to go with her back to her place for at least the night. But enough romantic crap for now, she has the data he needs in a jar in her house. She managed to save what files she could on a hard drive before the data was purged in the hopes that maybe they could figure out a cure someday. Betty doesn’t understand why they can’t just go to General Ross and figure this all out together, and Bruce spells it out for her. Bruce didn’t run away because the Army wanted to hunt him down, the Army is hunting him down because Bruce ran away. They don’t want to cure Bruce, they want to weaponize him.

Speaking of weaponizing people, General Ross is down in cold storage looking for the old batch of Super Soldier Serum, probably stored between a stripey triangular shield and that robot Dr. Horton built. You know, the one that kept catching on fire. And he finds it. To my inner fanboy’s delight, the canister’s label is full of Easter Eggs.

The program is labeled as “Weapons Plus,” which was the main program that led to Operation: Rebirth, which gave muscles to some skinny kid from Brooklyn. Another subprogram of Weapons Plus, (Weapon X) ended up giving metal bones to a hairy Canadian. The developer is listed as “Dr. Reinstein,” which was an alias of Dr. Erskine, the developer of the Super Soldier Serum. And the Batch Number is 006-V2, which probably means that this isn’t the original formula, but an attempt to recreate the original doctor’s work. Now that's what I call showing your work. A-plus, movie.

Ross removes the serum from the canister, and we cut back to Bruce and Betty. Much like the One Ring and the Elven city of Rivendell, it’s simply not safe for Bruce to stay at Betty’s house for long, despite their wishes. Neither of them sleep well that night.

…They’re in separate beds. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Speaking of beds, Blonsky gets strapped to one after General Ross tells him that he’ll only get a low dose of the serum. If he acts crazy, Hulks out, or has his head turn red and shrivel down to a Skull, then he’s off the team. The doctor explains that Blonsky will be getting two injections. One into the deep muscle tissue, with sounds painful, and one into his bone marrow, which sounds even more painful. Like it will hurt more than you’ve ever been burned before. It will leave a scar. After Blonsky gets a needle to the spine, we cut to the next day, where Bruce is preparing to leave Betty behind at Culver University. She fusses with his shirt for a second and gets one last look at him and his dreamy eyes. But Bruce notices some Army vehicles approaching to apprehend him and tells Betty to get the heck out of Dodge as he runs in the other direction. You know, strictly speaking, the Willowdale police are obligated to arrest the military for chasing an American citizen, once again flagrantly disregarding posse comitatus.

Leading the charge on foot is Emil Blonsky. Already, changes have taken place as he effortlessly outruns people almost half his age. General Ross yells at him through the radio not to engage yet. So at the very least, Blonsky’s tendency to crave a good fight hasn’t changed. Bruce leads a good chase through campus into the library, where he swallows the USB drive with the data on it to keep the military from getting it and destroying it. Betty, meanwhile, runs in front of one of the military vehicles to stop them because not only does she have no common sense, but she seems to be under the assumption that the Army isn’t willing to break the law when it comes to US civilians.

Betty: “I know you’re in there! General, please!”

It isn’t until she yells “Daaaaaad!” that he gets out. Now, Betty has called him “the General” every time she’s referred to him up to this point. Is she on bad terms with him? Or were the writers simply trying to keep their relation a secret? I mean, who could have guessed that two characters in a movie with the same last name were related?

This will be the one important thing she does in this movie. And even then, it accomplishes jack.
General Ross refuses to hear her out as the military gets a lock on Banner. They trap him in an overpass and try to tear gas him, but Bruce can see out to the campus where Betty is being restrained by a soldier. And you know what that means.

19! 62! Hut... hut... Hulk!
Famously, the madder Hulk gets, the stronger he gets. But this film has the Hulk generally leveled out at a consistent height and strength level. But there’s a good reason for that. All of Mr. Blue’s failed cures have resulted in lower Gamma levels. And this is stated right in his correspondence with Bruce. It can easily be inferred that while the Hulk is still pretty freaking strong, he’s not at the top of his game. The new Hulk design was created to address the issues with the old one. They made the body leaner, they made the green skin out of many transparent layers like human skin, and they made darn well sure that he actually seemed to have weight as he jumped around. And it really works. I mean, you can see the Hulk’s veins below his skin. You can see a scar on his face that Edward Norton has in real life. The attention to detail is amazing and the result is phenomenal.

Anyway, the fight begins, and it’s as one sided as you’d expect, considering that bullets don’t work against this guy. The Hulk is simply brutal as he smashes up the hardware while some college students try to get phone footage from a distance. Blonsky is given the order to apprehend the beast, and he enters the fray, opening with a grenade launcher and following that up with some moves straight out of The Matrix.

So, all that science and resources thrown at Blonsky... and he's still just shooting a gun at the bulletproof monster?
Actually, there’s some nice symbolism here. Two Super Soldiers are going at it. The villain is using guns while the heroic one uses some scrap metal as makeshift shields, almost like a Bizarro-version of a certain other Super Soldier. Speaking of Super Soldiers, this will involve jumping ahead a few movies, but let’s talk about the Super Soldier Serum.

In the 1940’s, Dr. Emil Erskine created the Super Soldier Serum that appeared to only work once successfully. But that’s not true. It’s worked multiple times, but not in the way that Army wants it to. It doesn’t just give you muscles, it enhances you. Everything about you. Body and mind. If you start out as a pure-hearted boy from Brooklyn, you become a superhuman defender of the weak. If you start of as a Nazi, then you become a ruthless demon-faced maniac.

Bruce Banner started off as a guy with anger issues who repressed his emotions until he lost control. He became a giant green rage monster. Emil Blonsky started off as a born warrior looking for a good fight. Slowly, his passion for fighting is slowly growing past the point he can control it. If this keeps up, he’ll end up as nothing but a rampaging monster who only wants to destroy things. The only reason that Captain America didn’t suffer any horrible side effects was because not only did he get the formula in a lab with proper equipment and staff, but there’s also the matter of the dose of “Vita-Rays.” When you replace that vital ingredient with Gamma radiation, it doesn’t quite work properly. But even so, the Hulk isn’t the result of science gone horribly wrong. It went horribly right. So we can only imagine what’s in store for Blonsky.

Blonsky manages to hold his own against the Hulk to allow the Stark Industries sonic cannons to be brought in, which slam the Hulk with concentric circles of sound. Hulk hears Betty’s screams of protest, and this spurs him on to muster the strength to get back up and break the weapons with his makeshift shields. Blonsky steps in to fight again and pulls out his earpiece so he can taunt the big guy one-on-one.

Blonsky: “Is that all you got?”

In response, the Hulk kicks him into a tree.

It's absolutely hilarious.
The order is given to fall back, and Betty’s new boyfriend arrives on the scene just in time to see the Hulk save Betty from an incoming chopper and save her from the resulting explosion before leaving with her. Later that day, the military finishes searching Betty’s house and General Ross tells Leonard he did the right thing by informing them about Bruce’s reappearance. He rightly brings up that all the army did was nearly get Betty killed while the Hulk actually went out of his way to save her.

General Ross: “You have my word, her safety is my main concern.”
Leonard: “You know, it’s a point of professional pride with me that I can always tell when somebody’s lying.”

I thought that was Blonsky’s thing?
Later that night, the Hulk takes Betty back to a cave to keep her dry until morning. She wakes up and understandably freaks out briefly as she sees the Hulk stare at her. This, in turn, startles the Hulk into bumping his head on the cave ceiling. This is the first time in the film that the Hulk isn’t angry. He’s quite calm. And because he’s calm, he’s acting like a rational human being, albeit one with limited intelligence. It’s a good moment to humanize the Hulk and keep us from siding with the military. It’s clear that the Hulk cares for Betty, but it’s not entirely clear yet whether that means Bruce is still in the driver’s seat, so to speak, or if the Hulk is a new personality all on his own. Betty, it seems, has taken to referring to the Hulk as “Bruce.”

“I think you know.”
“Yes, you do. Why would anyone possibly confuse you with me?”
“You got it."
“Say it.”
“Say it.”
"That's right."
But what is clear is that the Hulk, whoever he is, isn’t too bright, as evidenced when he throws a rock at the thunderstorm when a bolt of lightning gets a bit too close.

But even then, he follows it up with gestures that clearly indicate that he’s protecting Betty. She manages to calm Hulk down again, and the two of them sit together in the cave and watch the rain together. Meanwhile, at some kind of hospital in some kind of military base, Blonsky is basically a bag of meat and crushed bones held together by external braces. So much for being a Super Soldier.

Coming up in Part 3: Yet another villain, yet another cameo.

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