It is usually not my policy to complain about female characters. But in order to show how much Marvel has improved concerning the portrayal of female characters, I will start with what I consider the weakest female lead they had to offer and then work myself up to the strongest one. As a general rule, Marvel does better with characters, which are not in some sort of romance. So I will basically start with the love interests, discussing the franchise they are connected to and their role in it, and end with, who else, Black Widow.
What I knew about the Hulk beforehand:
All in all, more than about any other Marvel Superhero. I did watch the Cartoon as well as the fairly successful TV series, even though my memories about both are a little bit hazy. They were both very formulaic, though. All in all I considered Hulk as the guy who turns up when everything goes to hell to smash the opposition.
What I think about the movie:
It is a little bit the forgotten step-child of the franchise, and I have to say, I agree: It is not a particular good movie. I needed some time to figure out what the problem is, because in it’s basics, it delivers. It has a coherent plot (which is more than some other more liked entries have) and a big battle in the very end. More or less exactly what you expect from a monster movie. Since I am not a fan of monster movies (nothing puts me faster to sleep than a drawn out action scene), I didn’t really expect it to become my favourite. But this one bored me from start to finish, and not just because the plot was mostly predictable.
I think it boils down to the characters. With each of them I get a sense of what they are supposed to be, but I don’t feel for any of them. And no, I don’t think that the additional scenes which were eventually cut out of the movie would have made this better (well, leaving the suicide scene in would have been an improvement, it is the only memorable moment in the whole thing). The whole movie felt as if the writer didn’t care for the characters at all.
Take Bruce Banner for example. Why is he working in a factory? Simply because the writers considered this a good way to reveal his location. Does it really fit the character? I don’t think so. Why should a scientist be a competent mechanic? I don’t even think that the way of reveal is that well done. There is a long, drawn out scene of him chasing a bottle, and in the end, it doesn’t make any difference.
It also makes no sense whatsoever that he is overly careful with his blood but then sends a sample of it to Dr. Green. Is it really such a surprised that he makes side-experiments with it? If you consider that, according to this movie, Bruce has been lied to in the past concerning scientific research, it makes no sense whatsoever that he would trust a guy he doesn’t know at all.
One of the character establishing moments shows him trying to decide if he should help out a woman in trouble (in a very cliché scene). The scene is designed to show his inner conflict, his struggle to avoid situations which might cause him to hulk out. But he comes off more as a coward, and perhaps the acting is to blame. One of the reasons I prefer the portrayal of Ruffalo is because from him I get the sense that avoiding eye-contact and being skittish is not really in his nature, but something he acquired during all the time on the run. With Norton though, I never got the sense that he made the role his own. I don’t see Bruce Banner on screen, I see Norton, and I admit, I quite unreasonably keep thinking “what a whiner” watching the movie. So why don’t I feel for him, even though I should?
Because the movie is so bleak. It never shows the audience what Bruce Banner lost. Personally I think a proper reboot which showed first Bruce Banner living a good life in a happy relationship would have been the better course of action than altering a script which was originally written as a sequel and therefore written to built up on already established characters. But a couple of flashback showing how happy he was would have done the trick too.
All in all I found the way the backstory was presented very unsatisfying. I gathered that Bruce was working together with Betty at a military project without knowing it’s true purpose and eventually tested his theory on himself. So did Betty knew what the project was about? Why decided General Ross to pick those two and not two scientist which wouldn’t be bothered by the true purpose of the project? And why did Bruce take this kind of risk? None of those questions are answered, but they are important. The movie doesn’t even bother to establish Bruce’s “old friend” before he suddenly turns up on screen and the audience is expected just to roll with the idea that this is someone of importance from Bruce’s past.
I also don’t really follow the motivation of the villain. So, he already is a superpowered being, but he just needs to be a monster or he isn’t satisfied? Eh…which is too bad, because the basic premise that he would love to have his experience in a younger body is a good one. (For that matter, wouldn’t Blonski as succesful experiment be more interesting than Bruce as failed one?)But then, none of the characters in the movie make much sense, and that includes Betty Ross.
What I think about Betty Ross:
Betty Ross is in my eyes a typical example of the writers trying to write a good female character, but failing because they never really think past the love interest label. There is a lot of things they do right. Betty is relevant for the plot, after all, she rescued the data Bruce needed and she is the only one who can calm down the Hulk. The only time she ends up in “distress” she is actually in distress because Bruce is in danger. But she is treated like a plot device, not a character.
For example: Betty Ross is a scientist. But this is entirely an informed ability which has no bearing on the plot whatsoever aside from explaining how she and Bruce meet. We see people talking about what a great scientist she is, but does she ever do something science related in the whole movie? No, not really. She originally worked with Bruce on the Super-Soldier project, that is her area of expertise, but does she ever use the data she rescued from the military? Nope, she just keeps it on an USB stick until Bruce turns up to bring it to yet another (male) scientist who needs it.
Betty Ross is also in another relationship. To the credits of the writers, her new boyfriend is not a total douchebag, like it is often the case when the love interest of the hero decides to date someone else. And in fact, the scene when he tells of General Ross is my favourite in the whole movie. But that’s also the last time we get to see the guy. He just vanishes from the story and Betty doesn’t really seem to care that she just took off with her ex, essentially leaving her boyfriend. And does she even know that he informed the military?
Betty Ross also has a strained relationship with her father. They didn’t talk in years. They also never talk in the movie. The only interaction which happens between them is Betty pleading and screaming at him (side note: Liv Taylor does very well in the silent moments with the Hulk, but she is terrible in the more passionate scenes). But there is not one real dialogue between them, which is too bad, because Betty’s position between her father the hunter and Bruce is quite an interesting one.
Betty Ross is able to calm the Hulk down because…well, I guess because the Hulk is still a part of Bruce Banner and Bruce loves Betty. But apparently he hurt her badly the first time he turned. So why did he hurt her back then, but shows King Kong like protectiveness later on? Not that I mind the idea of Betty having a connection with the Hulk, but it should be explained better. It doesn’t help that there is zero chemistry between her and Bruce, and in this case I don’t blame Liv Tyler, I blame Norton. I believe that Betty has feelings for Bruce, but I don’t really feel any feelings of love from him, only guilt.
When it comes down to it, Betty Ross in itself is not a bad concept. There is a lot about her which should work if you read it on paper. But the execution of her character is as subpar as the rest of the movie. Not downright offensive, but a big disappointment nevertheless. Thankfully Marvel got better over time.
Quote: “I will never forgive what you’ve done to him…You made him a fugitive. To cover your failures, and to protect your career. Don’t ever speak to me as your daughter again.”
If there is one movie in the MCU which I consider skippable it is that one. Even the writers in the MCU seemed to think so because Bruce Banner from the Avengers is a very different character. There is no talk about blood pressure, Betty isn’t mentioned even once (and I would be very surprised if the character turns up again anytime soon), and there is a strong emphasis on Bruce Banner’s intelligence. You can easily never watch The Incredible Hulk and you would barely notice it.