Despite being the movie that Marvel forgot, The Incredible Hulk has a lot of interesting elements. It’s a superhero movie set post origin story, and one that deals with the horrific side effects of supposed superpowers. The plot is built around the “superhero” searching for a cure. And for the first half, at least, it’s shot as a monster movie, where the monster also happens to be the protagonist — delaying the moment you see him, only offering the audience brief glimpses, showing the destruction and not the creature, and then having him emerge out of the fog for a big, dramatic reveal.
Unfortunately, “interesting” is pretty much the last word you could use to describe the movie’s female characters. Or its conclusion. Or… well. Maybe it was forgotten for a reason after all.
For a brief, wonderful moment, I thought that Liv Tyler was the mysterious Mr Blue who was helping Bruce search for a cure. I mean, Bruce talks to Mr Blue, and then he looks at a newspaper clipping with a photo of Liv Tyler, as though trying to decide whether to trust her. It would make sense for him to learn about her research in a newspaper and track her down! Then I realized that no, Liv Tyler was the girlfriend that he hurt and can now never see again. Darn.
Even after realizing this, I held out a little hope that his girlfriend would still turn out to be Mr Blue, helping Bruce in secret. After all, she’s a successful research scientist. She’s in the newspaper in a lab coat! That has to mean something, right?
Nope. It means nothing. Liv Tyler’s character Betty is one of the most egregious examples of “the protagonist’s girlfriend” I’ve ever seen. She’s supposedly a scientist, but she does nothing to help or understand Bruce, except introduce him to a male scientist who is actually able to help. She’s the daughter of a high-ranking military official, but she needs to be told not to use her phone or credit cards when on the run. Her catchphrase is “let me help you,” and her entire role in the movie, apart from being someone for Bruce to angst over, is to risk her life in order to prove that the Hulk isn’t completely a monster. Her soothing “it’s me” tones prompt the Hulk to go all King Kong and protect her, giving us some great straight-out-of-the-1930s shots of him carrying her around and her taking care of him. She screams, she angsts, she begs him not to put himself at risk, she kisses him in dramatic “you’re off to try and save the world” moments, and she has no personality of her own in between. Hell, she even has a boyfriend other than Bruce when he first appears, but that entire idea is dropped the minute she sees him, and never explored again. Because her life outside of him really doesn’t matter.
And as for other female characters… well. What other female characters? There are one or two women in the military, and Bruce encounters a couple of female characters in Brazil, but almost none of them speak, and none of them have names or appear onscreen for more than a few moments.
In a way, this makes sense. This must be the most obvious example of “make a movie so we can include this character in The Avengers,” with Tony Stark’s appearance and the final line — “who’s we?” — explicitly segueing into a superhero meetup. No one really matters except Bruce Banner, because we’re only here so that we know who he is when he turns up (with a different face) later on. Even the plot falls apart when we move from “backstory and tension” to “oh crap, we need a dramatic battle to end the movie,” with a guy becoming a more evil Hulk for a reason I couldn’t quite figure out, Banner learning to control the Hulk for a reason I couldn’t quite figure out, and then the Hulk running off without any resolution to any of the plotlines, for a reason I couldn’t quite figure out. Things get smashed and explode, because that’s what needs to happen at the end of a superhero movie dammit, but I have no idea how we ended up there, or why we were supposed to care. Because of the promise of the Avengers, I assume. In this context of nothing really mattering, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Betty is just a two-dimensional girlfriend. Everything is a bit two dimensional by the end.
But seriously, they make her a respected scientist in a movie about science gone wrong, and then do nothing with that? Disappointing, Marvel. Really disappointing.