Welcome to the second installment of The Marvel Report’s MCU Retrospective! As a quick refresher, we are counting down to the release of Marvel’s Doctor Strange with 13 articles in 13 weeks, covering each film in order of release. Without further ado, lets get into it shall we?
I’ve been connected to comics pretty much my whole life. My father and uncle are artists that also grew up on them, using characters as reference points for their art. They would show me drawings and stories of classic Marvel heroes like Wolverine, Spider-Man, Black Panther and Hulk. Hulk is one of my favorite characters, first appearing way back in 1962. Fast forward to 2006, imagine my joy when I found out that Hulk would be rebooted to fit within the then brand new MCU following Ang Lee’s 2003 “film.”
Fresh off the success of Iron Man that same Summer, Marvel hoped to be just as successful with The Incredible Hulk. With the MCU off on the right track, now they could start having fun with connecting the properties together through cameos and supporting characters like Phil Coulson, Nick Fury and more.
This film had much going for it; a great cast made up of Edward Norton, William Hurt, Tim Roth, Ty Burrell (in more serious role), Liv Tyler and Tim Blake Nelson. In addition, screenwriter Zak Penn and Norton (uncredited as a writer — I’ll get into that later) did everything they could to distance this new version from Lee’s — including a cool subplot that involved the Super Soldier serum (hello Captain America. Love those easter eggs!).
Like Iron Man before it, TIH had a considerable amount of weight to bear. Not only did it have to expand the MCU but also re-establish Hulk and his supporting characters as the ones fans know and love, appeal to a wide audience and tell an amazing story.
The resulting film did many things well. For one, using the heart rate monitor to foreshadow Banner’s transformation into the green goliath was a smart plot device. Next, it introduced Hurt’s Thunderbolt Ross as the way he was supposed to be; conniving, ambitious and unwilling to compromise, no matter the cost. Tim Roth made The Abomination scary and managed to tell the story of a soldier desperate to relieve his glory days. The action of the film was also pretty good. Lastly, it followed through on the promise of widening the universe as Robert Downey, Jr. made a cameo appearance as a favor to Marvel Studios telling Ross he’s working on a team in the same way Nick Fury did in Iron Man.
While the above highlights the great parts of The Incredible Hulk, fans of the MCU consider it to be one of the weaker 13 films — it lacking the narrative punch needed to make a serious impact. The also resulting box office may have helped the MCU continue but it was not the hit that Marvel nor Universal desired.
One fact to note is we may have had a slightly different film as Edward Norton did a substantial page one rewrite of the script, adding depth to Banner/Hulk, dialogue and character motivations. Marvel also agreed to shoot Norton’s version of the script before production started. However, the resulting film is what we got, which isn’t Norton’s version. All of the fallout between both camps following the film’s release eventually led to Marvel replacing Norton with Mark Ruffalo, our current version of the character after Joss Whedon signed on to direct The Avengers in 2010.
Ever since Ruffalo took over, his performances as Banner/Hulk have been critically lauded and helped the character return to fan favorite status with many asking if we’ll ever get another Hulk solo film, which remains to be seen.
Overall, the film gave us quite a bit to chew on. It gave us a couple characters, aligned Hulk’s origin with what we know and kept the MCU going. Maybe one day Hulk will get another solo film but until then we can look forward to seeing him again in Thor: Ragnarok.
Thanks for reading TMR fans! Join us next week where our next film retrospective article will focus on 2010’s Iron Man 2.