Following up 2008’s Iron Man was always going to be a difficult task, and while The Incredible Hulk doesn’t necessarily deliver a well fleshed out narrative, it still brings some stimulating action sequences, charming performances, and a mesmerizing score to the table. Although the role of Bruce Banner was recast and the majority of his compatriots haven’t been seen since, they leave a lasting legacy as a crucial stepping stone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Coming at a time when the MCU was still in its infancy, The Incredible Hulk had no easy task, despite being a major beneficiary from Iron Man’s success. The margin for error at this stage of the game was razor-thin, and if this film hadn’t delivered the satisfying entertainment and good time that it does, the MCU would likely look much different than it does today, if it was allowed to stay the course.
It’s the lowest grossing MCU movie ever with $264.8 million at the worldwide box office and feels largely inconsequential to the overarching story, but The Incredible Hulk offers a riveting good time, so long as you’re willing to look past some obvious flaws in the story.
The Incredible Hulk review: Introducing an unlikely hero in a fun but forgettable experience
There’s a Hulk-sized elephant in the room, and his name is Edward Norton. The world will never know how Norton’s version of Bruce Banner would’ve fit in with the Avengers, but he does a phenomenal job in The Incredible Hulk. He portrays a much different, more conflicted version of the character than anything seen from the Mark Ruffalo performances that follow, but still gives a praise-worthy performance nonetheless.
There is a certain self-loathing factor that must accompany any portrayal of Bruce Banner, and Edward Norton encompasses this to perfection. This is the one stage in Bruce’s life where he is constantly hunting for a cure due to the looming self-hatred thanks to the monster that lurks inside. By the time Ruffalo picks up the role, any desire to search for a cure is gone, so the duty of relaying that struggle fell to Norton. Bruce isn’t someone expecting to take up the mantle of a hero, but by the film’s end he knows if he doesn’t, no one else will.
A quiet standout of this movie is Tim Roth and his portrayal of Emil Blonsky. Roth takes Blonsky on a thorough arc, beginning with a simple soldier’s desire to follow orders and serve, all the way through to pure and heinous evil by the third act. Blonsky’s descent into madness after subsequent doses of the imperfect super soldier serum is handled extraordinarily well, further proving the point soon to be made by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) that the serum’s nature is to amplify all traits of the individual. Blonsky was destined for evil from the start.
Blonsky is just one of many dominoes of failure to fall thanks to General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt). Hurt is phenomenal in his debut MCU performance, but there has never been a more prominent example of failing upward, and his long and winding journey begins in The Incredible Hulk. In only the second MCU movie, he spent years lying to Bruce about his research which led to the creation of the Hulk, is responsible for creating the Abomination and the destruction of Harlem, and as his own daughter says, he disguises his missteps to cover up his failures to protect and advance his career. The first of many embarrassing outings for General Ross.
One aspect of The Incredible Hulk that has held up remarkably well is the score. Composer Craig Armstrong delivers notes that work seamlessly to enhance the story’s most tense moments, such as the chase scenes and pre-fight transformations. Bruce Banner morphing into the Hulk will always be effortlessly intriguing, but Armstrong’s original score elevates the experience every single time. It’s a shame this musical composition didn’t go on to accompany all the Hulk’s appearances in the MCU.
Despite the insanely high moments in the film, it’s not without flaws. Coming in at a 1:52 runtime, there are several frustrating plot holes that could’ve been easily fixed with a few more minutes of explanation. Near three-hour comic book movies weren’t standard procedure in 2008 like they are now, so unfortunately this film was destined for a few unanswered questions. Bruce isn’t a super spy, he’s a scientist. S.H.I.E.L.D. and the US government are looking for him at all times, so some clarification on how he crossed borders and oceans several times while an entire arm of national security is looking for him would’ve served the story well.
The legacy of ‘The Incredible Hulk’
While The Incredible Hulk doesn’t carry the same legacy as its predecessor, Iron Man, it will always be remembered for the many actors who haven’t been seen again in the MCU following this film. Fortunately, Phases 4/5 and beyond seem interested in bringing back some of The Incredible Hulk family, with Tim Roth appearing in several episodes of 2022’s She-Hulk, Liv Tyler rumored to return for an upcoming World War Hulk movie, and Tim Blake Nelson as The Leader confirmed to be the main villain of Captain America: Brave New World.
The cast of The Incredible Hulk is likely the first thing that comes to mind for most people when thinking about this film, so their resurgence and return in future projects is sure to satisfy long-time MCU fans. Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross goes on to play a major role all the way through to the conclusion of the Infinity Saga, and in another universe, Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner/Hulk went on to team up with Thor and help lead the Avengers against Thanos. With the majority of The Incredible Hulk cast set to return in the future, will Norton’s return as Hulk in Secret Wars be the icing on the cake?
The Incredible Hulk fun facts
- This rendition of the Hulk is not based off Bruce Banner’s (Edward Norton) face. Norton was not yet cast when work on this film begun. Instead, they chose famous Hulk artist Mike Deodato.
- The original Hulk from the late 70s/early 80s TV show, Lou Ferrigno, plays the security guard who takes the pizza bribe.
- Martin Starr, who plays Mr. Harrington, one of Peter’s teachers in the MCU Spider-Man trilogy, is in the lab at Culver University when Bruce goes to search for his data.
- Creators opted against giving Abomination comic-accurate pointed ears in this film because Director Louis Leterrier thought “Hulk would just bite them off.”
- Edward Norton agreed to come on board after being told he could oversee changes in the script. Many of his changes did not end up making the final theatrical cut, which partially led to his detachment from Marvel Studios.
- The blueprints for the sonic cannon are credited to Stark Industries.
- A Captain America cameo was cut from the film, in which Hulk goes to ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross’ office in the Arctics and finds his body frozen in ice.
- The green cocktail ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross is drinking during the post credit scene is what’s known as an “Incredible Hulk”, which is cognac mixed with Hpnotiq.
- Hulk was originally going to be the villain of The Avengers, and Tony Stark is actually there to recruit Abomination to help deal with the Hulk. There were also plans for Abomination to appear in Age of Ultron, but they were ultimately scrapped.
- The Hulk’s power has no limit. His strength directly correlates with his anger, so the more angry he becomes, the more he’s capable of.
‘The Incredible Hulk’ lands in the lower tier of MCU movies, despite offering a good time
It’s a testament to the excellence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that a film like The Incredible Hulk is likely in the bottom five of most people’s MCU rankings. The movie is an absolute blast from start to finish, it just doesn’t hold up as well as most of the masterpieces that follow it, and the different cast leaves it feeling almost as if it’s set in another universe. Overall, it’s still worth a revisit to remind yourself just how far the MCU has come.
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'The Incredible Hulk' Review'The Incredible Hulk' Review
- Fun action
- Good performances
- Gorgeous score
- Fair amount of plot holes
- Unanswered questions
- Some of the VFX has aged poorly