MCU Flashback: The Incredible Hulk

In a new series of original content, I’m rewatching the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This week, it’s time for The Incredible Hulk.

While Iron Man may have kicked off the MCU, it’d be fair to say that its immediate successor, The Incredible Hulk, wasn’t remembered so fondly.  Released around a month or so after the former, Incredible Hulk almost doesn’t qualify as an MCU movie because, in many ways, it feels like it wasn’t intended to be – almost the entirety of its connective tissue within Phase One is found in the post-credits scene.

I always remember enjoying the movie when it first launched, but on rewatching I found it simply didn’t hold up as I’d hoped. There are some great ideas, like the way Hulk is obscured from view for many early scenes, or the whole University scene. I also love Tim Roth as an actor, and while his Emil Blonsky feels fun in every scene, he’s perhaps not the most physical presence.

Abomination is fun, but Tim Roth is better.

Speaking of physical presences, the CGI really doesn’t hold up thirteen years on, and I’m not wild on Hulk’s emo fringe. Still, Abomination is fun, and I quite enjoyed the ridiculous final battle between the two. Hulk is always at his best when he’s smashing, and there’s plenty of that here – especially the aforementioned University scene where Banner emerges from the glass walkway.

Onto Bruce Banner, then, and honestly – I dig Edward Norton in the role. I think he’s arguably more shy and nerdy that his successor, Mark Ruffalo, but I wish the film didn’t dull his menacing edge – I’d have loved just a smidge of his Fight Club or American History X history to peek through, but I guess that’s the point in that he’s working on himself.

When it comes to the supporting cast, the real standout is William Hurt as Thaddeus Ross – which is probably why he returns later in the franchise. He’s perfect as Betty’s detached father and a man who’s only driving purpose is spite, and there are some neat nods to Captain America, too.

Betty herself, though, feels like a plot device. She’s Bruce’s reason to return to America (spot Modern Family’s Ty Burrell as her new fella), but outside of that she doesn’t add a great deal. That’s a shame because Liv Tyler can do so much more. On the subject of offering more, seeing Tim Blake Nelson being so close to becoming the supervillain Leader before not being seen again in the MCU is a real shame.

Incredible Hulk
Hulk’s emo fringe doesn’t hit me like it did when I was 18

The Incredible Hulk’s biggest enemy, though, is its pacing. The Brazil section arguably goes on too long, then we’re reintroduced to Betty, and then everything kind of snowballs into the big fight and the infamous post-credits scene.

One thing I must commend though is summing up Hulk’s origins in the space of the opening credits. It’s a risky approach but helps the movie sidestep the fluff of Ang Lee’s 2003 effort – I just wish more of the Brazil section had been cut down. Still, at under two-hours long it does feel fairly breezy.

I’m also not a huge fan of the visual stylings here. Everything is pretty dark and moody, and pretty much the antithesis of the MCU (other than Thor: The Dark World). It feels closer to a 2001 superhero movie than a 2008 one in that regard, which feels like a weird thing to say. Perhaps that’s understandable – both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk were produced in a vacuum for the most part presumably, but after Tony Stark’s exploits it does feel a tad dreary.

I’m curious as to whether we’ll ever get another standalone Hulk movie, but I think there’s an appetite for sure – just look at how much of Thor Ragnarok was devoted to Big Green. For now, though, we’ll check back in with him in Avengers Assemble.

I know this one has been a bit delayed, but the good news is that we’re up to Avengers in our rewatch now – so expect Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger blog posts soon!