Marvel Studios followed up the smash hit Iron Man with the lesser successful film featuring the Emerald Giant, The Incredible Hulk, and it was released by Universal Pictures.
The Incredible Hulk had several challenges facing it. First, it was coming off the tails of Hulk, the Ang Lee film with the Hulk dogs, Nick Nolte as Banner’s daddy who turns into the Absorbing Man, and an unexpectedly dumb story. Second, the Hulk, as a character, is notoriously difficult because when you get someone that strong, it is a challenge for the audience to relate to him. Third, while Edward Norton was fine as Bruce Banner, there was just something about him that did not scream a good fit. Maybe that is because, in retrospect, when we think back, we have to remember that we wound up with a perfect Bruce Banner with the casting of Mark Ruffalo.
However, with all of this going against it, The Incredible Hulk is still a fine film and a solid second movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which we were still not sure that we had. Now a days, this film feels like an outlier in the 21 film series, and feels more like a stand alone film than a franchise film. There are some hints of ties to the greater MCU, including the arrival of Tony Stark in the post credit scene. There is a connection to the Super Soldier program that becomes important in Captain America, too.
The Bruce Banner/US Army/Emil Blonsky(Tim Roth) footrace through Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro is excellent and the first arrival of the Hulk really drives home the fact that he is an unstoppable force of anger and power.
There were some solid antagonists in this film, especially William Hurt’s Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. who would continue into the Avengers movies as a thorn in the team’s side. Emil Blonsky’s transformation into the Abomination is well done, but the film does seem to miss the boat on the origin of the Leader, who has never been seen since.
I am also not a big fan of Liv Tyler’s rendition of Betty Ross as I did not feel that she brought much chemistry to the role of Bruce Banner’s great love. I do not think it is coincidental that she has never returned to the MCU and that they even went as far as pairing Banner with Black Widow.
I enjoyed a lot of the nods and winks back to the 1970s CBS TV series with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, both making cameos, in a way. Ferrigno was in the movie, while a scene from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father played featuring Bixby, who died in 1993. There was a fun use of the end theme from the series too, a recognizable piano score that was always sad and highlighted what a tragic life Bruce Banner (David Banner in the TV show) had.
I enjoyed how the film used their opening credits to recount an origin that many people already knew and not have to waste time on it, though I am not sure why they did not choose to use an origin closer to the comic. It actually seemed closer to the TV series origin. The montage, though, was a good way to process a ton of material in a quick way and get the audience into the story.
The Incredible Hulk may not be as great as most of the MCU films, but it is better than it gets credit for and it works as a Hulk movie, which is difficult to say.