When it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as of this writing there has been fourteen films. The franchise came out the gate roaring with the very first Iron Man movie. But something the franchise seems to always brush aside unless absolutely necessary is the second film in the franchise. That would be The Incredible Hulk. Directed by Louis Letterier and starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, the movie is very divisive. But I frankly love it and think it is one of the better MCU films. So it shouldn’t be treated so wishy washy.
The story is very familiar to anyone who knows anything about the Hulk. Bruce Banner is on the run as he is being hunted by very morally dubious General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. Banner worked with Ross on a project years ago that Banner believed was one thing but actually another. After testing it on himself, Banner became the Hulk and indirectly hurt Ross as well as Ross’ daughter, Betty who just happened to be involved with Banner. After a chain of events leads Ross learning Banner’s whereabouts, he enlists a special operative to help capture him. Enter: Emil Blonsky. An aged soldier who only knows how to fight and is uncomfortable with being older. This leads to Banner reuniting with Betty in an attempt to rid himself of the Hulk as Ross begins experimenting on Blonsky and turns him into another Hulk-like creature: The Abomination.
The main theme in the film is really different from most superhero films. Banner does NOT want to be a hero. He was just a simple scientist wanting to make the world a better place through science before tragedy struck. When we meet him, he is willingly isolated. He has a beautiful neighbor who is obviously interested in him but he willingly chooses not to reciprocate. All he has for companionship is a stray dog and an internet buddy named Mr. Blue. The only thing he dreams of is ridding himself of the Hulk. The struggle for Banner to accept that he cannot get rid of the Hulk and just embrace it is a running theme that carries through the movie. The first time he turns into the Hulk is to protect himself from thugs, the second is because Ross wants to bring it out him and by the final time, Banner willingly throws himself out of a helicopter to stop his opposite. By the final shot of the movie, it ends with him intentionally triggering a transformation.
The supporting cast are standouts. William Hurt as Thunderbolt Ross is the standout. Ross is always a complicated character in the comics and this carries into the movie. We see him as a General that commands respect and for reason. We also see a fanatic who is obsessed to an unhealthy degree with Banner/Hulk. It is clear that he loves his daughter but it is also clear that he will let his obsessions override his more empathetic feelings. Tim Roth as Blonsky is also one of the few standout villains in the MCU. Blonsky is just an old soldier who can’t accept that his body is failing him. It is mentioned that with his record that he can be a high ranking officer but he turns it down just so he can be in the fight. This self loathing and seeing the power of the Hulk also drives him into obsession and experimenting on himself to achieve said power. Liv Tyler as Betty Ross is a bit more of a mixed bag. She’s never been the strongest actress but she is serviceable as Betty Ross. She is much more actively involved in the origin of the Hulk and helping Banner embrace the Hulk side of himself.
Louis Letterier is a solid director but you can tell that this film is plagued by behind the scenes drama. Edward Norton is notorious for being something of a control freak and difficult to work with. Though I do love Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, I still would have loved to see Norton return to the role. His Banner is soft and beaten down and Norton conveys that perfectly. When watching the blu-ray, there are many deleted scenes that give more character interactions. There is a particular one between Banner and Betty’s new boyfriend, therapist Doctor Samson. It is a relatively short scene so the only reason I can see it being cut is that it would be considered too “heady” for a summer blockbuster film. If this film was made after The Dark Knight, I think the scene would have been left in. There is also a longer scene between Ross and Blonsky that explains their frustration with the military complex focusing more on tech than people.
This film also has one of the best fight scenes in the MCU film. The climax is battle between the Hulk and Abomination in Harlem. It really is two brutes going at it and trashing the city while they’re at it. The standout bit is when Hulk crushes a car to form makeshift boxing gloves out of them to help even the odds between he and Abomination. This makes sense because Letterier is an action director so it would make sense that the action scenes are top notch. Especially when compared to the earlier Iron Man which were so choppy.
The Incredible Hulk is not a perfect film. There are some scenes with some odd editing which knocks the wind out from the scenes. There are also the earlier backstage issues that are kinda obvious. But does it deserve to be treated like it does in the MCU? No. There are many reasons why as the film was a minor success and the whole distribution rights to the Hulk are a mess. At first they tended to shy away from the film other than little references here and there. With the return of William Hurt as Ross in Captain America: Civil War, it seems that more things are being integrated. There are rumors that Liv Tyler will be returning as Betty Ross. But Marvel Studios should embrace this film more than it does. It is a far better film than Thor: The Dark World or Iron Man 2 which they proudly display.