After the success of Iron Man in 2008, Marvel was looking to further expand their cinematic universe. What better way to continue this than with a smashing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde powerhouse that is The Incredible Hulk? Despite already releasing a Hulk movie back in 2003 with Ang Lee, Universal Studios and Marvel decided to take the Hulk in a new direction with this interpretation.
Dr. Bruce Banner (played by Edward Norton) is on the run from General Thaddeus Ross (played by William Hurt) and the U.S. military after a failed experiment in an attempt to recreate Dr. Abraham Erskine’s Super Soldier Serum. This failure mutated his body and caused him to transform into a giant green monster known as The Hulk. Meanwhile, General Ross brings on Emil Blonsky (played by Tim Roth) from the British Royal Marines to lead a strike force to hunt down Banner. As the hunt continues, Blonsky begins doping with experimental batches of Super Soldier Serum and begins slowly losing his sanity and craves more power that rivals that of The Hulk’s.
Ang Lee originally wanted to make a sequel to his Hulk film that would introduce the Grey Hulk and include the villains Abomination and Samuel Sterns. However, after a poor financial and critical performance, all plans of the sequel were shelved. Numerous scripts were penned in 2006, with the studio rejecting them. When a script by Zak Penn was finally greenlit in 2007, production soon began with French director Louis Leterrier slated to direct and Edward Norton to star as Bruce Banner. Norton was cited to have constantly rewritten dialogue for the script and was described as difficult to work with. Despite this, he does his best with what was given to him (which unfortunately isn’t exactly the best material). While Norton is an excellent actor, I personally think Ruffalo is the better choice to play Banner. He can effortlessly carry the more lighthearted moments than Norton while conveying an awkward loner persona.
To me, the best performances in The Incredible Hulk belonged to William Hurt as Thaddeus Ross and Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky. William Hurt was a classically trained actor who graduated from the Julliard School. As General Ross, he emitted a commanding yet austere aura where you can feel his drive to find and detain Banner. I wish we saw more of him in the MCU, and it’s a shame that we never will get the chance to now that he’s passed away. Besides Hurt, Tim Roth as Blonsky was able to rival Hurt’s screen presence and outshone Norton whenever the two shot their scenes together. Although his spiral into insanity was rushed, his delivery was nonetheless terrifying.
Perhaps the most praise this film gets is in its CGI, more specifically the design of The Hulk. This is perhaps the most realistic Hulk design, complete with a well-defined musculature and hair, rage-filled green eyes and a brutal and ferocious nature that many MCU fans find lacking in his recent appearances. However, a lot of fans seem to believe that because Hulk here was more ferocious, he could beat many villains that the current Hulk couldn’t for example, Thanos. This is a ludicrous statement in its own right, as in The Incredible Hulk, Hulk struggled to lift a Humvee and was affected by gunfire from even a 9mm handgun. If he struggled with these small challenges, there’s no believable way he can defeat Thanos, not to mention that Thanos beat Hulk without even using the Power Stone as people claim he did.
Due to the mixed to poor reception The Incredible Hulk received, all characters besides Bruce were either shelved or barely mentioned. However, with the release of Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, The Incredible Hulk has seen a resurgence in popularity. Emil Blonsky even made an eventual return and got the redemption that he deserved. With further Marvel projects coming out in Phase 5 and 6, such as Captain America: New World Order, more and more characters will make their glorious and long-awaited return; in particular Tim Blake Nelson as Samuel Sterns.
While 2008’s The Incredible Hulk is often forgotten about, it is not nearly as awful as many people make it out to be. Despite the film feeling rushed in certain areas, it still tells a generally cohesive story and has its fair share of good performances, mostly from William Hurt and Tim Roth. With She-Hulk: Attorney at Law opening the floodgates for more characters to return in future Marvel projects, perhaps The Incredible Hulk should be given another chance.