The second installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the most forgotten by fans, and Marvel doesn’t seem to mind that. The title character was ultimately replaced by Mark Ruffalo, an undisputed fan favourite. So is there still a place in the MCU for a forgotten child?
In the history of the MCU, it is often forgotten that The Incredible Hulk actually premiered to generally favourable reviews. It was seen as a significant improvement from Ang Lee’s Hulk, released in 2003. The Incredible Hulk has a much more comprehensible story as compared to the 2003 version. It was after the mixed-generally negative reviews of this 2003 version that Marvel re-acquired the rights to the character. Unfortunately, it still holds the distinction of being the MCU’s lowest-grossing film, making $264.8 million worldwide.
The opening sequence essentially speeds through the origin story of the character, a scientist caught in an experiment gone wrong. This was an interesting choice, as the Hulk himself had not previously been one of Marvel’s best known characters outside of comic and Marvel TV show fans. An opening sequence that fast-forwards through the hero’s backstory may have been more effective in a movie about a character like Spider-Man, about whom many films and TV shows have been made. At this point, even casual Marvel fans have seen the tragedy of Uncle Ben following a teenage Peter Parker having been bit by a radioactive spider on the big screen.
Edward Norton brought a unique take to this character, and succeeded in highlighting the Hulk’s humanity. He put such effort and consideration into showing the character’s struggles and anxiety, and his quest for redemption for events that arguably other people were equally responsible for. He really delves into the character of Bruce Banner as a man simply trying to do right in the world. There was so much potential and such a strong setup for this Hulk to join with the Avengers, as teased in the end credits scene by an uncredited cameo by Robert Downey Jr.
It was such a shame to see Liv Tyler, an incredibly talented actor playing a character with so much potential, Betty Ross, and not be used to her full capabilities. Liv Tyler gave such heart to this character, and although there were some satisfying character moments, it ultimately was an early example of Marvel refusing to give their female characters agency or a compelling story. It was also an interesting choice on Marvel’s part to never mention this character or refer to her ever again.
A special shout-out must be given to Ty Burrell who plays Dr. Leonard Samson, Betty’s love interest following Bruce Banner’s disappearance. Before he became famous for his role in Modern Family, he was a superb supportive boyfriend, never jealous and always having Betty’s best interest at heart. There was also a very sweet cameo by Paul Soles, the original voice of Bruce Banner in The Marvel Super Heroes, as he appears as Stanley, a pizza shop owner who helps Banner in his time of need.
The character of Abomination/Emil Blonsky played by Tim Roth continued the MCU’s villain problem by having potential but ultimately being completely ineffective and unrelatable. There was so much running around and pointing guns at nothing in particular, that the character’s final transformation into the generic big-bad is anticlimactic and nonsensical. Tim Roth had an uncredited cameo in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as the sparring partner of Wong, and is confirmed to be returning in She-Hulk to be released in 2022. It will certainly be curious to see where Marvel takes this character that left essentially no impression.
It was fascinating to see Ross in The Incredible Hulk, a United States Air Force General hell bent on capturing the Hulk. It was an interesting comparison to make to the last time we last saw the character on screen in Captain America: Civil War, as Secretary of State proposing legislation to keep the Avengers under the complete control of the United States government via the Sokovia Accords.
The argument has been made that Hulk is better in an ensemble, which is why movies centred around the character as an individual are not as well received critically. What The Incredible Hulk shows is that when too much time is wasted on chase scenes and large action sequences, the story gets lost regardless of the talent of the actors.
Although Mark Ruffalo remains an undisputed staple of the MCU, it will always be disappointing that audiences never got to see how Norton could have followed through in this role. The Incredible Hulk, for all of its flaws, definitely has its place in the MCU and it helped pave the way technically and storywise for the MCU stories we enjoy today.
The Incredible Hulk is currently available to stream on Netflix.