Leading up to the release of Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, we’re taking a look back at every element of the MCU thus far. This film is the culmination of everything that began with the first Iron Man film in 2008, and so we want to prepare you for what may be the biggest film of all time. We’ll dive into all 18 films released thus far, each of the TV series that are considered part of the MCU, and a selection of other shorts and comics considered canon within the MCU. Today we continue with our Countdown with the supremely underappreciated, The Incredible Hulk.
There’s a lot of footnotes to add with this movie, as well things to keep in mind when looking back at it. For one, this movie was put together originally as less of a “second entry to the Marvel films” and more of Universal deciding to reboot the Hulk. Universal had owned the rights to the Hulk for a while and technically still own the distribution rights to a Hulk solo feature. They had released a film directed by Ang Lee and starring Eric Bana in 2003. That film was a slight success making $245 million worldwide off of a $137 million budget. But most audiences were put off by the film, which clocked in at over two hours and didn’t feature much screen time for the big green guy. The film that would become The Incredible Hulk began to lean more into the Marvel Universe when Universal’s contractually obligated timetable for making a sequel to Hulk timed out. Marvel Studios would essentially make the film, but Universal would distribute it.
Another interesting aspect of this film is Edward Norton. Norton signed on to not only star as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, but also to write a draft of the script. He wrote what was essentially the final draft, and throughout filming, rewrote pages and scenes of the film. Originally, Norton was signed on to play the Hulk in the Avengers film and a sequel to The Incredible Hulk. However, when the film was edited down and numerous scenes that Norton believed were important were cut, there were “creative differences” that, while downplayed by Norton and director Louis Leterrier, seemed to push Norton away from things. Norton didn’t participate in the majority of the promotional tour for the film and chose to do charity work in Africa instead. When it came time to put together the Avengers film, Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios, decided to recast the role with Mark Ruffalo playing Banner/Hulk. So let’s break things down.
Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Edward Norton)
The film doesn’t give us an Origin Story exactly, but instead shows Banner on the run from General Ross and the Government. Hoping to find a cure that will get rid of the Hulk. In the end he decides to use the Hulk to take down the Abomination, and escapes, potentially finding balance.
Betty Ross (Liv Tyler)
Bruce’s one true love and daughter of his arch nemesis General Ross. Betty hasn’t seen Bruce in years, but still loves him. She finds Bruce when he comes to Culver University, where she works, looking for information. From then on she stays with him on his path. Though she supports him curing himself, she’s also a constant voice of hope. She comments repeatedly that maybe the Hulk isn’t all bad and could be used for good. Honestly, she’s one of the best “love interests” in the MCU, as Banner’s decision in the final act of the film, to use the Hulk for good, would not happen without her laying the groundwork throughout. (Betty has not been seen since this film.)
General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt)
Ross was the lead military official overlooking the project that turned Banner into the Hulk. He wants to use the Hulk as a weapon for the government, and he wants Banner to stay away from Betty. But he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get the Hulk. At the end of the film, Ross is torn apart by his failure and leaves to drink away his sorrows. We next see Ross in Captain America: Civil War, as the Secretary of State.
Emil Blonsky/The Abomination (Tim Roth)
A special forces soldier on loan to Ross from the British. After being given some of the serum that helped turn Banner into the Hulk (and Steve Rogers into Captain America), he becomes a different type of monster. One obsessed with power, and hell bent on killing the Hulk and creating destruction and chaos. (Blonsky/The Abomination has not been seen since this film)
Dr. Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell)
Seen in the film as just a romantic partner for Betty before Bruce comes back into her life, Doc Samson is a hero in the Hulk comics. In the comics, Samson is exposed to gamma radiation and is given superhuman strength, stamina and durability, much like the Hulk. However only his hair is turned green. (Samson has not been seen since this film.)
Dr. Samuel Sterns/The Leader (Tim Blake Nelson)
In the film Sterns works with Banner to try to create a cure for Banner. They communicate through encrypted emails through the majority of the film. When they finally meet, they almost seem to be successful in curing Banner. However, SHIELD, Ross, and Blonsky come in and arrest Banner. As everyone is leaving Blonsky forces Sterns to help him turn into Abomination. He knocks Stern to the ground where Sterns gets hit on the head. Some of Banner’s blood drips into the gash on Sterns’ head and his brain begins to grow in size. This is Sterns turning into the classic comics character, The Leader. In the Hulk comics, The Leader has always been one of his greatest adversaries. He was given superhuman intelligence as well as other mind powers thanks to exposure to gamma radiation. (Sterns/The Leader have not been seen since this film.)
The movie is peppered with references to SHIELD, even in the opening credits we see memos from Nick Fury and SHIELD. In the third act of the film, Ross finds Banner thanks to SHIELD searching through every email on the planet.
Tony Stark – “The Consultant”
In the opening credits we see Stark Industries name on paperwork during the montage that shows Ross chasing after Banner. The logo is also seen on a few different weapons throughout the film. But Tony himself shows up at the very end of the film. In a pseudo after-credits scene, but actually as the last scene before the credits roll. Tony walks into a bar where Ross is drinking away his sorrows, they trade quips, and Tony tells him “We’re putting a team together.” “Who’s we?” Ross asks. And the credits roll. The Marvel “One Shot” short explains that this was done to annoy Ross. The World Security Council that overlooked SHIELD wanted Ross to approve using the Abomination for the Avengers Initiative, this was their way of making sure Ross would never approve of that.
When Ross is explaining to Blonsky how they created the Hulk, he talks about a super soldier program during World War 2. When he gets the serum to give to Blonsky it’s located in a container not only marked “Stark Industries,” but with the name Reinstein on the label. Reinstein is an alias used by Dr. Erskine the German scientist, played by Stanley Tucci, in the first Captain America film, who helps turn Steve into Cap.
Martin Starr (and Lou Ferrigno)
The most unique of all of the connections in all of The Incredible Hulk is none other than Martin Starr. In a blink and you’ll miss him cameo, Starr plays an unnamed student or lab assistant at Culver University, where Betty works. Bruce sneaks into Betty’s office (after passing a guard played by Lou Ferrigno) under the guise of a pizza delivery man, and gives him the pizza he brings in. Why is this small role important? Because Starr also plays Roger Harrington in Spider-Man Homecoming, one of the teachers at Peter Parker’s school, Midtown School of Science and Technology. (The novelization of this film says that the student in the lab is Amadeus Cho, a recurring character in the Hulk comics. Cho actually became the Hulk for some time recently in the comics. All of that being said I doubt Marvel will stick by the idea that Martin Starr, a white man, played Amadeau Cho, a Korean character.)
Overall, The Incredible Hulk is truly one of the most underrated Marvel films, possibly because it lacks a lot of connection to the rest of the MCU. But it’s a really solid film. Each actor brings their A-game, it’s full of great action sequences, it has great character development, and it leaves you wanting more. The other irony to the film is that it kind of feels like a political thriller/spy film – the kind of film where the hero acts against the government for the greater good and is constantly on the run trying to save himself and the world. That whole genre is ingrained in the film, but no one ever calls it that type of film. People refer to later MCU films like Winter Solider and Ant-Man as “political thrillers” and “heist films,” but not The Incredible Hulk, the film that feels least like a straight-up superhero film and more like a film that just happens to feature a superhero protagonist.
Stay tuned to Poor Man’s Spoiler for more in our Countdown to Infinity Leading up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War on April 27th. Next up we’ll take a look at the first sequel in the MCU, and one of the more… difficult films. Iron Man 2!
Check out our previous Countdown to Infinity installments below: