Fourteen years after breaking through the zeitgeist, there are still many entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I’ve never seen. Now that I have a brand new 65-inch UHD television in my living room, I thought it might be time to change that.
For our second foray into the MCU, it’s time to get angry!
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Directed by Louis Leterrier
Written by Zak Penn
Release Date: June 13, 2008
In the first edition of Ranking the MCU, I noted that much of the credit for the success that Marvel achieved with its shared universe could be attributed to the casting department for Marvel Studios. It’s hard to imagine this fledgling experiment going over as well as it did without Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark or even Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. The actors chosen to partray these larger-than-life characters embody them so perfectly. The stories that the MCU has told have been great, but they’re always elevated by the quality of actor in the films.
With the casting for The Incredible Hulk, the second film in the shared universe, Marvel Studios definitely puts that theory through its paces.
The film is partially a sequel to and partially a reboot of Ang Lee’s 2003 film, Hulk, which laid out the character’s origins. But that film’s star, Eric Bana, chose not to return for this incarnation. Instead, the studio went with Edward Norton as the nebbish scientist Dr. Bruce Banner, who has a monster within him that’s revealed when he loses control.
I would have thought that Norton would be great in a role like this. After all, he has plenty of experience playing characters with dual personalities. After his turns in Primal Fear and Fight Club, taking on Bruce Banner should have been a home run. Something about it, though, just didn’t click with me. Despite doing some rewrites for the film and havign a hand in the editing process, Norton never actually seems committed to the character the way that other Marvel actors have been.
It doesn’t help that Norton has almost zero on-screen chemistry with Liv Tyler, who was cast as Banner’s love interest, Betty Ross. A lot of the film’s story hinges on Banner and Ross reuniting after Ross’ father, Gen. “Thunderbolt” Ross, tried to keep them apart, so having little chemistry together is a big problem. Tyler is pretty terrible here and I spent most of the moving cringing every time Tyler tried to show any emotion.
Despite the flaws of the two main stars, The Incredible Hulk isn’t all bad. The film’s antagonists – General Ross, played by William Hurt,and Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky – are a fun pair. General Ross helped to create the monster within Banner for the United States military and is none-too-pleased when Banner goes missing. And Blonsky is the soldier who steps up to try and bring the Hulk in, eventually becoming the Abomination to try and take the Emerald Giant down. Hurt would return to portray General Ross in later phases of the MCU, having earned some return appearances with a good showing here.
A combination of factors – including a poor showing at the box office, rights issues for the characters and Norton generally being a pain in the ass to work with – kept the movie from ever getting a sequel. And Norton was eventually replaced by Ruffalo for The Avengers, which helped make Banner much more likable than he ever was in this film.
The Incredible Hulk is definitely not the worst comic book-based movie of the 21st Century, but it commits the cardinal sin of being mostly forgettable.
The Incredible Hulk is currently available to stream on HBO Max.
Ranking the MCU
It’s only the second entry, but you have to stay true to the gimmick, so let’s see where The Incredible Hulk sits in the current rankings.
1. IRON MAN
2. THE INCREDIBLE HULK
For the next entry in Ranking the MCU, we’ll check back in with Tony Stark in 2010’s Iron Man 2!