The Incredible Hulk often feels like the “forgotten” MCU movie, given that its rarely released alongside the others or on Disney + due to Universal holding the distribution rights, and that the titular character is played by someone else compared to the rest of the MCU films. That being said it’s still officially apart of the timeline, with several characters appearing or soon to be appearing in other MCU projects, so… let’s take a look!
Bruce Banner desperately seeks a cure for the gamma radiation that contaminated his cells and turned him into The Hulk. Cut off from his true love Betty and forced to hide from Gen. Thunderbolt Ross Banner soon comes face-to-face with a new threat: a supremely powerful enemy known as The Abomination…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
You won’t like him when he’s… really close up. It shows some of the imperfections of the CGI…
The thing I appreciate most about the film is how it skips doing the whole origin story again. We all know what happened, it was saw it only a few years ago in Ang Lee’s Hulk film, so let’s just cut straight to Banner being Hulk and on the run… which is what they do! The first part of the film sees Bruce (played by Edward Norton, for the record. I’ll get to that in a bit…) hiding in Brazil until he’s found out and assaulted by a special team led by General Ross (William Hurt). He Hulks up and defeats them before heading off to America, his online friend claiming the only way to cure him would be with the original test notes back in his old lab.
Meanwhile one of the soldiers on the team sent in to deal with Hulk, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) was fascinated by the Hulk, and even more so that it was Bruce Banner transforming due to what was apparently Ross’s attempt to revive the Super Soldier serum from the 40s, which is a nice link back to Captain America (or forward, technically as this came out first!). Emil agrees to be given a version of the serum that had been created previously and soon gets a chance to use it as Banner meets back up with his old flame Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and rather stupidly walked to her place of work with her. He becomes the Hulk again and we get a good long sequence of him destroying various jeeps, tanks and a helicopter just like so many episodes of the Hulk cartoon I loved in the 90s. During this Emil is able to keep up with the Hulk for a bit, but then is punched into a tree in one of the more sickening looking moments in the MCU, really.
Emil in his pre-CGI blob phase
Hulk and Betty escape together, the latter getting through to the monster before he reverts back to Bruce and the two go on the run. Meanwhile Emil gets another dose of faux-Super Soldier juice and soon leads an attack on the lab of Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson), the man who believes he has a cure for Banner that was his online friend. He seemingly cures Bruce of his Hulk affliction much to Emil’s distress as now he has no nemesis to fight, but he decides to force Sterns into giving him the same treatment Banner got anyway. He becomes the Abomination, knocks Sterns into a vat of green goo that will someday transform him into The Leader (but sadly doesn’t look like that thread will ever actually be picked back up…) and then starts wrecking parts of New York until Banner jumps out of a plane to force the Hulk transformation via adrenaline. The two have a CG slugfest where Hulk ends up on top, and as a thank you Ross lets him go… for now, I guess. Then we get a pre-credits scene where Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark appears in front of Ross at a bar and name drops the Avengers. It’s a perfectly fine plot for a Hulk film, and SOME of the effects have aged well…
What’s bad is that we haven’t seen Betty again in the MCU!
I’m not sure whether I’m just more used to Mark Ruffalo’s softer, timid approach to Bruce Banner, but I really don’t get on with Edward Norton in this film. He doesn’t really nail the few bits of comedy and there are moments where he tries to act like some sort of bad-ass, especially the final scene where he smirks at the camera as he’s about to Hulk up again. Like I said, in that alternate reality where he continued to play Banner / Hulk in the MCU I’d probably not mentioned it here, but now after so many Ruffalo appearances it really stood out in this film that his Banner just didn’t seem to work.
Also the final CG fight-off, while enjoyable in parts, was a bit naff. The CG on CG action looked too fake amongst the real carnage. It’s safe to say that technology has improved because I don’t remember feeling the same about Hulk in the Avengers movies, so… Just another little niggle that gets sorted by the time Ruffalo takes the roll. I did enjoy Roth as Abomination though and I’m really happy to hear he’ll be reprising the roll in She-Hulk, whenever that show comes around.
Oh and I’m still annoyed we never got that second Hulk film, if nothing else because Tim Blake Nelson looked like he could’ve nailed the role of Leader had he been given the chance…
Emil during his CGI blob phase.
The Incredible Hulk is a perfectly fine “popcorn muncher”, but retrospectively Norton’s performance as Bruce Banner just isn’t anywhere near as interesting as Ruffalo’s will be, and the CG monster fight at the end of the film hasn’t aged all that well. I still say more good than bad and I’ll happily watch it whenever I watch through the MCU films again, but it’s definitely imperfect…