Now that the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have wrapped up with Avengers: Endgame, it’s fun to go back and connect all the dots that make up the so-called “Infinity Saga”. However, something that quickly becomes apparent when re-visiting the last 11 years’ worth of MCU movies is that some instalments are more important to the franchise’s overarching narrative than others.
Ostensibly, The Incredible Hulk is the poster child for the latter category. Indeed, a quick online search makes it clear just how many fans have dismissed Louis Leterrier’s 2008 flick as the most insignificant entry in the wider MCU canon. But this is actually a major misconception – as this list shows, The Incredible Hulk is just as crucial to MCU continuity as any of its big screen brethren!
10 Tony Stark Consults Thunderbolt Ross On The Avengers Initiative
Let’s kick things off with the most obvious MCU tie-in in The Incredible Hulk: Tony Stark’s cameo in the final scene before the credits. Not only does the presence of Iron Man’s civilian alter-ego immediately establish a connection between this film and Shellhead’s debut outing released a month earlier, but it also further teases then-upcoming team-up outing, The Avengers.
True, subsequent MCU developments make the odds of Tony being sent by S.H.I.E.L.D. to discuss the Avengers Initiative with Thunderbolt Ross seem slim – Stark having fallen out of favor with the espionage agency in Iron Man 2. However, Marvel One-Shot short film The Consultant has since explained away this discrepancy, and this pre-credits sting remains a crucial moment in the formation of Marvel’s pre-eminent supergroup.
9 Nick Fury’s Classified Surveillance Report
The Incredible Hulk’s opening credits sequence – which quickly recaps the Hulk’s origin and everything that happened immediately after – is a treasure trove of Easter eggs. While at least one of these is simply a neat shout out to comics continuity (hello, Rick Jones!), two, in particular, relate to the broader MCU mythos.
We’ll touch on the second of these later in this list, but for this entry, we want to focus on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance by none other than MCU spymaster Nick Fury…or his name, at least. Fury is essentially the connective tissue that links the entire uber-franchise together, so his handle appearing at the top of a classified report on the manhunt for Bruce Banner is kinda a big deal.
8 Banner In Exile Overseas
Bruce Banner returns to the MCU after a four-year absence in The Avengers, after Black Widow tracks him down in Kolkata, where the good doctor is providing medical aid to the poor. On the face of it, this seems like a case of writer-director Joss Whedon rebooting Banner and his green-skinned alter-ego – but he’s really just building on a pre-existing platform.
Indeed, Banner’s circumstances at the start of Avengers perfectly align with his movements at the end of The Incredible Hulk. At the end of that film, Bruce was in hiding outside the US – specifically, British Columbia – and it makes sense that he would continue to head farther abroad to evade Thunderbolt Ross’ clutches.
7 The Basis For Veronica’s Codename
Bruce Banner’s former flame Betty Ross is hands-down the most poorly treated love interest in the MCU. Sure, Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Foster was unceremoniously dumped from the franchise after Thor: The Dark World – but she still rated a mention in Thor: Ragnarok, and even bagged a small cameo in Avengers: Endgame.
By comparison, Betty’s name is never uttered on-screen following her first and final MCU appearance in The Incredible Hulk – which isn’t to say she’s been forgotten entirely. For instance, Iron Man’s Hulk-neutralizing mobile weapons platform in Avengers: Age of Ultron was named after Betty. Typical of its inventor’s sense of humor, the platform is codenamed “Veronica” – a sly reference to the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle in Archie Comics, and Banner’s lost love.
6 Hulk “Breaks” Harlem
The climactic set piece in The Incredible Hulk is a titanic brawl between the Jade Giant and Abomination that takes place in Harlem, laying waste to one of New York City’s most iconic areas.These events aren’t ignored when The Avengers rolls around – on the contrary, Bruce Banner’s reticence to show his face in NYC again is chalked up to his alter-ego “breaking” the neighborhood!
This isn’t the only time that the Hulk/Abomination showdown is referred to in the MCU, either. The Netflix Daredevil series includes a small nod to this overblown street fight, courtesy of a framed newspaper clipping hanging on the wall in Ben Urich’s office.
5 The Debut Of Thunderbolt Ross
A key part of the perceived disconnect between The Incredible Hulk and the rest of the MCU stems from original Bruce Banner Edward Norton being replaced with Mark Ruffalo from The Avengers onwards. This meant that for the longest time, none of the lead actors who had starred in The Incredible Hulk returned in other MCU features – making that film seem less legitimate as a result.
However, this all changed when General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross was reintroduced to the franchise in Captain America: Civil War. Ross’ pivotal role in Civil War – and his subsequent walk-on parts in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame – have not only validated The Incredible Hulk’s place in MCU canon but reinforced its importance as well.
4 The Watchers’ Informant
Spotting the latest cameo by Marvel Comics co-architect, the late Stan Lee, was always a highlight of each MCU instalment – and his brief appearance in The Incredible Hulk was easily one of his best. In a more plot-centric role than usual, Lee portrays a senior citizen who unwittingly drinks a soda tainted with the Hulk’s irradiated blood.
It’s a cute gag, but how does it tie-in with the wider MCU? Well, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 revealed that Stan Lee was actually playing a cosmic being in disguise, the Watcher Informant, every time he popped up in the franchise – essentially making him the glue that holds this fictional universe together!
3 Banner Learns How To Control His Transformations
“I’m always angry” – with these words, Bruce Banner drops arguably the biggest bombshell in The Avengers: that he’d secretly been able to transform into the Hulk at will all along. And while this came as a shock to many viewers, fans familiar with The Incredible Hulk really should have seen it coming.
After all, the idea of Banner harnessing his rage to weaponize the Hulk plays a key part in the 2008 flick’s finale, and the final shot of Bruce – all smiles and glowing green eyes – strongly hints that he’s gained greater control over the Green Goliath. With foreshadowing this heavy, what’s really surprising about that major Avengers moment is that anyone was surprised at all!
2 Stark Industries Supplies The Sonic Cannons Used Against The Hulk
The second entry centered around The Incredible Hulk’s opening credits; this time around we’re talking about the film’s other, less-obvious connection to Iron Man. Pay attention during the credits, and you’ll spy a set of blueprints for the sonic cannons deployed against the Hulk during his skirmish with Thunderbolt Ross’s troops at Culver University.
You’ll notice that these blueprints carry the logo of Stark Industries, the global tech conglomerate headed by Tony Stark. Heck, if these schematics were whipped up by Tony himself, this marks the first (but certainly not the last) instance of him devising hardware capable of bringing Hulk to a standstill – yet another connection to the larger MCU!
1 The Super-Soldier Serum Is Taken Out Of Mothballs
It’s a well-known fact that The Incredible Hulk nearly featured a subtle cameo by fellow MCU hero Captain America before its original opening was excised. However, just because Cap himself doesn’t show up in the movie, that doesn’t mean that the First Avenger’s presence isn’t felt. On the contrary, as depicted in Incredible Hulk, Cap and Hulk’s histories are far more intertwined in the MCU than they are even in the comics.
How? Well, it turns out that the goal of Bruce Banner’s research was to relaunch the same super-soldier program that gave Steve Rogers his peak-human physique – and Banner’s less stable, gamma-infused serum is also what ends up transforming Emil Blonksy into the Abomination, too!