The Incredible Hulk is a bizarre oddity in the MCU, and 11 years on shows just how little of a plan Marvel Studios had. This year's Avengers: Endgame is set to bring an end to the 22-movie arc Marvel's been telling for the past decade, although there's certainly one movie that feels like it was less important to that than the rest.
The second film from Marvel Studios, The Incredible Hulk released mere months after Iron Man and received decidedly less success than the Robert Downey, Jr.-fronted counterpart. The film remains the lowest-grossing entry in the MCU both domestically and internationally by a fair margin, is the second-lowest rated by critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and with a swift recast of the main character has very little direct connection to where Bruce Banner went afterward.
But rather than reflecting badly on any involved too much - it's a totally fine monster flick - The Incredible Hulk is more an artifact of the early Marvel Cinematic Universe, one that reveals a truth that the "it's all connected" touting-studio would like to not admit: Marvel didn't really know what they were doing.
- This Page: How The Incredible Hulk Didn't Appreciate The MCU
- Page 2: How The Incredible Hulk Doesn't Fit Into The MCU Properly
The Incredible Hulk Is A Remake-Prequel Of The TV Show (Seriously)
It's easy to forget a lot about how the MCU heroes were perceived before they became blockbuster stars, but perhaps the weirdest is Hulk. Looking at the original Avengers lineup, he was far and away the most well-known, and a lot of that came from the 1970s The Incredible Hulk TV show starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno as David Banner and the green goliath respectively. And while much was made at the time of release about whether The Incredible Hulk was a sequel to Ang Lee's Hulk which released just five years earlier, it's that series the film has to best connection to.
The whole idea of Bruce on the run and helping out others is the basic premise of the show, of course, but the deeper references come heavy. The downbeat theme plays multiple times to highlight Bruce's isolation, Ferrigno gets a winking cameo, and at the end Banner is going under the name "David B", a nod to the non-alliterative show lead.
That final moment is particularly interesting as it almost sees Bruce Banner take up the role of his TV counterpart. Accounting for everything cribbed from the series, The Incredible Hulk almost feels like a reboot of the show; a remake-prequel in the line of The A-Team or Starsky & Hutch of the same era. That's a weird choice in retrospect, but given the contemporary nostalgia cycle (late-70s and early-80s was in vogue) and general audiences' lack of familiarity with Hulk comics (it took multiple more appearances to get out of the basic anger setup), the logic is somewhat understandable.
The Incredible Hulk Is Also A Generic 2008 Blockbuster
There's more than just TV show angling that makes The Incredible Hulk so of its time. What makes Iron Man such an invincible film 20 movies later is how forward-thinking its style is; it stands out against tentpoles of the era and shoulder-to-shoulder with what we get today.
The same can not be said of The Incredible Hulk. Louis Leterrier's direction is basically a time capsule of late-2000s action filmmaking, full of saturated high contrast images, dark locales, extravagant (and not-quite photorealistic) CGI sequences, outdated tech, and very choppy character development (Betty Ross being General Ross' daughter seems to play as if it's a twist). What it really has is a grafting of monster movie tropes to the superhero (something prevalent in Iron Man too), but even that steers into the 2008 ilk.
While being generic of the time is hardly a great crime, what it does show is that with this film Marvel wasn't quite sure what their movies should be in relation to everything else that was on the market. There's a very Bondian ethos here, chasing trends and grafting it to the character. All of this is at the forefront, not the traits we know from the movies that came next. Indeed, that uncertainty runs over into it compared to the well-known Marvel formula...