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Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Into Marvel, where I go through the Marvel movies over the next few months.
Now when it comes to the Marvel Movies we all remember the big ones? Iron Man got two films before the Avengers, whereas Thor’s and Captain America’s came out back to back of one another. But the one that often seems to be forgotten about is The Incredible Hulk. Yes it pretty much revamped the cast and concept from the first film, but in turn everything from it was seemingly ditched for The Avengers. Leading us to the all-important question: In this franchise of connectivity and continuity, does The Incredible Hulk deserve to rank among it? Or should it be forever forgotten about instead?
Lets look at the biggest problem this film has: Namely that it lacks the continuity that is so associated with these films at this point. Now Iron Man doesn’t have much continuity either (since it was being the first film in the entire franchise), but it retroactively feels like it does. It becomes clear that when they were making the future films they focused a lot on what was found in this one. As mentioned last week, it feels like Iron Man fits in when of course it was built around. So what about The Incredible Hulk? Well ironically enough it does pretty much the same amount as Iron Man in this regards. It name-checks S.H.I.E.L.D, it deals with something that plays a big part in future movies (the arc reactor/Tesseract in Iron Man’s case, the super solider serum in The Incredible Hulk), it has a stinger at the end to clearly set up some sort of future sequel. And yet this film seems to get ignored despite the amount of build-up that it tried to do? Why? Well lets breakdown each part to see why the continuity just doesn’t stick.
Lets focus on S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s only after watching The Incredible Hulk that a lot of The Avengers starts to make sense. They already clearly planted the idea that perhaps S.H.I.E.L.D isn’t wholly good, but does have a dark and dangerous side to it. Suddenly a lot of what is in The Avengers stops seeming out of place, but instead cleverly foreshadowed. But why isn’t more mention of this made? Well mostly since S.H.I.E.L.D is brought up so little in the film it’s an almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type scenario. You have to be looking for it in order to find it. But unlike every other mention of S.H.I.E.L.D, Agent Coulson doesn’t appear. Ergo it doesn’t feel like S.H.I.E.L.D is playing a part because Coulson isn’t there. He became such a great figurehead for the concept that it’s hard to believe it without him. But that’s one section. What about the second?
A big reoccurring part of the film is the super solider serum. While not made explicitly clear, it’s partly what causes Bruce Banner to become the Hulk (along with the gamma radiation). On top of that it’s what gives us the villain of the movie, where Blonksy gets injected with it. Furthermore Bruce Banner’s blood is planned as a way of creating even more super soldiers. So it all ties together quite well… With exactly one film. Yes the super solider serum is an important part of Captain America: The First Avenger, but it’s the only time the serum gets brought up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe outside of The Incredible Hulk. Now compare that to the arc reactor/Tesseract, that forms the basis of The Avengers. It gets brought up in the two Iron Man movies, in part in the Thor movie and in a big way in the Captain America movie. It’s the common thread linking all the films… except this one. This one barely mentions it. And therein lies the problem. It’s world-building a concept that doesn’t get explored very much after this. So while you’d need to see the other movies to fully understand Loki’s plan, it’s entirely unnecessary to see this one.
And if I could diverge for a moment, this is the main problem with the film: It adds nothing to The Avengers. Iron Man 1 & 2 set up S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick Fury and Black Widow. Thor sets up S.H.I.E.L.D, Loki and Hawkeye. Captain America sets up S.H.I.E.L.D, the Tesseract much of what would later be found in Iron Man. All four of these films clearly build towards something, both while it was building and in retrospect. But what does The Incredible Hulk build up too? Nothing, that’s what. It doesn’t even build up to the Hulk, since the actor is replaced in The Avengers to totally separate the two films. The Incredible Hulk doesn’t build up very well to the big climax of Phase One and thus tends to be forgotten about. But that’s not even mentioning the worst part.
The biggest problem this film has, bar none, is its vain attempt to fit back into the continuity. It has Tony Stark visit General Ross to talk about The Avengers Initiative. That’s great… until you realise that this actually makes no sense. It made so little sense that Marvel had to retcon it out in a way to explain why Tony Stark is visiting the theoretical villain of the movie. It was to annoy him enough so that Blonsky wouldn’t be released. But this is only explained in a One-Shot found on the DVD for another movie. It was clear that the filmmakers wanted to tie it in, but didn’t quite know how. Thus we’re left with a stinger that really make no sense, nor really helps build towards anything. So is there any other reason why this film is forgotten about?
Lets get to the heart of the matter: This film was essentially a reboot of the 2003 film… which then got rebooted in 2012 with The Avengers. Very little of the cast transferred over the two films, with the lead actor being replaced entirely. And to be fair, Edward Norton does a fantastic job in the role. He really makes the role his own in the story they’re trying to tell. It’s a monster film in the likes of Godzilla. It’s the story of one man trying to control his inner monster. It works really well and essentially fixes many of the problems found in the 2003 version (which, for the record, is an interesting idea that doesn’t work all the way through). It sets up quite a few clever sequel hooks, the best one being the idea that perhaps The Leader will come in soon. For the record The Leader is a super intelligent supervillain, who is like a smarter but weaker version of the Hulk. It’d be an interesting idea for them to do in the sequel… but sadly it doesn’t look like it’s gonna happen. Come The Avengers all that is leftover from this film is that Bruce Banner can control his Hulk form a bit better. That is essentially it. A shame, really, since it’d be interesting to see a sequel to this film. Or would it?
Because, at the end of the day, it’s a real struggle to write a good Incredible Hulk film. For the simple fact that the audience is watching Bruce Banner trying not to get angry, when all we want him to do is to get angry. You can’t really have emotional pathos when it’s inevitable that he’s gonna get angry. A story featuring the idea of him being cured is bound to fail if we haven’t gotten to the climax yet, since we want our money’s worth. We spend a lot of any Hulk film waiting for the inevitable Hulk out and, if the story isn’t gripping us, we’re not going to enjoy it that much. Now you could flip this into a story about Bruce Banner being able to control his power, but then you have to wonder why every situation isn’t solved with a simple Hulk punch? Ultimately an Incredible Hulk film is perhaps the hardest one there is to write, and probably the reason why we’re not gonna be seeing an Incredible Hulk film any time in the near future.
So there you have it. My look at the Incredible Hulk to work out why it tends to be the black sheep of the Marvel cinematic universe. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.