Incredible Hulk is considered by some as the ugly step-child of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s gestation began as the sequel to Ang Lee’s 2007 Hulk. Universal had stalled, wondering what to do with the ill-received deconstruction and exploration into rage and daddy issues. While Marvel galvanised the alloy soon to become its flagship cinematic outing, Louis Leterrier pitched for the Man In A Can losing out to John Favreau. However, Marvel had something else for the Transporter director: The Incredible Hulk. It’s a confusing proposition. Not only could nobody decide if it was a follow-up or reboot (even producer Gale Ann Hurd coined the phrase “requel“), Leterrier knew enough that he didn’t want to ape Lee’s foray into the superhero genre.
In hindsight, following in the wake of the seminal Iron Man should have been daunting, even with one of Marvel’s most recognisable characters, but The Incredible Hulk crash-landed into our multiplexes the same year. Universal’s failure to produce a sequel since 2003 meant Marvel could produce and use a double-hander to get its road to Avengers off to a gamma-injected start.
Being the second offering in the MCU cannon is something of a benefit to The Incredible Hulk. Free from the ingredients of a yet to be tried-and-tested formula, Leterrier was free to do a little more experimentation. Forget about the hubris offered Tony, Thor and Star Lord before realising the error of their ways. This incarnation of Bruce Banner would already be painfully aware of his frailties. He’d also not waste time with a 40 minute origin story that we were all pretty much familiar with. For the uninitiated quick cuts between opening credits would get you up to speed with Banner’s odyssey. However, now fully in control, Marvel would also be free to interlock this with the other DNA strands making up the MCU. After watching the espionage-tinged Captain America: The Winter Soldier, audiences wondered why Marvel Studios hadn’t had more of stab at other genres. However, after watching The Incredible Hulk after such a long reprieve, it’s an uncomplicated actioner – why else would you get the kinetically competent Leterrier? – Bruce Banner works with “Thunderbolt” Ross on revitalising Cap’s Super Soldier Program. Things go awry. Bruce now changes into the very manifestation of rage. Ross, afraid of the connection to his daughter, along with his error in the experimental military operation, turns Hulk into a threat, chasing him a round the globe. We’ve all bought cinema tickets for less!
Now while we all have our favorite installment, it’s universally agreed that The Incredible Hulk isn’t the crown jewel of the MCU, but it does offer some things. Taking more than just a passing nod to the TV series (and a surprising amount from the comics) it means our hero gets to continent-trot, and meeting Banner in the Favelas offers something refreshing. Not only do we get to see him with the kind of home-made set-up that could win second prize at the science fare, he’s doing a convincing job of staying out of trouble. His mawkish schleping around the soft drinks factory is enough to throw anyone off the suspition that he could crush you like a worm. The first introduction to our not-so-jolly green giant is also tantalisingly fun. Hulk lurks in the abundant shadows supplied by huge vats and walkways. Even the special ops team are confused by what’s literally hit them. The lulls do draw somewhat from the impressive set pieces that follow. While it’s necessary, the love story between Bruce and Betty is little more than functional – although the set up of Bruce not being able to hulk-uglies is a thread continued in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The antagonising Ross and his ultimate about-face on the Hulk doesn’t have the effect it needs. But there’s a big, green fist of fun to be had! If Captain America, SHIELD and purple-panted easter eggs weren’t enough, the emancipating set pieces are. Watching Hulk tear apart a battalion on a college campus is such a release its wonderful. Rather than question the devastation left by the big guy you’ve waited so long while being bullied, you cheer him on while he body checks HUM-Vs and brings down gun ships. Then, if that’s not enough of an entré, we get to watch him do 10 rounds slugging it out with Abomination, using cop cars as boxing gloves. It really is an inventive foray of comic book violence and Letterier is not afraid to get in close rather than look away from the pain.
3* – The Angriest Hobo