Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.
Look, I get it, it’s a bummer Mark Ruffalo isn’t in this movie and I know Ed Norton and Liv Tyler’s super-quiet acting isn’t the most endearing follow up to the ol’ RDJ charm, but The Incredible Hulk is a solid action flick with some of the best action the MCU had to offer pre-Russo Brothers. It’s also a truly worthwhile piece of worldbuilding and storytelling for anyone looking to steep themselves in the MCU.
Incredible Hulk has a streamlined, straightforward sense of purpose. It’s got momentum, propulsion, a sense of movement and motion that never slows down enough to get bogged down. This is a fugitive flick at heart that pits Norton’s pursued Bruce Banner against Tim Roth’s pursuer, Emil Blonsky. For the duration that Blonksy remains embodied by Roth he proves to be a pretty compelling antagonist. He and Banner’s trilogy of encounters highlight a thematic backbone that echoes through the MCU even today: what do you do when bestowed a reach that exceeds your grasp?
Blonsky, embodying the aggressive military authority that so often pestered Marvel’s heroes during the franchise’s first phase, and Banner have very different ideas about what the Hulk is and that ideological divide is highlighted in their series of escalating encounters; first there’s the amazing favela chase that takes a turn into monster movie territory, then a great fight between the Hulk and a roided-out Blonsky that has a stronger more agile Roth taking on a monster single-handedly, and finally a massive monster mash. Of course by the time there are two monsters duking it out on screen the ethos of Roth’s performance is lost behind a CGI behemoth that is so big and strong it loses its butt and wiener, but the fight still provides worthy, old-fashioned spectacle – no big, blue beam in the sky here!
Each time the two go at it Banner takes up that Marvel party line of personal responsibility, desperately trying to contain and control himself in the face of Blonsky’s relentless antagonism and continued insistence that Banner is a weapon demanding to be wielded. This is the film in which we get the clearest picture of Banner’s burden, of what the day to day life of a pacifist who is also an unwilling WMD is like.
The Incredible Hulk also begins to lay the groundwork for an interconnected MCU in subtle, effective ways without shoving audiences’ faces in Easter eggs. We learn that the Hulk’s existence is a result of the vacuum left by the presumed-death of Captain America. Pre-thaw we see that Cap’s secret legacy is a scientific arms race to recreate the WWII superhero, which provides an interesting connection for Banner and Rogers. There’s references to SHIELD and Stark Industries as well, but never anything as excessive as some later entries in the MCU would come to boast.
Though it is doomed to sit in the bottom chunk of almost any rankings list of the MCU, Incredible Hulk is not without its merits. It offers some background that the MCU is richer for having and its story is succinct, swift and self-contained, something that becomes harder and harder to get a decade into Marvel’s cinematic reign.