Welcome to VOCIFERY, my attempt to re-watch every piece of media in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – every movie, every television series, every one-shot, every web series, and every tie-in comic book, using the Wikipedia entry on the MCU as a guide, before the release of Avengers 4 in May 2019. Join me as I write my thoughts about what I’m seeing, as I see it!
Also, spoilers follow – if you’re worried about that kind of thing, view before reading.
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Any time you see a ‘best to worst’ ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films (there is probably a thread about them on the front page of the /r/MarvelStudios sub-reddit right now), you’ll inevitably find Iron Man ranked near the top of the list, and The Incredible Hulk placed near the bottom of the list.
I’ve always been confused why. I mean, I know why: The Incredible Hulk simply isn’t a great film compared to Iron Man.
But there is such a disparity in quality between the two films, and one formed the cornerstone of the universe while the other remained largely forgotten, at least until recently. I’ve always wondered how Marvel Studios let that happen.
Iron Man came out first, just over a month ahead of the big green guy in early May 2008, and was a universal success: acclaimed by critics and fans alike – it holds a 94% critic rating and a 91% audience score on RottenTomatoes – the film put together a compelling narrative that touched on resonant themes (corporate greed, terrorism), redefined the comic book movie origin story, and benefitted from an extremely strong ensemble cast led by Robert Downey Jr, Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow.
The Incredible Hulk joined the MCU in late June 2008, and while it wasn’t panned – 67% critics, 71% audience on RottenTomatoes – it sure didn’t generate the same level of good will. Yes, it was a massive improvement on Ang Lee’s Hulk, but the story just wasn’t interesting, Edward Norton and Liv Tyler seemed hopelessly miscast, and the third act was a fairly standard (read: boring) extended action sequence that did nothing to make the Hulk a hero in his own right.
Both films make connections to the later films; Iron Man introduces Phil Coulson and SHIELD, both of whom have formed a big part of the universe, while The Incredible Hulk introduces the idea of super-soldiers and features a tag with Tony Stark. But until Captain America: Civil War reintroduced its antagonist General Ross, the later movies have forgotten The Incredible Hulk.
It’s a shame, too. General Ross is a fairly interesting character in the comics universe, proven by the fact that the Russo Brothers made him an integral part of Civil War in 2016, while Tim Blake Nelson’s Samuel Sterns (aka The Leader) and Ty Burrell’s Doc Samson could both have proved exciting additions to a potential sequel.
So how did Iron Man become a beacon of fine superhero film-making, while Marvel all but swept The Incredible Hulk under a rug for nearly a decade?
My guess is that it was some combination of the departure of Edward Norton from the role and complications around the character rights. After Norton left the part, Mark Ruffalo took over and the character of Hulk was much more warmly received in The Avengers – though some of that credit has to go to writer/director Joss Whedon.
As for the character rights, Marvel Studios might feel that they can’t work any further with NBC Universal, who hold the rights to Hulk and a number of supporting characters, with Marvel Studios allowed to utilise the characters in non-Hulk productions (hence why Ross showed up in Civil War, Hulk showed up in the Avengers films and Thor: Ragnarok).
Marvel Studios aren’t in the habit of working alongside other studios – in fact, The Incredible Hulk and 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming are the only instances of a full production alongside another studio. It is possible that their unwillingness to look outside of their own facilities is a reason that we haven’t seen another Hulk film.
Whatever the reason, it seems a shame that Hulk has become an enigma in the MCU, and that we couldn’t spend any more time in his little corner of the universe. And it’s a shame that the universe couldn’t get off to a stronger beginning.
Next: the tie-in comic books Iron Man: I Am Iron Man and Iron Man 2: Public Identity.