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Visiting and Revisiting the MCU – The Incredible Hulk

My daughter and I will be watching Marvel Cinematic Universe media in whatever order she feels like.

She-Hulk kicked off our organic journey through the MCU, so it’s no surprise that the first movie my daughter asked to watch was The Incredible Hulk.

What was a surprise?

The Incredible Hulk Was Not On Disney+

Universal Pictures owns the distribution rights to The Incredible Hulk, which includes the services it streams on. They coproduced the film with Marvel Studios, and helped get it into theatres in 2008. If you’re a nerd for the business side of the entertainment industry, as I am, the rocket fueled journey from 2007 Marvel making every deal they could to afford to produce and release a few original movies to Disney purchasing 2009 Marvel for $4 billion fascinates you. If you’re a father trying to share your interests with your daughter, as I also am, the obstacles to watching these movies created by how those deals intersect with the evolution of distribution towards streaming services frustrates you.

Luckily, I own The Incredible Hulk on DVD. Because, again, the entertainment industry changed a lot since 2008. Back then, if you wanted unlimited access to a movie you enjoyed, you bought it on DVD. And I liked The Incredible Hulk enough to buy it.

The Incredible Hulk That I Remember

When The Incredible Hulk came out, people didn’t care for it. It didn’t compare to Iron Man’s box office, and critics and the viewers who did see it rated it somewhere between “fine” and “fails to meet expectations”. For all the modern day talk of declining quality of Marvel offerings, The Incredible Hulk remains in the bottom five MCU films according to Rotten Tomatoes. Considering Ang Lee’s Hulk came out only five years earlier, also to mixed reception, I always wondered why Marvel positioned this movie so early in their original productions slate.

I also always wondered where the apathy towards this film comes from. I enjoyed The Incredible Hulk. The performances are engaging, especially Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. He’s thoughtful, with a contemplative wit, and his rage face sells that idea that he’s about to Hulk-out, even without the green eye effect.

Speaking of which, the action and special effects were top notch for the time. Either Louis Leterrier or the studio opted for a more grounded design. It emphasized weight in the scene. That sells the idea that Banner and Hulk exist in the same space, and that this creature causes the destruction we see, not a special effects artist at a computer.

The plot progressed at a satisfactory pace. Best of all, it wasn’t an origin story. Between the Ang Lee Hulk being fresh in viewer’s minds, and Hulk having a simple and established backstory, Marvel could sum up his origin in an opening credits montage and get right into the story of Bruce Banner on the run. I especially enjoyed Banner using a combination of technology and meditation (including paying a buff dude to slap him) to regulate his temper. It’s a clever exploration of the rage monster metaphor at the heart of the Hulk narrative.

Revisiting The Incredible Hulk

I liked the movie a little more this time around.

For one, it was refreshing to watch an MCU movie before the establishment of the MCU template. It had the respect for the source material that Marvel movies produced by other companies often lack, but without the quips quota, continuity callbacks, and foreshadowing that define more recent MCU films.

For another, the Blonsky trial from She-Hulk aligns perfectly with the movie. In She-Hulk, Blonsky argues that the U.S. army brought him in to fight a monster, and he only became a monster himself after taking the synthesized super soldier serum. All true. Really, Abomination wasn’t evil Hulk so much as he was Hulk without the benefits of Banner’s experience. The MCU tells a lot of background stories through periodically checking in with secondary characters. The Abomination’s redemption arc is one done well. And there’s enough reason to still suspect Blonsky that it might not be over yet.

My Daughter’s Thoughts

I expected more confusion from my daughter over a different actor playing Bruce Banner and Hulk being so different from the Professor Hulk of She-Hulk. Instead, she understood right away that this was the same character we saw in She-Hulk, but earlier in his journey.

I’m also used to my daughter zoning out of non-cartoons after about an hour. Typically she taps out during an exposition scene after a big fight halfway through an action movie. It happened with A New Hope.

In the case of The Incredible Hulk, that would be around the fight scene at the university. But this time, the movie held her attention. Maybe it was that Betty Brant’s prominence increases around then. My daughter both tends to relate to female characters more, and is a sucker for a romance plot. It may be that The Incredible Hulk leaned hard into both of those elements at just the right time to hold her attention.

Whatever the case, she latched onto The Incredible Hulk from beginning to end. She didn’t connect with it on the same level that she connected with She-Hulk, but it held her interest enough to watch to watch more.

What’s Next

The next stop in our journey through the MCU is most people’s first step: 2008’s Iron Man.

Ryan Costello is the lead writer at Laughing Dragon Studios, currently writing Looking For Group, and developing projects for the entertainment company. He contributes blogs content to LICD.com and LFG.co