The Road to The Avengers – The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Luke Owen continues on the road to The Avengers, revisiting The Incredible Hulk…

The Incredible Hulk, 2008.

Directed by Louis Leterrier.
Starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt and Tim Blake Nelson.


Following an experiment that causes him to turn into the giant green-skinned Hulk, Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) lives in the shadows as he searches for a cure for his condition, but he is forced to return to civilization when a new threat emerges in the Abomination (Tim Roth).

Bruce Banner has always been a busy lad. Out of all of the characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Incredible Hulk has been the busiest. He had a cartoon series in the 60s, a very successful TV series in the 1970s (which had 5 spin-off made-for-TV movies), two more cartoon series in the 80s and 90s and several cameos and appearances in cartoons during the 21st century including Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes, Super Hero Squad and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. As well as those, there’s also a brand new live-action TV series that is being developed by Guillermo del Toro and a cartoon series called Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H for Disney.

Aside from the very popular 70s TV series starring Bill Bixby as David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, the appearance that our not so jolly green giant is most known for is the 2003 Ang Lee-directed Hulk – and for all the wrong reasons. Whether it was that Ang Lee just didn’t get the character or it was problems with the script and the acting, the bottom line is Hulk is simply an awful movie.

When Marvel Studios re-acquired the rights from Universal to the Incredible Hulk character in 2006 and they announced a new movie for 2008, there was not a lot of hype around it. Unfortunately, the damage from Ang Lee’s Hulk had already been done among comic book movie fans and the announcement of a new film wasn’t going to change things. However, when Marvel announced that Edward Norton was going to be taking on the role of Bruce Banner and that he was going to be involved with the script writing process, heads started to turn. With Liv Tyler, Tim Roth and William Hurt joining the cast, it was starting to sound like a possible Oscar nominated drama rather than a comic book movie.

Zak Penn and Norton’s script pulls a very smart move by not going into massive detail about The Hulk’s back story. After 50 years of hearing the story several times over in various forms of media, the film just assumes that everyone knows or has a basic idea of his origin. By doing this, The Incredible Hulk has more time to build on the Bruce Banner character and his relationships with Betty and Thunderbolt Ross. However they do change the origin ever so slightly by having Banner being the guinea pig experiment to recreate the Super Soldier Serum that was once used to create Captain America, in what I can assume was to try and tie these movies together. Now on the run from the military, Banner has dedicated his life to searching for a cure to the Hulk while also trying to remain as calm as possible.

Much like with Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr., the film is 100% sold by Norton’s captivating performance as Dr. Bruce Banner. While everyone puts in fantastic performances, it’s Norton that steals the show. He captures everything that makes Bruce Banner an interesting character.

While the story isn’t the best, it moves along at a good pace and only chooses to use The Hulk on a few occasions, which makes his appearance all the more special. The decision to pit him against a more humanised version of Abomination was again a smart move and they do a great job of setting up a possible sequel with the creation of The Leader towards the end of the movie. Not only that, they also attempted to set up a possible storyline for an Avengers movie that was still a pipe dream. At the time, the rumour was that the plot for The Avengers would be that Banner has gained control of the monster and was using it to take his frustrations out on the people that have been hunting him down – and it would take a team of superhuman people to take him down. Hence the ending of the shot of Banner’s wry smile and green eyes and Tony Stark’s cameo at the end of the movie, “I hear you have an unusual problem… what if I told you we were putting a team together.”

Stark’s appearance was, for me, the moment that really kick started the Avengers movement. At the time, it still seemed like an impossible reality that would get shut down by studio politics or actor’s egos. But when Robert Downey Jr. walked into that bar as Tony Stark to interact with other characters from the Marvel Universe, we knew that this Avengers idea could actually happen. Moreover the inclusion of the Super Soldier Serum meant that all these films could possibly tie together with plot threads that run through them.

While The Incredible Hulk isn’t the greatest movie ever made, it was far and away better than the awful 2003 Hulk and a lot better than the majority of comic book movies that came before it. The performances are good, the script is tight and the action sequences are fantastic. It did a good job of re-establishing the character with an audience and restored any faith that may have been lost from the previous attempt. Our Road to The Avengers was getting interesting, and it was only going to get more and more exciting.

Tomorrow: Iron Man 2

Luke Owen is a freelance copywriter working for Europe’s biggest golf holiday provider as their web content executive.

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  • I just rewatched this last night and you're right, it's eons better than the Ang Lee's version. I like it for all the reasons you mentioned, especially the performances. Norton is inspired choice as Banner. That bar scene w/ Stark makes me even more excited to see The Avengers! Marvel did a great job tying all the individual movies together for the ultimate well, assembly 😀