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The Incredible Hulk is a film that of sits in a bit of a weird place within the MCU. Released in 2008 after Marvel re-acquired the rights to the character following 2003's Hulk (which I personally loved by the way), this acts as a kind of loose sequel/reboot of the character that's just... kind of odd. Before Mark Ruffalo became the most perfect Bruce Banner in existence, Edward Norton took on the role.
Banner is hiding out in Brazil dripping his blood into bottles of juice, and practicing yoga as people with anger issues generally do. Stan Lee makes his cameo by drinking Banner's blood and getting gamma sickness, which alerts General Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross (William Hurt) to Banner's whereabouts. Ross sends in a team of special forces, led by Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), all does not go well, as for the first time in months, the Hulk sets out on a smashy-crashy rage. Not dissuaded by his team's failure, Blonsky learns of a serum that could give him similar powers to Hulk, and sets about on being even more incredible than the Incredible Hulk.
One thing I will give credit to this film for, is that it features some minor characters that have some significance in the comic history of the Hulk character; Dr. Samson (Ty Burrell), Samuel Sterns who becomes the Leader (Tim Blake Nelson), and even Amadeus Cho (Martin Starr). All three of these characters are used poorly when it comes to the movie, and are even more weirdly casted. Starr's character in particular, only actually named as Cho in the novelisation of the film, couldn't be any more of an opposite to the character of Amadeus Cho (a Korean-American teenager). Hulk has an array of great supporting characters, but completely fails to adequately use them in this film (WHERE THE FUCK IS RICK JONES!?!?!?!).
Edward Norton's performance is kind of boring when you compare it to what came after, or even what came before. Eric Bana's performance as Banner was far superior to Norton's, and Ruffalo's performance after Norton have far surpassed both. Norton's performance is boring, and simply lacks any sort of conviction that might persuade you that Banner really is the haunted soul the character actually is. He just seems... sad all the time. Banner isn't sad, he's holding back so much rage caused by a traumatic childhood, where the fuck is that in his performance?
One of the bigger issues with the film is that it's supposed to act as a loose sequel of 2003's movie, but at the same time, reboot the story for the MCU, but that was never going to work. If I hadn't seen the 2003 movie, I wouldn't really get why Banner was in Brazil, or if I had seen it, I'd be asking what happened in between, like what was that shit with throwing a rage in the lab? If you're new to the Hulk mythos, you're going to find it a bit tough to understand why Banner is turning into a raging green monster, or what caused him to be like that in the first place. Okay, they try their best, but a movie within something like the MCU really should have started from scratch and made Incredible Hulk an origin movie. Give us a new and fresh look at the characters, so even if we actually still never got a sequel to Incredible Hulk, seeing Banner return in Avengers would have made it a tad bit easier to understand his plight.
So let's also talk about the CGI. With a character like Hulk, unless you're going to go the Lou Ferrigno body builder route for your Hulk character, the CGI needs to be absolutely on point. Maybe for the time, Incredible Hulk looked amazing, I mean it was 11 years ago after all, but it looks so dated today. The final big monster battle makes it look all the more cartoonish, and now of course, a big finale like they had in Incredible Hulk would have been a struggle to pull off convincingly, but the CGI in the 2003 Hulk looked spectacular to me, yet Incredible Hulk looks like it pre-dated it.
In a nutshell, Incredible Hulk is okay in parts, there's some solid action if you can forget you're witnessing terrible CGI, but it's nowhere near the groundbreaking film that Iron Man was. Perhaps had it been more willing to embrace its more pulp-horror based comic roots, and maybe had it been a new version of the Hulk origin rather than the soft-sequel, it might have been something a bit more coherent. Iron Man was the Formula 1 car setting off the franchise at breakneck speed, but Incredible Hulk was a massive bump in the road, and it's not really a shock that, other than a brief reference in Avengers, the movie has been largely ignored in the MCU's subsequent films.
My hope is that, whatever the future of the MCU, we finally get the desired standalone Hulk movie with Mark Ruffalo's Banner taking centre stage.