Marvel Studio’s second Avengers Cinematic Universe, The Incredible Hulk, was released in 2008 and directed by Louis Letterrier and serves as a reboot of the franchise and also a standalone sequel after the ‘failed’ 2003 film, and also as a prequel for the Hulk’s story prior to him appearing in The Avengers. It’s not an origins story, because Bruce Banner has already developed his ‘superpower’ from a freak gamma radiation accident: instead, this time around, Banner is on the run from the military who want to replicate his power into super-soldiers.
This is a rounded, deep, thoughtful version of the film. It’s grittier and more realistic, even with incredibly unrealistic elements – for example, in this version, Hulk doesn’t get bigger the angrier he gets. Edward Norton displays finesse in his performance, showing a fine skill in his portrayal of a man struggling with his temper – but not just struggling with his temper, but with his body as well. Banner must control his heartbeat, for when that gets too high, that’s when ‘the other guy’ comes out.
Liv Tyler’s portrayal of Betty, the estranged daughter of the general, is also beautifully realised. This script calls for an established history between two people who still love each other, and our two leads manage to convince the audience of their searing chemistry even when Banner is an angry green giant.
The scary thing about this film is the extreme lengths some people will go to to obtain power over another. I felt the Mr Blue storyline was unresolved – and I’m not a comic book geek, but I hear Mr Blue is supposed to be Mr Fantastic? Wouldn’t that have been awesome if Ioan Gruffudd rocked up? The answer is YES. However, then the most handsome man in the cast wouldn’t be Norton. Sadface. (Actually the Fantastic Four films aren’t a part of this universe, because Chris Evans plays both the Human Torch and Captain America.)
There’s not much outward connection to the Avengers in this film – you have to put two and two together and realise that Captain America is a super-soldier, and that’s what the military want to create out of Hulk juice. The real connection is the final scene, where Tony Stark makes his unexpected cameo, swaggering in like he owns the world (and probably does by this point). Unfortunately Hulk 2 talks stalled when Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo (who also does a beautiful performance of Banner/Hulk, but more on that in the Avengers review).
Hulk is probably my least favourite of the ‘Phase One: Avengers Assembled’ Universe films (well, maybe equal with Captain America which I didn’t really like). I don’t really connect with Banner, or Betty, who sometimes seems to be there just to get Hulk angry or calm him down. That’s not to say this is a bad film – on the contrary, it’s a very good film. It’s a better film than its predecessor, and I’m glad Banner’s backstory was explored/rewritten in this way.