With 18 movies and nearly six billion dollars to its name, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a cultural phenomenon. All of these films have been building to one thing: Avengers: Infinity War. In honor of this massive movie, we here at The Overthinkers are going to spend the next 17 days retracing the path from Iron Man to Infinity War in a feature we’re calling Infinity War Countdown.
In my humble opinion, The Incredible Hulk is one of the most significant movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now before you get mad, let me explain.
I am in no way trying to justify the poorly written characters, fumbling dialogue or predictable fight scenes. But rather The Incredible Hulk has a distinct personality that establishes itself as an individual film while drawing in the constantly fascinating elements for which Marvel is now known.
In the grand scheme of the MCU, it is The Incredible Hulk (not Iron Man) that really begins Phase I. It immediately connects with its counterparts and sets up The Avengers before we even thought there to be an Avengers movie.
Do I have your attention now?
The Incredible Hulk, hereafter abbreviated as TIH (simple because I refuse to continue typing out The Incredi– oh you get it), opens with highlight reel of Bruce Banner’s origin story / title sequence. This not only signifies that TIH is a sequel but also a reboot of the 2003 film — which was so bad we won’t even bother talking about it. While this speed up origin is a helpful recap, it can really leave out a lot of important plot points regarding who Bruce was before his transformation into the Hulk and his complex relationship with Betty Ross. On the other hand, this sequence is chalked full of Easter Eggs that will leave any true Marvel fan drooling.
Throughout the movie we witness Bruce’s healing arc and self-discovery. In the very beginning of TIH, Bruce is on the hunt for a cure, completely focused on controlling the Hulk through any means possible. However, by the end of the movie, particularly in his fight with The Abomination, we see that Bruce has come to accept he cannot be cured. Instead he can help by “aiming” the Hulk at a problem. In the very last scene of the movie we can see a smiling Bruce, a huge contrast from the first time we see him on screen.
Personally, I am disappointed that this acceptance of Edward Norton’s Hulk was not carried over into the rest of the MCU (particularly The Avengers). Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner has relinquished his control of Hulk to become a lost, self-conscious man who is “always angry”. This completely throws away all the characterization Edward Norton created in TIH, but I understand why it was necessary in the long run.
The action scenes in TIH were also incredible. With advancements in CGI, the action can effortlessly showcase the evolution of Hulk’s fighting style. As Bruce slowly gains control and acceptance of his alter-ego, we can see the Hulk slowly change from a child-like monster to a problem solving beast; evident in the transition from tantrum like swinging about to using police-cars like boxing gloves in the finale.
As Bruce releases more of himself to the Hulk, more of his intellect shines through.
Now, putting the plot aside, let’s talk about TIH’s place in the MCU. To put it into perspective, only the first Iron Man movie had been released at this point, just two months prior. That being said, TIH set up the MCU in more ways than Iron Man ever did — in fact, before TIH, Iron Man would be considered a stand-alone film, not part of the universe.
TIH establishes the Marvel Cinematic Universe through its Easter Eggs and tied-in references in later movies. Here are some connections:
1. References to S.H.I.E.L.D and Stark Industries
All through the movie and title sequence we see military reports with Nick Fury’s name and technology sporting Stark Industries logos. It’s subtle but easily noticeable if you’re paying attention.
2. Stan Lee cameo
Being the second of it’s kind, the first being in Iron Man, TIH set-up the precedent of Stan Lee appearances in all later Marvel movies. And while most of the time Stan Lee cameos are just random, passing moments, in TIH his cameo is actually a plot device for the U.S. government to track down Bruce’s current location.
3. References to suicide attempt
In an alternate opening of the movie, we can see Bruce going to the arctic to commit suicide via handgun. This attempt is later referenced in The Avengers (“I got low. I didn’t see an end. So, I put a bullet in my mouth… and the other guy spit it out!”). Also in this deleted scene, there is a shadowy figure falling out of the ice-caps — thought to be Captain America’s soon-to-be discovered frozen body.
4. Final battle against the Abomination
Again this is referenced in The Avengers (“I kinda broke Harlem.”), but also it set the precedent to indirectly name Marvel villains. After his transformation, Emil Blonsky is described as “an abomination”, a nod to his comic book counterpart by the same name.
5. Struck by lightning
In the movie there are several lightening strikes outside a cave in which the Hulk and Betty are hiding. Every time lightning struck Hulk would become upset and scream at the sky, eventually he tries to throw a rock into the sky to stop the lightning. Now, while this can be a subtly cheesy take on Ross’s “Thunderbolt” nickname, it is more of a reference to Thor — especially since it sets off a rivalry in The Avengers as the Hulk recognizes Thor’s powers over lightening, hence the punching.
6. Post-credit scene
Marvel is now synonymous with post-credit scenes, usually (though not always) not even having to do with the actual movie, but rather as a sneak peak into the great MCU. As such, we can’t forget to mention the end credit scene where Stark confronts General Ross about the Hulk (“What if I told you we were putting a team together.”).
While The Incredible Hulk feels like a red-hades adopted sibling compared to the two other superhero blockbusters in the summer 2008 (re: Iron Man and The Dark Knight), it has more than earned its place in its efforts to build the MCU.
[media courtesy of Universal]