The last film of phase one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally makes its way to Disney+ as “The Incredible Hulk” has been added to the service. The 2008 film was the second film in what we now call the MCU. Edward Norton stars as Bruce Banner in this film that glosses over this backstory. Released just weeks after “Iron Man,” it was unclear what the MCU would become. But this, sometimes forgotten, film is an important step in that journey.
This film is not as fondly remembered as other early MCU films, but I remember enjoying it when I saw it in theaters in 2008. It wasn’t as good as “Iron Man,” but it served its purpose well. On subsequent re-watches, I’ve been able to see the flaws that lead others to not like it. I also think Norton’s performance doesn’t age well. It’s not because Norton was bad at playing the Hulk, it’s because Mark Ruffalo, who replaced Norton after disagreements with the executives at Marvel, is better at playing the Hulk. Norton is an amazing actor, but Ruffalo is a better fit for the character.
While the film may have lost its luster in the intervening years, some parts of this film have endured. Gen. Thunderbolt Ross has returned many times throughout the MCU. With William Hurt’s passing, they could’ve retired that character, but instead, Ross has been re-cast with Harrison Ford taking up the mantle. Tim Roth’s performance as the Abomination was well praised at the time and still looks great. He returned in both “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.” And we are expected to see more from the Samuel Sterns character going forward as he transitions into the villain, The Leader.
As we approach 30 movies in the MCU, “The Incredible Hulk” is definitely a mid-tier movie for me and a lower-tier movie for some others. If a film of this quality were released in phases two or three, it would easily be near the bottom of those phases (“Thor: The Dark World” is still objectively worse). But if this were released in phase four, it would’ve been right in the middle of the films given the up and down quality phase four has brought to the MCU. Still, it’s always good for a release order re-watch.