There is an incredible number of Marvel movies. When Infinity War releases later this month it will be the 19th film in the MCU. And while most of them have garnered massive critical acclaim, there have been a few duds along the way. Even so, Marvel’s reputation for quality has meant the flops earn decent press as well. But through all Marvel’s ups and downs, there’s been one installment in the MCU that has somehow been forgotten: The Incredible Hulk.
And that’s weird! Not because a post-Avengers post-Ragnarok world proves that Earth loves Hulk. But because, in 2008, The Hulk was Marvel’s most well-known character. Marvel has built an incredible landscape with the characters in their stable. But before the MCU conquered the world, very few people had ever heard of Iron Man, let alone The Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye.
Hulk Away From Home
Back when Marvel only made comic books, they had no need for the film rights to their characters. What they did have a need for was money. The comic book publisher was facing the possibility of bankruptcy. So, beginning in 1985, Stan Lee set out to save The House of M. Marvel sold off the rights to Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Fantastic 4, and The Incredible Hulk.
Marvel would’ve been happy to sell the rights off to every character they had. Unfortunately, most of their characters had very little cultural cache. Thus the bankruptcy situation. That list of characters whose rights they could sell off constituted the bulk of Marvel’s name recognition. And thanks to the 1978 television series, Hulk was the biggest name on that list.
The way the rights sales work is a little wonky. The basic idea though is that the studios which purchased the rights (Sony, Fox, and Universal) retained them as long as they kept making movies. But if they failed to meet their timetables, the rights would revert back to Marvel. So, in 2006, when Universal didn’t meet the deadline for filming a sequel to Ang Lee’s Hulk, Marvel regained the rights to their most iconic character. Just in time for the start of a brand new experiment.
Conventional wisdom says that Iron Man kicked off the MCU. And yes, of course, it was the first film in the franchise. But there wasn’t anything different about Iron Man. It was little more than the first installment in a story. With only one mention of “S.H.I.E.L.D.” and a cameo by Robert Downey Jr., The Incredible Hulk was the film that put the “Universe” in “Marvel Cinematic Universe”.
Even putting that pedigree aside for a moment, its still insane that fans forget about The Incredible Hulk. Because it’s great! Edward Norton plays a Banner that is immediately recognizable to anyone who’s ever heard the word “Hulk” – and he doesn’t even have to turn green. The plot of the film – that the government wants to own Hulk rather than destroy him – is compelling motivation for Norton and Liv Tyler. And while it’s a pretty low bar, Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky is close to the top of Marvel’s villain list than the bottom.
On top of all that, the action sequences are just really, really good. Action blockbusters, Marvel-branded and otherwise, are often accused of letting their third acts devolve into a CGI mess. And Hulk does, in fact, end with two big computer-generated monsters punching each other in Harlem. But it’s also outstanding. The direction is creative and unique. The Abomination and Hulk flip cars around in a way that keeps the fight fun. Plus, as we’ve already established, Earth loves Hulk! So getting to do his thing completely unchecked is just wonderful.
So attend to me here, dear reader. If The Incredible Hulk had escaped your mind, as it had so many true believers. Or, if it’s just been out of your life for a few years. Or even if you’ve never seen the film at all. As a part of your build up to Infinity War, make sure you take the time to check it out. I promise it will be incredible.