The Incredible Hulk is a film released in the Earth-11584 continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Released on June 13, 2008, it is the second film in Phase 1 of the MCU and the second iteration of the character on film, following 2003's Hulk. It stars Mark Ruffalo in the title role, after contract negotiations with Edward Norton fell through. It was a co-production of Marvel Studios and Universal Pictures, due to Universal owning distribution rights to solo films for the Hulk character. It film was released to generally positive reviews, and made over 260 million dollars worldwide at the box office.
Along with several other heroes, Universal Pictures acquired the rights to the Incredible Hulk in the early 90s. Originally conceived as a continuation of the story of the famous 1970s television show, the film lingered in development hell for much of the decade until the success of 20th Century Fox's X-Men film in 2000. Following this, Universal (who had sold of many of the film rights they had acquired over the years) fast-tracked a Hulk film into production. The end result was 2003's Hulk directed by Ang Lee and starring Eric Bana in the title role. While the film was successful overall, critically it lagged behind many of its contemporaries, including the Fox X-Men films and the Raimi Spider-Man.
Work on a sequel did begin in late 2004, with screenwriter James Schamus saying in interviews that the Abomination of Grey Hulk were likely to be villains. However Universal never started work on a sequel beyond a pitch idea, and in late 2005 they entered into a rights sharing agreement with Marvel, agreeing on distribution rights for Hulk solo films while allowing the character to be used in other Marvel properties as well. Negotiations began, with Louis Leterrier being hired to direct the film in early 2006. There was talk of incorporating the original 2003 film into the story, something that Marvel was resistant to. They were also stalled talks with actor Edward Norton concerning him playing Bruce Banner. In the end, Mark Ruffalo was cast to play Bruce Banner instead of Norton, with William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson, Tim Roth and Liv Tyler also joining the cast. Gina Carano was added later in production, in order to set up a possible future She-Hulk film. The film began filming in August of 2007, finishing production in December of that year as well.
At Empire State University in New York City, General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross approaches his daughter, Betty, and her boyfriend/fiance Dr. Bruce Banner concerning a possible project involving human inoculation to gamma radiation. Unbeknownst to Banner and Ross, it is actually part of a larger program to recreate Project Rebirth, a super soldier project from the World War II era, which involves other doctors in the university, including a little known geneticist named Dr. Samuel Sterns. Banner tests his theories on himself, but an accidental overdose of radiation causes him to mutate into the Hulk, a condition which is duplicated whenever he becomes overly emotionally agitated. Banner causes severe damage to the lab and to Betty Ross inadvertently, before running away.
Four years later, Dr. Bruce Banner is currently hiding out, posing as a lumberjack at a logging company in the remotest parts of the Northwest Territories. Struggling to make ends meet due to only accepting odd jobs for petty cash, Banner spends most of his free time conversing with Dr. Sterns, using the aliases Mr. Green and Mr. Blue respectively, over a secure line on his laptop, trying to find a cure for his condition. Sterns says that they need to speak in person, but Banner insists that can't happen. They settle on speaking over a payphone, Sterns saying no one would be interested in him, and Banner agreeing. Banner agrees to send more of his blood to Sterns, without giving away his identity, and Sterns mentions that he might have a treatment in mind for the future.
Unfortunately, the call is intercepted by General Ross and a team specifically assigned to capture Banner. Ross informs the team, led by former Navy SEAL Capt. Emil Blonsky, that Banner is an escaped spy, but neglects to inform them of his condition. The attempt to capture Banner is botched, causing him to turn into the Hulk and critically injure three of Blonsky's men before escaping. Ross and Blonsky argue, with Ross eventually agreeing to debrief Blonsky on the true nature of the beast. Banner awakens to find himself halfway across Canada, though without his laptop which contained all of his research. Frustrated and alone, he decides that it is time to stop running and makes his way back to New York. Along the way he makes contact with his cousin, defense attorney Jennifer Walters, who lives on Long Island. His only family, she allows him to crash at her place while he attempts to recollect his data.
Ross divulges the information concerning the Super Soldier project to Blonsky, revealing that Captain America, long thought to be nothing more than a propaganda ploy for the Allies during the war, was in fact a real person. Blonsky agrees to undergo testing with the unproven serum that Ross' team had managed to piece together from research and the original notes of Project Rebirth, in order to do battle with the Hulk again. Banner scopes out the ESU campus, posing as a courier in NYC. While there though, he can't help but see Betty Ross from a distance. Ross manages to catch a glimpse of Bruce and goes after him, but he escapes. Later, Betty confronts Walters at her home, as she was the only other one who knew of Jennifer's connection to Bruce. She finds Bruce there and they reconnect. Bruce is happy to find a copy of his original data on Betty's hard drive. Their reunion is short lived, though, as they come into contact with Thunderbolt Ross, who had tracked Banner there by following Betty. Blonsky engages with Banner again, intentionally triggering a transformation into the Hulk. Banner is slowed down by the combined efforts of Ross and Blonsky, but eventually he nearly kills Blonsky and escapes with Betty in toe.
Banner and Ross lay low just outside NYC, while Ross continues to experiment on Blonsky, giving him a second dose of the Super Soldier Serum, which causes all of his wounds to heal and his strength to slightly grow. Eventually Banner and Ross make contact with Dr. Sterns at Empire State, who reveals that he possibly has a cure for Banner's condition. A test of the cure seems promising, but in a discussion Sterns reveals that he had duplicated Banner's blood through dilution and blood bank stores. Banner wants to destroy everything, but Ross' team intercepts him and tranquilizes him before he can turn into the Hulk. As Banner and Ross are taken away by General Ross, Blonsky approaches Sterns about wanting a sample of Banner's blood. Sterns is coerced into performing the cure procedure on Blonsky, but it goes wrong, transforming Blonsky into an Abomination. Sterns is knocked over, with a bit of Banner's blood dripping into an open wound on his head.
Banner and Thunderbolt Ross receive word that "the Hulk is loose in Harlem", realizing that it's Blonsky gone mad. Bruce agrees to fight Abomination as the Hulk, and General Ross reluctantly lets him. The two engage in a knockdown drag out brawl in the middle of Harlem, destroying famous landmarks such as the Apollo Theater. In the end, Banner defeats Abomination, and General Ross lets him escape on his own, with Betty Ross unable to follow.
In a postlude, we see Betty reading a letter that Bruce had given to Jennifer earlier in the film. In it, Bruce tells Betty that if anything went wrong with them seeking the cure, if he had to go on the run again, then he would find a way to live with this curse and use it to protect people, that he was done hiding. During the narration, we see Bruce under an assumed identity, travel to Asia with some of the money that Jennifer had given him earlier. The Abomination is locked away in a secure SHIELD facility. Thaddeus Ross is left to defend himself against his superiors on the phone. At the end Bruce says he will always love Betty, and the last shot is of Betty looking up at the sky, wondering about the future before we cut to the credits.
[Fade in on General Thunderbolt Ross walking to his office in the Pentagon, speaking on his cellphone to an unnamed party.]
Ross: Yes I am aware that the situation in Harlem escalated out of my control. Had I been given the...listen I'll come over and talk with the President about the situation and...No I am not trying to undermine your authority sir, I'm just trying to...hang on a minute...
[As he walks into his office he sees several SHIELD agents removing files and computers. They are all led by Agent Phil Coulson.]
Ross: I'll call you back sir. [hangs up phone] What the hell is going on here?!?
Coulson: Ah, General. My name is Phil Coulson with the Strategic Home...
Ross: I KNOW WHO THE HELL YOU ARE?! Now why the hell are you in my office.
Coulson: Didn't you get the memo? The President has asked us to take the lead on your Hulk problem and you're being reassigned. I just wanted to get some information concerning Banner before we begin our search.
Ross: Listen Agent Coulson, I don't know who the hell you think you are. But this is my investigation!
Coulson: Not anymore, with all due respect General. Besides, I think we're better equipped to handle this sort of thing.
[Ross is taken aback by this.]
Ross: And what makes you say that?
Coulson: It's kind of our thing. We're even putting together a special team just for this sort of occasion.
Ross: What kind of team?
[Coulson smiles at Ross as the scene cuts out.]
Summary of Changes
- Unlike the original film, we actually see a bit of the prologue in which Bruce Banner is first exposed to the gamma radiation and turns into the Hulk.
- The opening scene of the film takes place with Bruce hiding out in a logging camp, rather than in Brazil.
- Bruce is discovered by his communications with Samuel Sterns as opposed to a guarana soda being tainted by his blood.
- Emil Blonsky's backstory is slightly different in this film, as he is explicitly said to be a former Navy SEAL who was recruited by Ross.
- Hulk's transformation is spurred on by the soldiers, rather than a gang of bullies, and takes place in the logging camp. When he awakes, Banner is in Canada and makes his way to New York City, contacting Jennifer Walters (who is new to this film and this universe compared to the first one).
- The debriefing scene between Ross and Blonsky is far more detailed, including specifically mentioning Captain America and Steve Rogers (who is revealed to be an urban legend that has been classified in this universe) and Dr. Erskine. There is also a setup scene before the debriefing in which Blonsky lambasts Ross for his withholding of information that is expanded in this film.
- The scenes at Culver University actually take place at Empire State University, a nod to the Spider-Man universe that will eventually appear here.
- The battle in Harlem is more detailed, destroying some key landmarks like the Apollo Theater (which is where the Stan Lee cameo takes place).
- The ending of the film sees Banner travel to Asia as opposed to Alaska, with Betty hoping to meet him again some day. This sets up Banner being in India in the Avengers film.
- The post-credits scene is different, with Phil Coulson confronting Thunderbolt Ross in a bar as opposed to Tony Stark, with SHIELD taking over the Hulk search explicitly.
- Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk- A former scientist who, due to exposure from gamma radiation, transforms into a monster when angered or otherwise agitated. Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton in pre-production.
- Lou Ferrigno provided motion capture work on the Hulk. He also has a cameo as a lumberjack early in the film.
- Liv Tyler as Betty Ross- A medical doctor, former fiance of Bruce Banner, and daughter of General Thunderbolt Ross.
- William Hurt as General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross- A US military general formerly at the head of a project to recreate the Super Soldier Serum from World War II, now head of a paramilitary task force assigned to capture and contain the Hulk.
- Tim Roth as Capt. Emil Blonsky/Abomination- A former Navy SEAL who now heads a strike force assigned to Thunderbolt Ross to capture and contain the Hulk. Later serves as a test subject for Ross' imperfect Super Soldier Project, and transforms into the gamma-fueled monster, Abomination.
- Tim Blake Nelson as Dr. Samuel Sterns- A genetic scientist contacted by Bruce Banner, researching a way to either cure, or potentially control, the Hulk.
- Gina Carano as Jennifer Walters- A New York City Defense Attorney, and Bruce Banner's cousin, who helps him lay low while on the run.
- Clark Gregg as SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson- A SHIELD agent monitoring the situation between Thunderbolt Ross and The Hulk.
In addition, Stan Lee cameos as a standup comedian at the Apollo Theater during the climactic fight scene in Harlem.
The film received mixed to favorable reviews overall, with the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes scoring the film at 67% with an average rating of 6.2/10 out of 225 reviews. The critical consensus reads "The Incredible Hulk may not be quite the smashing success that fans of Marvel's raging behemoth might hope for, but it offers more than enough big green action to make up for its occasionally puny narrative." Critics were divided on Ruffalo's portrayal of Bruce Banner, but gave praise to the film's strong action climax.
The film grossed 55.4 million dollars on its opening weekend, earning the #1 spot at the box office for the weekend and, at the time, scoring the second highest opening weekend for a Father's Day release in history. The film eventually grossed $134.8 million dollars worldwide, making it the lowest grossing film in the MCU domestically. It finished with a $263.4 million worldwide box office gross, making the film a "break-even."