Prior to the MCU, The Incredible Hulk had a spotty reputation on film. The TV series and subsequent TV movies in the ’70s and ’80s were generally well-received but ultimately hampered by the limits of what you can achieve with a big guy in green body paint and a wig. Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk is a curious oddity that should be lauded for its ambition but its visual flair and attempts at psychological realism couldn’t redeem its clunky dialogue, disjointed narrative and abysmal editing.
When Iron Man was released to universal acclaim in 2008 it was soon followed up with the Green Skinned Goliath’s MCU debut The Incredible Hulk. The film met less critical and commercial acclaim than its predecessor, but it’s one of the more underrated films in the MCU. Borrowing heavily from Bruce Jones’ run on The Incredible Hulk, it’s a tense cat and mouse game with some spectacular action and effects. 2012’s The Avengers saw an explosion in the character’s popularity that was carried across its sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron (2014) and will likely continue into November’s Thor: Ragnarok. We all love the big guy, but here are some facts about the MCU Hulk that you may not even know.
15. WE PROBABLY WON’T BE GETTING ANOTHER SOLO MOVIE
Hard as it may be to believe now, there was a time when Marvel was on the verge of bankruptcy in the ’90s. To make ends meet they sold the film rights to their characters to numerous studios with Hulk landing at Universal (the natural choice for a big green monster). Universal produced and distributed Ang Lee’s Hulk but in 2006 the fledgling Marvel Studios managed to hammer out a distribution deal for The Incredible Hulk.
While the deal allows for Hulk to appear in Avengers / team-up films, Universal have made the prospect of a solo Hulk film very difficult to the point where Mark Ruffalo recently stated that “a standalone Hulk film will never happen“. Despite enthusiasm on the part of both Ruffalo and MCU Godfather Kevin Feige, Universal aren’t receptive to the idea. Not that they need to worry with all the Mummy cash they’re raking in!
14. WHY HULK DOESN’T RESEMBLE BRUCE IN THE INCREDIBLE HULK
Looking at the digital model for Hulk in the Avengers movies, it’s clear there’s a lot of Mark Ruffalo in there. But when it comes to The Incredible Hulk, the digital character bears almost no resemblance to Edward Norton (besides Norton’s telltale scar). Some might suspect that it’s because the effects teams at Rhythm and Hues didn’t have the ability or technology to replicate Norton’s face but heck, even Ang Lee’s Hulk clearly used actor Eric Bana’s facial features and expressions as reference.
While some might argue that the Hulk is a separate entity and doesn’t necessarily have to look like Bruce Banner the truth is a mix of practicality and directorial preference. Norton hadn’t been cast when the effects house began creating the model so Director Louis Leterrier instead suggested they base the model’s facial features on the artwork of celebrated Hulk artist Mike Deodato.
13. THE HULK IN THE AVENGERS WAS A STRIPPER
Rhythm and Hues were under the impression that their Hulk model would be used in The Avengers, but when Joss Whedon was brought on board, the director wanted to affect some serious changes where the Green Skinned Goliath was concerned. Industrial Light and Magic were brought on to replace Rhythm and Hues and the ‘one-size-fits-all’ Hulk was replaced with a creation that was very much a Mark Ruffalo character.
While the Canadian studio that build The Incredible Hulk‘s digital model deliberately imbued it with impossibly low body fat and unattainable proportions, Whedon was quite vocal in his disdain for the “ripped surfer dude” look. The new, redesigned Hulk was much more closely extrapolated from Mark Ruffalo’s appearance and while the face is all Ruffalo, the body was based on the physique of body builder and stripper Steve Romm.
12. HULK’S GLOWING GREEN EYES COME AND GO FOR NO REASON
While modelling the Hulk more closely on Bruce Banner’s appearance gives the monster greater pathos as audiences see the remnants of Bruce Banner trapped in the creature, there’s one element from Leterrier’s film that was omitted, then put back in and then omitted again, and that’s the glowing green eyes. In the ’70s TV show
Bruce David Banner’s eyes would glow a greenish white to signify to the audience that Banner was about to change into the Hulk and heads were about to get busted.
The Incredible Hulk also employed this as both a knowing homage and a cool visual. Yet, this was curiously dropped from The Avengers which was a red flag to fans of visual continuity. To further confuse matters, the first trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron showed a shot of Ruffalo rocking the glowing eyes that was again omitted from the film.
11. THE AVENGERS’ HULK USED CUTTING EDGE TECHNOLOGY
ILM’s work on the Hulk for The Avengers was not only awesome, it was cutting edge. In fact, the studio’s work even earned them an Academy Award Nomination in 2013. The Hulk’s appearance is so seamless in the film that you could almost imagine that they auditioned a bunch of Hulks and picked the one that looked the most like Mark Ruffalo, but of course a lot of work went into the new model.
Unlike previous Hulks which used motion capture from their respective actors, this was the first film to use live on-set performance capture using a combination of the Autodesk platform and ZviZ, their ground breaking new pre-visualization system. It’s good to know that the technology that created Jar Jar would one day be used for good!
10. HULK IS BARELY IN THE AVENGERS
When The Avengers hit in 2012 (and we all remember how big it hit), it created a legion of Hulk fans, many of whom had neither seen The Incredible Hulk or knew that the earlier film was directly related to this gathering of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. However, the character of the Hulk has barely any screen time, clocking in at a mere 22 mins and 15 seconds between Bruce Banner and his green skinned alter-ego.
Hulk’s deployment in the film is a great example of Whedon doing a lot with a little, and what the Hulk lacks in screen time he more than makes up for in impact. The film cases that the Hulk can be scary (chasing Black Widow on the Helicarrier), heroic (rescuing Iron Man) and hilarious (the Thor side-punch and flailing Loki around like a rag doll).
9. EDWARD NORTON RE-WROTE THE INCREDIBLE HULK
Though Edward Norton has gained a reputation in Hollywood for being difficult to work with, if you listen to him in interviews it becomes all-too clear that it all stems from an earnest desire for perfectionism. This borderline obsession with quality has led him to carry out lengthy and usually un-credited rewrites for many of the projects he’s worked on.
Buoyed by a sincere love of the Hulk mythology, Norton carried out a page-one rewrite of Zak Penn’s script incorporating the character of Doc Samson and attempting to lend more pathos and nuance to the character of Bruce Banner. Unfortunately, some of his best stuff was excised by the studio as it slowed the film’s pace, but it can still be found in the deleted scenes on the DVD. Norton even directed some scenes in the film himself while Leterrier was busy shooting second unit.
8. MARK RUFFALO WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE HULK ALL ALONG
As great as Edward Norton was as Bruce Banner (and he was) it would be churlish to deny the indelible impression that Mark Ruffalo has made on the character. Those who simply can’t imagine anyone else in the role will be gratified to learn that Ruffalo was originally Louis Leterrier’s first choice to play Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk.
It was in fact former Hulk Lou Ferrigno (who has a cameo in the film and continues to do voice work for the character), who suggested Norton, citing the actor’s similarity in appearance and demeanor to the late, great Bill Bixby who played Banner in the TV series alongside Ferrigno’s Hulk. While this would have made for a greater sense of continuity across the MCU, both Norton and the majority of fans remain grateful that the actor got his bite at the big green apple.
7. YOU CAN WATCH THE ATTEMPTED SUICIDE BANNER MENTIONS
Being Bruce Banner is like carrying around a 50-ton megaton bomb around that could go off at any moment. That’d put a strain on even the most well-adjusted psyche, let alone someone as emotionally troubled as Bruce Banner. Kevin Feige was clearly conscious of this in his depiction of Hulk in the MCU. As Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner attests in The Avengers, “I got low, I put a bullet in my mouth and the other guy spit it out”.
It’s a moving admission and we see Banner’s pathos reflected on the faces of his fellow Avengers. Few realize, however, that the line alludes to a deleted opening scene (you can watch in on the DVD or YouTube) from The Incredible Hulk. Norton’s Banner travels to the Arctic to end it all, but the Hulk won’t allow Banner the release of death, emerging with a roar before Banner can pull the trigger.
6. A NEW PERFORMANCE CAPTURE SYSTEM WAS CREATED FOR HIM
ILM outdid themselves with their work on The Avengers, but George Lucas’ legendary visual effects company aren’t known for sitting on their hands. The studio worked collaboratively with performance capture legend Andy Serkis and his own dedicated performance capture studio, the Imaginarium, to create the ultimate synergy between acting and digital animation. The result was a highly innovative system called Muse. Muse allowed for an unprecedented level of facial detail capture while also allowing a director to combine elements from different takes into a single performance.
While Muse was actually first used for Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2015), Serkis would prove to be instrumental in refining and developing the system beyond its original confines. It would go on to be used for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and Duncan Jones’ decent but ill-fated Warcraft (2016).
5. THOR: RAGNAROK WILL SHOW US A VERY DIFFERENT HULK
Until recently, the MCU’s Hulk has been treated very similarly to Bruce Jones’ run on the character — as an omnipresent threat whose presence is always felt but seldom seen. He’s been a monosyllabic wrecking ball; the hand grenade in Banner’s pocket that’s guaranteed to go off right at the wrong moment. However, Avengers: Age of Ultron showed us a Hulk that’s capable of some higher order thinking, especially when he makes the decision to go into exile for the good of his friends.
The new trailer for Thor: Ragnarok shows us a Hulk whose cognitive processes are even more refined, presumably because he’s been allowed to manifest for longer than he ever could on Earth. He now has an expanded vocabulary and can hold a civilized conversation with Thor. Fans who’ve longed to see ‘Professor’ Hulk on screen may just get their wish!
4. A FAMOUS HULK VILLAIN WAS TEASED… THEN FORGOTTEN
Samuel Sterns was a menial worker in a power plant until an explosion of radioactive materials bombarded his cells with gamma radiation. In true comic book fashion this caused him to become super intelligent, with a grossly inflated cranium, green skin and the prerequisite megalomania that appears to be a common side effect of radiation poisoning in the Marvel Universe. He went on to call himself The Leader, one of the most powerful and iconic villains in Hulk’s pantheon.
Believe it or not, you’ve seen him in The Incredible Hulk and you may not even know it. Dr. Samuel Sterns was played by Tim Blake Nelson. After being assaulted by Tim Roth’s Abomination, Banner’s irradiated blood drips into an open wound on his head, causing it to warp and swell. Unfortunately, absolutely no mention has been made of the fateful incident or character in the MCU since.
3. DON’T EXPECT TO SEE MUCH OF BANNER IN THOR: RAGNAROK
The new trailer for the anticipated Thor film gave us our first look at Bruce Banner, but Mark Ruffalo has warned us not to get too used to Hulk’s mild-mannered alter ego. It seems that events since Avengers: Age of Ultron have given Hulk greater autonomy, asserting his will over Bruce Banner to the point where he’s able to refuse to change back.
Instead of the well trodden Jekyll and Hyde path, the film will see elements of Banner’s psyche and personality integrated into the Green Skinned Goliath. It’ll be great to see how Ruffalo further enriches and expands upon Hulk’s character. As great new strides in performance capture technology enable greater nuance and diversity of performance from the actor, dare we dream of a day when we get to see Hulk’s alternate personas like Joe Fixit on film?
2. PETER DAVID’S RUN WAS MARK RUFFALO’S INSPIRATION
For much of his publication history, Hulk was an angry, mindless beast who smashed things. While it made for some spectacular action sequences over the decades, there’s only so much mileage in the Jekyll and Hyde dynamic. Peter David knew this and throughout his legendary tenure on the comics in the ’80s he set about incorporating some psychological realism into the character. This involved focusing less on the binary nature of Banner vs Hulk and exploring the gray areas (pun absolutely intended) in-between.
This led to a range of different Hulk manifestations, each reflecting repressed elements of Banner’s personality. Mark Ruffalo directly drew inspiration from this, saying: “There’s a very cool thing happening in the film: Hulk is as afraid of Banner as Banner is afraid of Hulk. Both of these guys are obviously the same guy, and they have got to come to peace somehow with each other.”
1. THOR: RAGNAROK WILL FEATURE MORE DEFENDERS THAN THE SHOW
One of the MCU’s greatest triumphs is in its diversity, encompassing the mythic (Thor), the cosmic (Guardians of the Galaxy) and the street-level in the Netflix series’ which will culminate in The Defenders mini-series next month. As excited as we all are to see Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist share the screen together, most fans may be startled to realize that none of these characters were in the original Defenders line-up.
The original comic was far less of a low-key street level affair than the series promises to be. While occasional Avenger Luke Cage and Daredevil have been recurring Defenders, Thor: Ragnarok will incorporate three members of the original team; Hulk, Doctor Strange and Valkyrie… so that’s one more Defender than the mini-series has to offer.
Any MCU Hulk facts you know about that we missed? Let us know in the comments section!
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