The Incredible Hulk is a 2008 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character the Hulk. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Universal Pictures, it is the second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It was directed by Louis Leterrier from a screenplay by Zak Penn, and stars Edward Norton as Bruce Banner alongside Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, and Christina Cabot. In the film, Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk as an unwitting pawn in a military scheme to reinvigorate the “Super-Soldier” program through gamma radiation. Banner goes on the run from the military while attempting to cure himself of the Hulk.
After the mixed reception to Universal’s 2003 film Hulk, Marvel Studios reacquired the rights to the character though Universal retained distribution rights. Leterrier, who had expressed interest in directing Iron Man for Marvel, was brought onboard and Penn began work on a script that would be much closer to the comics and the 1978 television series of the same name. In April 2007, Norton was hired to portray Banner and to rewrite Penn’s screenplay. His script positioned the film as a reboot of the series, distancing it from the 2003 film to give the new version its own identity. Norton was ultimately not credited for his writing. Filming took place from July to November 2007, primarily in Toronto, with additional filming in New York City and Rio de Janeiro. Over 700 visual effects shots were created in post-production using a combination of motion capture and computer-generated imagery to complete the film.
The Incredible Hulk premiered at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, California, on June 8, 2008, and was released in the United States on June 13, as part of Phase One of the MCU. It received praise for its action sequences and was considered an improvement over the 2003 film, but it was criticized as lacking in depth. The film grossed $264.8 million worldwide, making it the lowest-grossing film of the MCU. Norton disagreed with Marvel over the final edit of the film and was replaced in the role of Banner by Mark Ruffalo for future MCU content starting with The Avengers in 2012.
After the release of Ang Lee’s Hulk, screenwriter James Schamus was planning a sequel which would continue the story featuring the Grey Hulk. He was also considering the Leader and the Abomination as villains. Marvel wanted the Abomination because he would be an actual threat to the Hulk, unlike General Ross. During the filming of Hulk, producer Avi Arad had a target May 2005 theatrical release date. On January 18, 2006, Arad confirmed Marvel Studios would be providing the money for The Incredible Hulk‘s production budget, with Universal distributing, because Universal did not meet the deadline for filming a sequel. Marvel felt it would be better to deviate from Ang Lee’s style to continue the franchise, arguing his film was like a parallel universe one-shot comic book, and their next film needed to be, in Kevin Feige’s words, “really starting the Marvel Hulk franchise”. Producer Gale Anne Hurd also felt the film had to meet what “everyone expects to see from having read the comics and seen the TV series”.
- Edward Norton as Bruce Banner:
A nuclear physicist and biochemist at Culver University who, because of exposure to gamma radiation, transforms into an enormous green humanoid monster when enraged or agitated. David Duchovny was a front-runner for the film before Norton’s casting, while Louis Leterrier’s original choice for the role was Mark Ruffalo, who would later play Banner in future Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films. Gale Anne Hurd recalled Norton’s portrayals of duality in Primal Fear and Fight Club, while Norton reminded Kevin Feige of Bill Bixby, who played Banner in the TV series. Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk with Bixby, remarked Norton “has a similar physique [and a] similar personality”. Norton was a Hulk fan, citing the first comic appearances, the Bixby TV show, and Bruce Jones’ run on the comic, as his favorite depictions of the character. He had expressed interest in the role for the first film. He initially turned down the part, recalling “there [was] the wince factor or the defensive part of you that recoils at what the bad version of what that would be”, as he felt the previous film “strayed far afield from a story that was familiar to people, which is a fugitive story”. When he met Leterrier and Marvel, he liked their vision, and believed they were looking to him to guide the project. Thus, Norton rewrote the script. “Edward’s script has given Bruce’s story real gravitas,” Leterrier said. “Admittedly I’m not the most adult director, but just because we’re making a superhero movie it doesn’t have to just appeal to 13-year-old boys. Ed and I both see superheroes as the new Greek gods.”
- Lou Ferrigno provides vocal performance as the Hulk. During the 2008 New York Comic Con Leterrier publicly offered Ferrigno the chance to voice the Hulk for the film. This marks the third time Ferrigno portrayed the Hulk, having also voiced the character in the 1996 animated series. Originally, the Hulk’s only line was “Betty” at the film’s ending, which would have been his first word. Leterrier was aware that fans wanted him to speak normally, and added “Leave me alone!” and “Hulk smash!” The latter line received cheers during a screening he attended. Ferrigno also has a cameo in the film as a security guard who is bribed by Banner with a pizza.
- Liv Tyler as Betty Ross:
A cellular biologist and Bruce’s former girlfriend, from whom he is separated as a result of his condition. Tyler was attracted to the love story in the script and was a fan of the TV show because of the “humanity and what [Banner] is going through”. She was called about the role while driving to her home and she accepted the part after a day without reading the script. Tyler and Norton spent hours discussing Bruce and Betty’s life before he became the Hulk. She said filming the part “was very physical, which was fun”, and compared her performance to “a deer caught in the headlights”, because of Betty’s shock at Bruce’s unexpected return into her life.
- Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky / Abomination:
A Russian-born officer in the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines Commandos loaned to Ross who, lusting for the Hulk’s power, is injected with various serums that transform him into a near-skeletal humanoid monster as strong as the Hulk himself. Roth said he took the part to please his sons, who are comic-book superhero fans. As a teenager, Roth was a fan of the 1970s TV series, and he also found Leterrier’s ideas “very dark and very interesting”. Roth started watching the 2003 film to prepare for the part, but stopped as he did not want to be caught up in the controversy over its quality, and to compare himself to it. It was Roth who suggested Blonsky be a soldier, whereas in the comics he was a KGB agent. Leterrier was a fan of Roth’s work, and felt “it’s great watching a normal Cockney boy become a superhero!”, but Marvel and Norton were initially reluctant to cast him. Before he was cast in Punisher: War Zone, Ray Stevenson was in discussions for the role. Roth prepared for the part by learning to fire guns and break into rooms with two experts. Roth found it tough shooting the chases, because to show Blonsky’s aging he could not work out. He especially found it difficult to run while pulled with a harness, which was used to show the injected Blonsky’s 30–40 mile per hour running abilities. Cyril Raffaelli performed some of Roth’s stunts. Roth enjoyed the motion capture, which reminded him of fringe theatre, and he hired his trainer from Planet of the Apes to aid him in portraying the monster’s movement. Roth was signed on for three more films.
- William Hurt as Thaddeus Ross:
Betty’s father and a U.S. Army general who has dedicated himself to capturing the Hulk. Leterrier cast Hurt because “Ross is more physical, more explosive in this movie, and no actor goes from zero to 100 as well as William.” He compared Ross to Captain Ahab. The Hulk was Hurt’s favorite superhero, and his son is also a big fan of the character. Hurt found production very different from the typical “pure anxiety” of a studio film, finding it more akin to an independent film. He described Ross as “humiliated by Hulk’s conscience: he actually sees and recognizes that it’s more developed than his own, even though he’s a patriot and a warrior for his country. He’s sacrificed [much] for that purpose, but at the expense at times of his humanity – which he occasionally recovers.” In June 2015, when reflecting on how his reprisal in Captain America: Civil War was different from this film, Hurt said, “What I created [for The Incredible Hulk] was a Ross who was right out of the graphic novel type of thing, where he was as much of a cartoon, in a way, as the monsters were. His ego was just as big and his problems were just as big. I really did do that consciously. I created a General Ross before which created a verisimilitude for the monsters, by making him a human monster. I worked really hard on the makeup and the exaggerated behavior and things like that and a controlled psychosis.” Sam Elliott had expressed interest in reprising the role from the 2003 Hulk film.
- Tim Blake Nelson as Samuel Sterns: The cellular biologist who develops a possible antidote to Banner’s condition. Towards the end of the film, Sterns is exposed to some substance that begins his transformation into Leader. Nelson is “signed on” to reprise the role.
- Ty Burrell as Leonard Samson:
A psychiatrist who is in a relationship with Betty during Bruce’s absence. Burrell had performed with Norton in the off Broadway play Burn This in 2003, and when Leterrier met him, he recognized Burrell as the “jerk” from the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, which was how Samson was characterized in the script before Norton rewrote it.
- Christina Cabot as Kathleen Sparr: A major who is Thaddeus Ross’s personal aide.
June 13, 2008
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