On June 13, 2008, a little over a month after Iron Man launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the second entry in the superhero franchise arrived in the form of The Incredible Hulk. However, for years this Marvel movie held an outsider status within the MCU framework, with its events barely ever being touched upon or mentioned. Maybe this is because Universal Pictures handled its distribution rather than Paramount Pictures, or maybe it hard more to do with Mark Ruffalo taking over the Bruce Banner role following Edward Norton’s sole outing. Either way, despite The Incredible Hulk clearly being set in the MCU, you can be sure there are plenty of people who have skipped over this one for their MCU marathons.
Fortunately for fans of The Incredible Hulk, the MCU has finally been acknowledging its importance lately, namely through the Disney+ show She-Hulk: Attorney at Law and a big piece of news announced at D23. It’s a good start, but Marvel needs to keep this momentum going, and there are several ways to ensure that The Incredible Hulk occupies an even bigger position in the MCU mythology. But first, let’s go over the work that’s been done in this area already.
How The MCU Has Been Acknowledging The Incredible Hulk Lately
For a long time, the only direct references to The Incredible Hulk were in the One-Shot short film The Consultant, which built off of Tony Stark’s meeting with Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, and Bruce Banner mentioning that he “broke Harlem” in The Avengers. Sure, Thunderbolt Ross, played by the late William Hurt, returned in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame and Black Widow, but outside of him inquiring about Bruce Banner’s whereabouts in Civil War, his ties to the Hulk were never brought up.
Then Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings came along, which showed Abomination, now looking more like his comic book counterpart, tangling with Wong at the Macau fight club. Tim Roth is now appearing in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law as a Blonsky who can change back and forth between his human and monster forms, and is also apparently remorseful for his actions in The Incredible Hulk, to the point that he reached out to Bruce Banner and made amends with his former adversary.
But wait, it gets better! At D23, it was announced that Tim Blake Nelson will reprise Samuel Sterns in Captain America: New World Order. When we last saw Sterns in The Incredible Hulk, Blonsky, who’d just transformed into Abomination, knocked him aside, and some of Bruce Banner’s blood dripped into Sterns’ open head wound, causing his head to start freakishly expanding. This was a clear set-up for Sterns to become The Leader, and after more than a decade, that payoff is finally coming. Better late than never, right?
Now that we’ve covered The Incredible Hulk being spotlighted in Phase Four, it’s time to go over more ways this corner of the MCU can be showered with love.
Bring Back Liv Tyler As Betty Ross
Betty Ross is one of the most important characters in the Hulk mythos, as both Bruce Banner’s love interest and the daughter of Thunderbolt Ross, the man who has spent years trying to eliminate the Green Goliath. So following in the footsteps of Jennifer Connelly from 2003’s Hulk, Liv Tyler brought Betty to life in The Incredible Hulk, with the character reuniting with Bruce five years after his accident and ending up going on the run with him.
Not only has Liv Tyler not reprised Betty Ross once since The Incredible Hulk, the character hasn’t even been mentioned. Our only update on her came post-Avengers: Infinity War in the real world, when the Russos revealed she was among the individuals Thanos snapped away. We don’t even know if Bruce Banner has had any contact with Betty in the years after The Incredible Hulk. It was one thing for Bruce to avoid Betty in the days when he couldn’t control turning into Hulk, but to not even bring her up among friends or even visit her once he became Smart Hulk is bizarre!
If Emil Blonsky and Samuel Sterns can get more time to shine in the MCU, then there’s no reason a friendly face from Bruce Banner’s past can’t too. Even if it’s just for a cameo, it would be nice for Liv Tyler to reprise Betty Ross so we can see how she’s doing these days and maybe learn a little bit about what happened to her after the events of The Incredible Hulk. However, if there’s an opportunity for her to have a major role in an upcoming Marvel project, perhaps she could transform into Red She-Hulk or Harpy so she’s able to contribute to the action.
Turn Leonard Samson Into A Gamme-Powered Being
Before Bruce Banner came back into Betty Ross’ life in The Incredible Hulk, Betty was dating a psychiatrist named Leonard Samson, played by Modern Family’s Ty Burrell. Samson didn’t get much to do in that movie, but this is another character who’s been a major player in Hulk’s world. In the comics, Samson exposed himself to gamma radiation siphoned directly from Hulk, resulting in him gaining the same physical enhancements Hulk has and his hair turning green. For the most part, Doc Samson has been an ally to Bruce over the years, but there have been instances where he’s turned to the dark side.
Leonard Samson is too important a character to be relegated to what was basically a cameo in The Incredible Hulk. Not only should Samson go through his own gamma transformation so he rock the green hair and put those dukes up if a threat comes his way, it would be interesting for this franchise to have an enhanced individual on hand for superheroes to go to for help managing their mental health. Also, while I would in no way be against Ty Burrell coming back to play Samson, the character also had so little screen time in The Incredible Hulk that I wouldn’t mind him being recast either.
Pit Smart Hulk Against His Actual Villains
It’s safe to say that Abomination and Leader are two of Hulk’s most notorious enemies, so for these two to get the spotlight so long after The Incredible Hulk’s release is welcome. That said, we’re not seeing Bruce Banner deal with either of them in his Smart Hulk form. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law sees Tatiana Maslany’s Jennifer Walters representing Blonsky on behalf of her law firm, and while there’s a chance that he could return to his villainous given that She-Hulk’s second episode showed Bruce Banner occupied with his own mission (more on that soon), the smart money’s on him and Blonsky not crossing paths before the season is done. As for Leader, he’s going to be Captain America: New World Order’s main antagonist, so it’ll be Sam Wilson bringing about his defeat rather than Hulk.
It’s great that Abomination and Leader are being put to good use in the MCU, but it’s weird that, as far as we know, there are no plans with them to collide with their chief enemy from the comics. Because Hulk has been relegated to a supporting/ensemble player in the MCU post-The Incredible Hulk, there weren’t really any opportunities to explore unique elements in his orbit until She-Hulk: Attorney at Law came along. If that’s finally starting to change, let’s get a rematch between Hulk and Abomination (if the latter’s redemption doesn’t stick) and throw him into a conflict with The Leader. Better yet, let’s bring in more Hulk villains from the comics, Zzzax, Tyrannus and Gargoyle.
Release Another Solo Hulk Movie
There had been talk after The Incredible Hulk’s release about making a sequel that would have used The Leader as its villain, but it became clear in the years to follow that delivering such a product was complicated. Although Marvel Studios is free to use Hulk in Avengers movies or in projects led by other characters, Universal Pictures holds the distribution rights to solo Hulk movies. However, that may soon be changing. As reported by TV Line, there’s speculation that in 2023, Marvel Studios will finally acquire these distribution rights. If this is true, this means we could finally get another Hulk movie after all this time.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s second episode potentially laid the groundwork for such a story to be told, as Bruce Banner was shown aboard the Sakaaran spaceship that caused the car accident shown in the first She-Hulk episode that led to Jennifer being exposed to her cousin’s irradiated blood. This ship jumped to hyperspace, and we have no idea where Bruce is heading. It’s hard to say if She-Hulk will follow up on this given everything that’s on Jennifer’s plate, but there are plenty of people online hoping that this is setting up an adaptation of the World War Hulk storyline. Whether that’s the case or not, if any hurdles have been cleared for Marvel Studios to handle a Hulk movie all on its own, the company should take advantage of putting this character back onto center stage.
While we wait for updates on what’s next for The Hulk in the MCU, new episodes of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law premier Thursdays to Disney+ subscribers, and Captain America: New World Order is slated on the upcoming Marvel movies schedule for a May 3, 2024 release. If you’re interested in streaming The Incredible Hulk, you can do so with an HBO Max subscription.
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