The Incredible Hulk (film)
|The Incredible Hulk|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Louis Leterrier|
|Written by||Zak Penn[N 1]|
|Music by||Craig Armstrong|
|Cinematography||Peter Menzies Jr.|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$263.4 million|
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). The film was directed by Louis Leterrier, with a screenplay by Zak Penn. It stars Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, alongside Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, and William Hurt. In The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk as an unwitting pawn in a military scheme to reinvigorate the supersoldier program through gamma radiation. On the run, he attempts to cure himself of the Hulk before he is captured by General Thaddeus Ross, but his worst fears are realized when power-hungry soldier Emil Blonsky becomes a similar, but more bestial creature.
After the mixed reception to the 2003 film Hulk, Marvel Studios reacquired the rights to the character. Leterrier, who had expressed interest in directing Iron Man, was brought onboard and Penn began work on a loose sequel 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 in order to distance itself from the 2003 film and establish its own identity as a reboot, although he would go uncredited for his writing. Filming mostly took place in Toronto, Ontario, from July to November 2007. 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 on June 8, 2008 at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, California and was released in the United States on June 13, 2008. It received praise for its improved visuals, action sequences, and the portrayal of the title character, and grossed over $263 million worldwide. Norton was set to reprise the role of Banner in The Avengers and any other MCU installment featuring the character, but he was ultimately replaced by Mark Ruffalo, who has signed on to portray the character in all potential sequels.
At Culver University in Virginia, General Thunderbolt Ross meets with Dr. Bruce Banner, the colleague and boyfriend of his daughter Betty, regarding an experiment that Ross claims is meant to make humans immune to gamma radiation. The experiment — part of a World War II era "super soldier" program that Ross hopes to recreate — fails, and the exposure to gamma radiation causes Banner to transform into the Hulk for brief periods of time, whenever his heart rate rises above 200 beats per minute. The Hulk destroys the lab, injuring or killing the people inside. Banner becomes a fugitive from the U.S. military and Ross in particular, who wants to weaponize the Hulk.
Five years later,[N 2] Banner works at a bottling factory in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, while searching for a cure for his condition. On the internet, he collaborates with a colleague he knows only as "Mr. Blue", and to whom he is "Mr. Green". He is learning Yoga techniques to help keep control, and has not transformed in five months. After Banner cuts his finger, a drop of his blood falls into a bottle, and is eventually ingested by an elderly consumer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, giving him gamma sickness. Using the bottle to track down Banner, Ross sends a special forces team, led by Russian-born British Royal Marine Emil Blonsky, to capture him. Banner transforms into the Hulk and defeats Blonsky's team. After Ross explains how Banner became the Hulk, Blonsky agrees to be injected with a small amount of a similar serum, which gives him enhanced speed, strength, agility, and healing, but also begins to deform his skeleton and impair his judgment.
Banner returns to Culver University and reunites with Betty, who is dating psychiatrist Leonard Samson. Banner is attacked a second time by Ross and Blonsky's forces, tipped off by the suspicious Samson, causing him to again transform into the Hulk. The ensuing battle outside the university proves futile for Ross' forces and they retreat, though Blonsky, whose sanity is faltering, attacks and mocks the Hulk. The Hulk seemingly kills Blonsky and flees with Betty. After the Hulk reverts to Banner, he and Betty go on the run, and Banner contacts Mr. Blue, who urges them to meet him in New York City. Mr. Blue is actually cellular biologist Dr. Samuel Sterns, who tells Banner he has developed a possible antidote to Banner's condition. After a successful test, he warns Banner that the antidote may only reverse each individual transformation. Sterns reveals he has synthesized Banner's blood samples, which Banner sent from Brazil, into a large supply, with the intention of applying its "limitless potential" to medicine. Fearful of the Hulk's power falling into the military's hands, Banner wishes to destroy the blood supply.
Blonsky has survived the battle at Culver University and completely healed. He joins Ross' forces for a third attempt to take Banner into custody. They succeed and Banner, along with Betty, are taken away in a helicopter. Blonsky stays behind and orders Sterns to inject him with Banner's blood, as he covets the Hulk's power. Sterns warns that the combination of the super-soldier formula and Banner's blood may cause him to become an "abomination", but Blonsky insists. The experiment mutates Blonsky into a creature with size and strength surpassing that of the Hulk, but drives him insane. He attacks Sterns, who gets some of Banner's blood in a cut on his forehead, causing him to begin mutating as well. Blonsky rampages through Harlem. Realizing that the Hulk is the only one who can stop Blonsky, Banner convinces Ross to release him. He jumps from Ross' helicopter and transforms after hitting the ground. After a long and brutal battle through Harlem, the Hulk defeats Blonsky. After having a peaceful moment with Betty, the Hulk flees New York.
A month later, Banner is in Bella Coola, British Columbia. Instead of trying to suppress his transformation, he successfully transforms in a controlled manner. Tony Stark approaches Ross at a local bar and informs him a team is being put together.
- Edward Norton as Bruce Banner / Hulk:
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 the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 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." Additionally, 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 transforms him into a near-skeletal humanoid monster more powerful than 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- William Hurt as Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross:
Betty's arrogant father, 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 is 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 first Hulk film.
Robert Downey Jr. has an uncredited cameo as Tony Stark at the end of the film. Downey appeared as a favor to Marvel Studios, which he acknowledged as a smart move on Marvel's part, because when he was promoting his film he would also have to mention their other production. Hulk co-creator Stan Lee cameos as a man who becomes ill when drinking the soda poisoned by Banner's blood. Michael K. Williams appears as a Harlem bystander, a role that was written for him by Norton, who is a fan of The Wire. Paul Soles, who voiced Banner in the 1966 The Marvel Super Heroes cartoon, appears as Stanley, a kindly pizza restaurant owner who helps Banner. Additionally, the late Bill Bixby appears, in a scene on his TV comedy-drama The Courtship of Eddie's Father on a television Banner is watching at the beginning of the film. Rickson Gracie has a small role as Bruce Banner's martial arts instructor; despite Gracie's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu background, he is credited as an Aikido instructor. Peter Mensah plays a small role as General Joe Gellar, one of General Ross' military friends/associates. Christina Cabot portrays Major Kathleen Sparr, General Ross' personal aid. Martin Starr plays a college student, credited as "Computer Nerd" and identified as Amadeus Cho in the novelization for the film. Hulk supporting characters, Jim Wilson and Jack McGee, make cameo appearances as Culver University students played by P.J. Kerr and Nicholas Rose, respectively.
At the time of the release of Ang Lee's Hulk, screenwriter James Schamus was planning a sequel, 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".
Louis Leterrier, who enjoyed the TV series as a child and liked the first film, had expressed interest in directing the Iron Man film adaptation. Jon Favreau had taken that project, so Marvel offered him the Hulk. Leterrier was reluctant as he was unsure if he could replicate Lee's style, but Marvel explained that was not their intent. Leterrier's primary inspiration was Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Hulk: Gray (a retelling of the character's first appearance). He replicated every comic book panel that he pinned-up during pre-production, from the many comics he browsed, in the final film. Leterrier said that he planned to show Bruce Banner's struggle with the monster within him, while Feige added the film would explore "that element of wish fulfillment, of overcoming an injustice or a bully and tapping into a strength that you didn't quite realize you had in yourself". Arad also said the film would be "a lot more of a love story between Bruce Banner and Betty Ross".
Zak Penn, who wrote a draft of the first film in 1996, said the film would follow up Hulk, but stressed it would be more tonally similar to the TV show and Bruce Jones' run on the comic. He compared his script to Aliens, which was a very different film from Alien, but still in the same continuity. He included two scenes from his 1996 script: Banner jumping from a helicopter to trigger a transformation, and realizing he is unable to have sex with Betty. After the studio rejected a treatment by another screenwriter in 2006, Penn wrote three drafts before departing in early 2007 to promote his film The Grand. Norton, that April, began discussions to play Banner, and arranged a deal that included him as both an actor and a writer, with a screenplay draft he was contractually obligated to turn in within a month. He did so, and continued to polish his draft as late as halfway through principal photography. In November 2006, a June 13, 2008 release date was set. Leterrier acknowledged the only remaining similarity between the two films was Bruce hiding in South America, and that the film was a unique reboot, as generally audiences would have expected another forty-minute origin story. There were previous discussions to set the first act in Thailand. Leterrier felt audiences were left restless waiting for the character to arrive in Ang Lee's film. Feige commented, "we didn't want to tell the origin story again, because we thought people were so familiar with it, which is why we didn't tell that... One reason we made Incredible Hulk was to get Hulk into the [Marvel Cinematic Universe] canon."
Shortly after the release of The Incredible Hulk, Gale Anne Hurd commented on the uncertainty of its relationship with Ang Lee's Hulk film. "We couldn't quite figure out how to term this ... It's kind of a reboot and it's kind of sequel." Hurd said that "requel", a portmanteau of "reboot" and "sequel", was a "perfect" description for the film. Norton explained his decision to ignore Lee's origin story: "I don't even like the phrase 'origin story', and I don't think in great literature and great films that explaining the roots of the story doesn't mean it comes in the beginning." "Audiences know this story," he added, "[so] deal with it artfully." He wanted to "have revelations even in the third act about what set this whole thing in motion". The new origin story references Ultimate Marvel's take on the Hulk, which also had him created in an attempt to make super soldiers. Norton removed Rick Jones and toned down S.H.I.E.L.D.'s presence. He also added the scene where Banner attempts to extract a cure from a flower and his e-mailing with Samuel Sterns, which references Bruce Jones' story. Norton rewrote scenes every day. Ultimately, the Writers Guild of America decided to credit the script solely to Penn, who argued Norton had not dramatically changed his script. Journalist Anne Thompson explained "The Guild tends to favor plot, structure and pre-existing characters over dialogue." Penn said in 2008, "I wasn't happy with [Norton] coming to Comic-Con saying that he wrote the script." Before either Penn or Norton joined the project, an anonymous screenwriter wrote a draft and lobbied for credit.
Leterrier had to direct four units with a broken foot. Filming began on July 9, 2007. Shooting primarily took place in Toronto, because mayor David Miller is a Hulk fan and promised to be very helpful to the crew when closing Yonge Street for four nights in September to shoot Hulk and Blonsky's climactic fight. Despite messing up the street with explosives and overturned burning vehicles, the crew would clean it up within twenty minutes so business could continue as normal each day. The first action sequence shot was the Culver University battle, which was filmed at the University of Toronto and Morningside Park. The filmmakers built a glass wall over a walkway at the University for when the soldiers trap Banner inside to smoke him out. There was also shooting in the Financial District. A factory in Hamilton, Ontario, which was due for demolition, was the interior of the Brazilian factory. The site's underground floors were used for Ross' military command center. The crew also shot part of the Hulk and Blonsky's fight on a backlot in Hamilton. Other Canadian locations included CFB Trenton and a glacier in Bella Coola, British Columbia. Afterwards, there was a week-long shoot in New York City and two weeks in Rio de Janeiro. While there, the crew shot at Rocinha, Lapa, Tijuca Forest and Santa Teresa. Filming concluded in November after eighty-eight days of filming.
The Incredible Hulk joined Toronto's Green-Screen initiative, to help cut carbon emissions and waste created during filming. Producer Gale Anne Hurd acknowledged the Hulk, being green, was a popular environmental analogy, and Norton himself was an environmentalist. Hybrid and fuel efficient vehicles were used, with low sulfur diesel as their energy source. The construction department used a sustainably harvested, locally sourced yellow pine instead of lauan for the sets, and also used zero-or low-VOC paint. The wood was generally recycled or given to environmental organizations, and paint cans were handed to waste management. In addition, they used cloth bags, biodegradable food containers, china and silverware food utensils, a stainless steel mug for each production crew member, a contractor who removed bins, recycled paper, biodegradable soap and cleaners in the trailers and production offices, and the sound department used rechargeable batteries. The Incredible Hulk became the first blockbuster film to receive the Environmental Media Association's Green Seal, which is displayed during the end credits.
Leterrier cited Andy Serkis' motion capture portrayals of Gollum and King Kong in The Lord of the Rings and King Kong, respectively, as the standard he was aiming for. Norton and Roth filmed 2500 takes of different movements the monsters would make (such as the Hulk's "thunder claps"). Phosphorescent face paint applied to the actors' faces and strobe lighting would help record the most subtle mannerisms into the computer. Others including Cyril Raffaelli provided motion capture for stunts and fights, after the main actors had done video referencing. Leterrier hired Rhythm and Hues to provide the CGI, rather than Industrial Light & Magic who created the visual effects for Ang Lee's Hulk. Visual effect company, Image Engine, spent over a year working on a shot where Banner's gamma-irradiated blood falls through three factory floors into a bottle. Overall 700 effects shots were created. Motion capture aided in placing and timing of movements, but overall key frame animation by Rhythm and Hues provided the necessary "finesse [and] superhero quality". Many of the animators and Leterrier himself provided video reference for the climactic fight.
Dale Keown's comic book artwork of the Hulk was an inspiration for his design. Leterrier felt the first Hulk had "too much fat [and] the proportions were a little off". He explained, "The Hulk is beyond perfect so there is zero grams of fat, all chiseled, and his muscle and strength defines this creature so he's like a tank." Visual effects supervisor Kurt Williams envisioned the Hulk's physique as a linebacker rather than a bodybuilder. A height of nine feet was chosen for the character as they did not want him to be too inhuman. To make him more expressive, computer programs controlling the inflation of his muscles and saturation of skin color were created. Williams cited flushing as an example of humans' skin color being influenced by their emotions. The animators felt green blood would make his skin become darker rather than lighter, and his skin tones, depending on lighting, either resemble an olive or even gray slate. His animation model was completed without the effects company's full knowledge of what he would be required to do: he was rigged to do whatever they imagined, in case the model was to be used for The Avengers film. The Hulk's medium-length hair was modeled on Mike Deodato's art. He originally had a crew cut, but Leterrier decided flopping hair imbued him with more character. Leterrier cited An American Werewolf in London as the inspiration for Banner's transformation, wanting to show how painful it was for him to change. As a nod to the live action TV series, Banner's eyes change color first when he transforms. Leterrier changed the Abomination's design from the comics because he felt the audience would question why he resembled a fish or a reptile, instead of "an über-human" like the Hulk. Rather, his hideousness is derived from being injected multiple times into his skin, muscles and bones, creating a creature with a protruding spine and sharp bones that he can use to stab. His green skin is pale, and reflects light, so it appears orange because of surrounding fire during the climactic battle. The motion capture performers, including Roth, tried to make the character behave less gracefully than the Hulk. They modeled his posture and the way he turns his head on a shark. The character also shares Roth's tattoos. A height of eleven feet was chosen for the character. Leterrier tried to work in the character's pointed ears, but realized the Hulk would bite them off (using the example of Mike Tyson when he fought Evander Holyfield), and felt ignoring that would make the Hulk come across as stupid.
Leterrier had planned to use prosthetic makeup and animatronics to complement the computer-generated imagery that was solely used in the previous film. The make-up artists who worked on X-Men: The Last Stand were set to portray Blonsky's gradual transformation, which Zak Penn said would portray Blonsky "not [being] used to having these properties. Like he's much heavier, and we talked about how when he walks down the sidewalk, his weight destroys the sidewalk and he's tripping. [It's all about] the humanization of these kinds of superhero characters, showing the effects physics may actually have on [them]." Tom Woodruff, Jr. of Amalgamated Dynamics (who created all the costumes for the Alien films since Alien 3) was in negotiations, and created two busts of the Hulk and prosthetic hands to act as stand-ins for the character. A full animatronic was never created as it was decided it would complicate production to set up shots for a puppet and then a computer graphic. An animatronic was used for Sterns' mutating head, however. Destruction was mostly done practically. A model of a bottling machine was smashed through a wall for when the Hulk escapes the factory. The filmmakers used steam and dry ice for the gas used to smoke out the Hulk, and they destroyed a real Humvee by dropping a weight on it when shooting the Culver University battle. Pipes blew fire for when the Hulk strikes down the computer-generated helicopter. When Banner falls from the helicopter to trigger the Hulk into fighting the Abomination, Norton was attached to a surface held by a bar which turned 90 degrees while the camera was pulled to the ceiling to simulate falling. Leterrier jokingly remarked that making Norton fall that distance would obviously render him unable to act.
The score for the film was composed by Craig Armstrong, who was the arranger for Massive Attack, a band Leterrier was fond of and had collaborated with on the 2005 film Unleashed. Armstrong was his first choice, which surprised Marvel, not knowing if he had scored an action film (he did compose 2001's Kiss of the Dragon). At Leterrier's suggestion, the soundtrack was released on a two-disc album, which Armstrong thought was a joke until he compiled the album and Marvel asked him why they were given only one disc. The film’s score borrows Joe Harnell's theme "The Lonely Man" from the 1978 Incredible Hulk television series.
The Incredible Hulk premiered on June 8, 2008 at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, California and was released in theaters on June 13 in the United States, where it opened in 3,505 theaters. The Incredible Hulk was formatted and screened in IMAX for the first time on August 30, 2018, as part of Marvel Studios' 10 year anniversary IMAX festival.
Seventy minutes of footage, mostly dealing with the origin, were not included in the final cut. Much of this back-story was unscripted and the filmmakers were never sure of including it into the final cut, and had considered releasing some of these clips on the internet. Editor Kyle Cooper, creator of the Marvel logo (with the flipping pages) and the montage detailing Iron Man's biography in that film, edited together much of this footage into the opening credits. Leterrier explained a negative test screening, where flashbacks were placed across the film that the audience found too similar to Hulk, had resulted in compressing these to the film's start. This replaced the original opening, where Banner comes to the Arctic to commit suicide. When the scene ends, in an instant the frozen body of Captain America is partially seen in the ice. Leterrier said he did not want this scene to be lost amid the opening montage.
Norton and Leterrier disputed with the producers over the final running time: they wanted it to be near 135 minutes, while the producers wanted the film to be under two hours. This was made public, and rumors spread that Norton "made it clear he won't cooperate with publicity plans if he's not happy with the final product". Norton dismissed this: "Our healthy process [of collaboration], which is and should be a private matter, was misrepresented publicly as a 'dispute', seized on by people looking for a good story, and has been distorted to such a degree that it risks distracting from the film itself, which Marvel, Universal and I refuse to let happen. It has always been my firm conviction that films should speak for themselves and that knowing too much about how they are made diminishes the magic of watching them."
—Stephanie Sperber, executive vice-president of Universal Studios Partnerships
Effort was made to promote the story as having a romance and a physical antagonist, and the title was used for promotional puns (such as 7-Eleven's "Incredible Gulp" slurpees, and "Incredible Dad" themed Father's Day gifts at Kmart). Burger King also promoted the film, and General Nutrition Centers used the title character as a role model for strength training. Hasbro created the toy line, which they released on May 3, 2008, while Sega released a video game on June 5, 2008. The film was promoted in an episode of American Gladiators on June 9, 2008, which was hosted by Hulk Hogan and featured Lou Ferrigno.
Following the edit dispute, Universal's Adam Fogleson and Norton planned a promotional tour which would avoid constant media interviews and therefore uncomfortable questions. He attended the premiere, took part in a Jimmy Kimmel Live! sketch and would also promote the film in Japan. However, during the film's release he chose to do charity work in Africa.
The Incredible Hulk was released by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment on Blu-ray and DVD on October 21, 2008. It includes behind-the-scenes featurettes, audio commentary, deleted scenes, and an alternate opening. The film was number one in sales when released on DVD and Blu-ray on October 21, 2008, in the United States (having been available in the United Kingdom since October 13). There are widescreen and fullscreen single-disc editions; a three-disc special edition; and a two-disc Blu-ray package. The first disc contains an audio commentary by Leterrier and Roth, while the second comes with special features and deleted scenes, and the third with a digital copy of the film. The Blu-ray edition compresses the content of the first two DVDs onto one, while the second disc contains the digital copy.
The film was also collected in a 10-disc box set titled "Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled" which includes all of the Phase One films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was released by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment on April 2, 2013. Universal released the film on Ultra HD Blu-ray on April 10, 2018.
The Incredible Hulk earned $134.8 million in the United States and Canada, as well as $128.6 million from other territories, for a worldwide total of $263.4 million. The film, even though it barely passed its predecessor, and only equalled it if the smaller budget of the first film is taken into account, was still considered successful. Entertainment analyst David Davis told The Hollywood Reporter, "The first Hulk had such high expectations after the NBC Universal merger and was supposed to be critical favorite Ang Lee's breakout commercial blockbuster. Then with the new Hulk film, Marvel was able to underplay the importance of the success after the great success of Iron Man this summer. So the new one overdelivered, relative to its underpromise."
The Incredible Hulk earned $55.4 million in its opening weekend, becoming the top film at the box office. Behind Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, it was the second-highest gross for a film released over the Father's Day weekend. This surpassed industry expectations of a $45 million opening, following the disappointing response to the 2003 film. Universal believed word of mouth would contribute to the film breaking even eventually.
The Incredible Hulk also opened in 38 other countries, adding $31 million to the total opening. The film outgrossed the 2003 film in South Korea, while its openings in Mexico and Russia created records for Universal. The film grossed 24 million yuan (roughly $3.4 million) in its Chinese opening on August 26, outgrossing the previous film's overall gross of 10 million yuan.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 67% approval rating with an average rating of 6.2/10 based on 225 reviews. The website's 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." Metacritic gave the film an average score of 61 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". A CinemaScore poll indicated the majority of viewers were male and graded the film an A-, and 82% of them had seen the 2003 film.
Todd McCarthy of Variety said, "what seemed, in theory, the least-necessary revival of a big screen superhero emerges as perfectly solid summer action fare in The Incredible Hulk." He emphasized "it's all par-for-the-course cinematic demolition and destruction, staged efficiently and with a hint of enthusiasm," and "penned with sporadic wit [...] Visuals lean toward the dark and murky, but editing by three—actually six—hands is fleet, and Craig Armstrong's ever-present score is simultaneously bombastic and helpfully supportive of the action. Effects are in line with pic's generally pro but not inspired achievements." Rene Rodriguez of The Miami Herald applauded that the film "does a lot of things [Ang] Lee's Hulk didn't: It's lighter and faster-paced, it's funnier and it embraces (instead of ignoring) the 1970s TV series that furthered the character's popularity". Mark Rahner of The Seattle Times wrote that, "The relaunch of Marvel's green goliath is an improvement over director Ang Lee's ponderous 2003 Hulk in nearly every way – except that the actual Hulk still looks scarcely better than something from a video game, and he still barely talks". Lou Lumenick of the New York Post said, "What lingers in my memory ... is the lengthy, essentially animated climactic battle between the Hulk and the Abomination on the streets and rooftops of Harlem, and an earlier showdown between the title creature and the U.S. Army, which is deploying high-tech weapons including sound-wave cannons. These are expertly staged by director Louis Leterrier, who disposes of the backstory under the opening credits and wraps up the whole thing in twenty-four minutes less than [Ang] Lee took". Roger Ebert was not a fan of the film stating, "The Incredible Hulk is no doubt an ideal version of the Hulk saga for those who found Ang Lee's Hulk too talky, or dare I say, too thoughtful. But not for me. It sidesteps the intriguing aspects of Hulkdom and spends way too much time in, dare I say, noisy and mindless action sequences."
Conversely, Christy Lemire of the Associated Press found that "the inevitable comparisons to Iron Man, Marvel Studios' first blockbuster this summer, serve as a glaring reminder of what this Hulk lacks: wit and heart. Despite the presence of Edward Norton, an actor capable of going just as deep as Robert Downey Jr., we don't feel a strong sense of Bruce Banner's inner conflict". A.O. Scott of The New York Times opined, "'The Adequate Hulk' would have been a more suitable title. There are some big, thumping fights and a few bright shards of pop-cultural wit, but for the most part this movie seems content to aim for the generic mean". David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, "Leterrier has style, he's good with action and he's eager to give the audience its money's worth of bone-crunching battles. Still, once the movie leaves the atmospheric Brazilian settings, nothing in this "Hulk" sinks in deeply: its familiar genre pleasures are all on the surface. ... The movie's scene stealer is Tim Blake Nelson, making a comically welcome third act appearance as the unethical but madly enthusiastic scientist Samuel Sterns".
The film was nominated for best superhero film at the 2008 National Movie Awards and for Best Science Fiction Film at the Saturn Awards, but lost to The Dark Knight and Iron Man, respectively.
On a potential sequel, Norton said, "The whole thing was to envision it in multiple parts. We left a lot out on purpose. [The Incredible Hulk is] definitely intended as chapter one." Leterrier made the film's final shot of Banner ambiguous; the thought being if there is a sequel, it would mean Banner finally masters control over his anger; if there is not a sequel, the shot indicates instead that he becomes a menace in The Avengers. Leterrier had also intended for a scene in the credits showing Blonsky, human once more, imprisoned and chained in a box. The character of Samuel Sterns, played by Tim Blake Nelson, was introduced to set him up as a villain in a possible future film, where he would become the Leader. Aaron Sims, the lead designer on The Incredible Hulk, also took time to work on concepts for the Leader. Nelson is "signed on" to reprise the role. Ty Burrell wants to portray the superpowered Doc Samson faithfully to the comics.
Leterrier and Roth were originally contracted to return. Leterrier also stated Norton was not signed on, but in October 2008, Hurd stated that Norton was contracted to reprise the role. The film had outgrossed its predecessor and Universal indicated interest in a sequel, though Leterrier believed a sequel would not be made because of the film's box office return. Feige said the film met Marvel's expectations and that Hulk would return, but after the crossover. Hurd was not concerned that a sequel may not be produced until at least 2012, citing the positive reception to the film and having produced the Terminator series, the second and third film of which had a 12-year gap. Tim Roth confirmed that Marvel had signed him for three more films. Leterrier, after having previously said he did not want to direct a sequel, said in late 2009 he had changed his mind and was now amenable.
Mark Ruffalo began his role as Banner / Hulk in The Avengers, after Feige said he chose not to bring back Norton. In October 2014, Norton claimed he chose never to play Hulk again because he "wanted more diversity" with his career, and did not want to be associated with only one character. In April 2012, despite Ruffalo being on board to play the Hulk in the sequel, Feige confirmed to Collider that Marvel had no plans at that time to film another Hulk film. In a Q&A session, Feige and Ruffalo confirmed that discussions were underway to produce another Hulk film due to the positive audience response to Ruffalo's performance in The Avengers. In September 2012, Feige, while exploring all possible story options for a sequel film, including a film based on the "Planet Hulk" and "World War Hulk" storylines, stated, "everything [in terms of stories from the comics] is on the table. Do I think Hulk can carry a movie and be as entertaining as he was in Avengers? I do believe that. I do believe he absolutely could. We certainly are not even going to attempt that until Avengers 2. So there's a lot of time to think about it."
In June 2014, Ruffalo said he believed the studio might be considering doing a new standalone Hulk film, saying, "I think they are, for the first time, entertaining the idea of it. When we did The Avengers it was basically 'No!', and now there is some consideration for it. But there's still nothing definitive, not even a skeletal version of what it would be." In July, Feige stated that the studio was not considering a "Planet Hulk" film at that time, due to wanting to feature Ruffalo's Banner in the film. However, he did not rule out a story that saw the Hulk and Banner end up in space and explained why a solo Hulk film did not occur in Phase Two of the MCU by saying, "After the first Avengers, Iron Man had his own movie, Thor had his own movie, Captain America had his own movie, and Widow and Fury were in The Winter Soldier. So it was really about, frankly, saving somebody so that the only place you could get Hulk between Avengers movies is the next Avengers movie, so [director Joss Whedon] could continue to play with that in [Avengers: Age of Ultron]. Where we go after that, we'll see." In October 2014, again on a solo film, Feige said, "We'll see. We'd love to do it, we'd love to find the place to put it, but right now, Hulk will be appearing, with his friends, in their [Phase Three] films."
In April 2015, Ruffalo said Universal holding the distribution rights to Hulk films may be an obstacle to releasing a future Hulk standalone film and reiterated this in October 2015, and July 2017. Marvel regained the film production rights for the character since February 2006, but Universal retained the distribution rights for The Incredible Hulk as well as the right of first refusal to distribute future Hulk films. According to The Hollywood Reporter, a potential reason why Marvel has not reacquired the film distribution rights to the Hulk as they did with Paramount Pictures for the Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America films is that Universal holds the theme park rights to several Marvel characters that Marvel's parent company, Disney, wants for its own theme parks. In December 2015, Ruffalo stated that the strained relationship between Marvel and Universal may be another obstacle to releasing a future standalone Hulk film. The following month, he indicated that the lack of a standalone Hulk film allowed the character to play a more prominent role in Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, and the latter's untitled sequel, stating, "We’ve worked a really interesting arc into Thor[: Ragnarok], Avengers[: Infinity War], and [the latter's sequel] for Banner that I think will – when it’s all added up – will feel like a Hulk movie, a standalone movie."
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- According to Leterrier, the film takes place about five years since Banner first transformed. The events of the film also take place simultaneously with the events of Iron Man 2 (2010) and Thor (2011), the former of which is set six months after the events of Iron Man (2008).
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