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3 Reasons Why Marvel Shouldn't Ignore The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk
It just makes me so angry

Less than two months after Marvel began its cinematic universe with the enormously successful Iron Man, the MCU received its second film in Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk. A variety of factors lead to this movie's relative underperformance--especially the fact that Ang Lee's celluloid disaster Hulk was still fresh in audiences' minds--and to this day, it has the worst box office record in the entire MCU, made even more disappointing by the splitting of profits between Marvel and Universal. Behind the scenes drama ultimately placed much of the blame--fairly or not--on Edward Norton's ego butting heads with Leterrier and Marvel, leading to Norton being replaced by Mark Ruffalo for future installments. This all explains why The Incredible Hulk is considered the MCU's black sheep and why Marvel and Universal haven't put much effort into crafting a second solo film for the green guy.

Still, looking back on the film, it's not as terrible as its reputation and legacy suggest. While the flaws are apparent--some CG bloat, a predictable plot, a weakly-written villain--it's not worse than the first Thor, and it's easily superior to the cartoonish Captain America: The First Avenger. Seeing as how Cap's sequels vastly improved upon the flawed first film, it's entirely plausible that, had Hulk gotten his own sequels, they would have done better than The Incredible Hulk. It's understandable why this hasn't happened, and I don't blame Marvel for relegating Hulk to a supporting role for the time being.

The Incredible Hulk
A much more compelling romance than watching Bruce argue with Black Widow about running away

However, Marvel has shown uncharacteristic disrespect for their character by basically pretending that The Incredible Hulk never happened. Bruce Banner's primary love interest, Betty Ross, isn't mentioned--not even once--anywhere else in the MCU (most noticably ignored when Bruce and Black Widow are given a questionable romantic subplot in Avengers: Age of Ultron); the climactic fight in Harlem is barely referenced (Bruce makes an off-hand comment about it once, but that's it); the storylines it paves the way for have yet to pay off; and overall, it just feels like Marvel is content to sweep the entire story under the rug. While General Ross does reappear in Captain America: Civil War, it's curious that nobody brings up the fact that he is almost entirely responsible for what happened in Harlem, which would be particularly relevant when he's listing all the collateral damage caused by the Avengers' previous adventures. Indeed, the Ross you see in that movie, despite having the same name and being portrayed by the same actor, could easily be an entirely new character.

Don't get me wrong. I'm as excited as the next guy to see Hulk appear in his Planet Hulk glory in Thor: Ragnarok in a couple of months, if not moreso, and I totally get why there hasn't been a direct sequel to Hulk's first outing. However, I take serious issues with Marvel's seemingly deliberate excizing of The Incredible Hulk from the MCU. Here are the three main reasons why.

It Damages Bruce as a Character

The Incredible Hulk
It's not fair for the big guy, either

In The Incredible Hulk, Bruce's character arc is relatively simple: he is trying to rid himself of the Hulk so that he can be with the love of his life, but he eventually comes to terms with the fact that he might need to be the Hulk in order to protect her. At the core of his motivation is Betty Ross, a character that Marvel wants you to think does not exist. She is also an important aspect of General Ross' character, seeing as how his obsession with the Hulk has overridden his parental instincts for her, which he seems to realize in the final act of the film. However, when we see General Ross in Civil War, he acts once again as though he doesn't have a daughter, proving that his character arc in the previous film was a total waste.

For Bruce, though, he is now written as though he is no longer motivated by his love for Betty. Indeed, he is written as though he doesn't even think about her anymore, that he's just totally gotten over the love that previously defined his character. On top of that, when he reappears in The Avengers as Mark Ruffalo, he doesn't want to use the Hulk for good like he did at the end of The Incredible Hulk. In other words, his character is totally reset to where he was at the start of the first film. This doesn't make sense in the context of a universe where every film is supposed to have narrative weight and consequence. Bruce's character has to essentially undergo the same arc twice, learning to "aim" the Hulk when his strength is needed, only without having the human motivation represented by Betty. Instead, he just embraces the Hulk because, uh, reasons. In fact, The Avengers never explains his change of heart, because it can't. More importantly, it shouldn't have to, because he had already undergone that change by the end of The Incredible Hulk.

It Ignores Potentially Fruitful Villains

The Incredible Hulk
They've already met

I am a huge fan of Tim Roth, and though I recognize the one-dimensionality of his character, Emil Blonsky, in The Incredible Hulk, I am a firm believer that his character has a lot of interesting places to go after having become the Abomination. According to a throwaway line in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which may or may not be canon--Marvel TV and Marvel movies have an increasing gulf between them), Blonsky is still in the MCU, being held in cryogenic stasis in Alaska. He could certainly be brought back in future MCU adventures, as a member of a potential Thunderbolts team (alongside other forgotten MCU baddies like Zemo) or as a secondary villain for any one of the Avengers to have to deal with.

An even bigger villain is set up, however, in the Leader, one of Hulk's greatest enemies in the comics. Granted, the Leader is a bit on the silly side, but with Marvel getting more and more comfortable with their more comicky storylines, now would be a perfect time to bring him back. In The Incredible Hulk, we see his origin when Samuel Sterns ("Mr. Blue") is knocked down by Blonsky and has a vial of Hulk's blood trickling into a headwound, causing his cranium to expand while he smiles maniacally. It's been almost ten years since then. What's he been doing this whole time? As an incredibly intelligent, scientifically-minded character, he'd be the perfect foil for Ruffalo's "science bro" version of Bruce, even moreso than he would have been for Norton. Keeping him out of the MCU is a huge waste of potential.

It's Insulting to the Fans

Avengers: Infinity War set photo
That's about what it feels like sometimes

This is, as I see it, the biggest problem with ignoring The Incredible Hulk: it insults your target audience. A lot of people still like The Incredible Hulk--not just me--and by pretending it never happened, Marvel is essentially disregarding the fans. With the coming Infinity War set to close out a lot of the MCU's character arcs, it's maddening that Marvel refuses to address Bruce Banner's first adventure. For those of us that still enjoy it, Marvel is telling us that it is a completely meaningless tale with no relevance to their overarching storylines, that we are wrong to put any thought or anticipation behind it. For every other movie in the MCU, Marvel has been careful to keep fans happy going forward, but when it comes to The Incredible Hulk, they don't seem to care that there are people out there who want to see that story continue, or at least see it properly integrated.

At the very least, they need to acknowledge that Betty Ross is this character who might mean something to Bruce.

-e. magill 9/7/2017

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