The Incredible Hulk

The time has finally arrived to discuss the only solo Hulk film in the entire MCU, and why I think it is severely underrated.

The circumstances surrounding this film’s conception are absolutely fascinating to me, and I think are worth remembering. Having released the infamous Howard the Duck in 1986, Marvel Studios sold the rights to their arguably most prolific characters to stay afloat, including Spider-Man, and The X-Men. Our primary focus today is on Bruce Banner/The Hulk, who was purchased by Universal Studios for a seemingly undisclosed amount. Their plan was to launch into a solo Hulk venture as soon as possible, but the project promptly entered Development Hell, where it remained for a solid decade. In all that time the script went through various re-writes and producers, before it finally came to director Ang Lee in 2001.

2003’s Hulk featured Eric Banna as the titular character and details his origin story, along with the negative relationship he has with his father. The film also stars Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross and Sam Elliot as her father General Thaddeus Ross, with Nick Nolte portraying Bruce’s father David, who eventually becomes The Absorbing Man. Hulk was criticised for not providing enough action in its 140 minute runtime, and for the exceptionally flat CGI of The Hulk himself. This film ends with the Ross’ relationship frayed and Bruce on the run, but it’s where we go from here that interests me. Hulk isn’t essential viewing. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I watched it. But it is still semi-relevant to the MCU’s Incredible Hulk. This film acts as a pseudo-sequel to its predecessor, but without any of the same crew, or indeed any canonicity to the MCU. The Incredible Hulk follows General Ross as he continues to hunt down Bruce whilst remaining mildly estranged from his daughter which seems to follow on directly from Hulk. The opening credits montage even details some of the events of Hulk, although the method through which Bruce is exposed to Gamma Radiation is different. His father is never mentioned, the CGI is noticeably better, and the film doesn’t hold any of Ang Lee’s unique visual stylings, so you could easily not notice how sequel-y The Incredible Hulk is.

If you want a more complex introduction to these characters then Hulk is probably worth a watch, but Incredible Hulk manages to condense all that story down into the aforementioned opening credits montage and through the context within the film. Kevin Feige made it very clear that he wasn’t interested in telling the origin story of a character that the majority of people already knew, and I think he made the right call. It allows for more focus on the characters, including the villains. As events unfold, General Ross hires Royal Marine Emil Blonsky and injects him with a failed recreation of the Super Soldier Serum given to Steve Rogers during World War 2, which leads to him becoming a Hulk-like creature called The Abomination. The contrast between Blonsky and Bruce Banner is central to the plot, with Blonsky obsessed with holding an amount of power that Banner wishes he’d never been given (technically stolen). The film has been criticised for being slow in places, but I think that if any hero deserves a little time to have their psyche explored, it’s The Hulk.

Bruce Banner is a man with a terrific amount of intellect, who could be winning Nobel Prizes but is instead unable to be a part of society because he could become a genuine threat at any moment. Chronologically, this is the 5th film in the MCU, and so far we have had two superpowered individuals, and one billionaire, who can easily settle into normal lives should they choose to. They have control over their abilities, and weapons in the case of Stark, but Bruce Banner doesn’t. He doesn’t have a superpower, he has a curse, and the film does a brilliant job of displaying that. Occasionally the film verges on psychological thriller, although it remains an action film at its core. To me, The Hulk has always been one of the most interesting characters because of this. He isn’t just a green rage monster that smashes things, he is a man desperately trying to prevent himself from becoming so much of a threat that he has to be taken out.

The biggest complaint I’ve seen levied at The Incredible Hulk is that it isn’t relevant or important enough to be included in your MCU marathon because nothing really carries over. To be honest with you, it’s a narrative that I am sick of seeing. Just because it doesn’t have major ramifications in the wider universe doesn’t make it not-worthwhile. Stating that it isn’t worth watching because it doesn’t matter is reductive, and kills any genuine conversation that could be had about the film. Also, the claim that it doesn’t matter in the MCU is becoming less true by the day. General Thaddeus Ross would go on to reappear 8 years later in Captain America: Civil War as well as several subsequent appearances. If it turns out that Marvel is working towards a “Thunderbolts” movie like many have theorised, then he will suddenly become one of the franchise’s key players. Betty Ross doesn’t reappear, although she is mentioned, and the super-habit of going on the run and hiding in a cabin in the woods makes its debut here. Perhaps the most unavoidable, and most exciting, is that The Abomination is set to return in the upcoming She-Hulk television series which is a direct part of the MCU. However, we are still to see Dr Samuel Sterns again, who in the comics went on to become The Red Leader which is set up here.

I also want to talk about the appearance of Tony Stark during the climax of this film, because that is super important. Iron Man stands on its own as the very first film in the MCU, but it is not solely responsible for building that world. The first time this world is built upon is right here, during the final scene of The Incredible Hulk where Stark approaches Ross at a bar to inform him that SHIELD is putting a team together. If you want to create a movement, then that first person is important, but so is the first person who follows their lead. It gives a thing validity, and I refuse to just let The Incredible Hulk‘s place in history be forgotten about because it “isn’t that important to the larger story”. Once you’ve finished watching this film, then the Marvel One Shot The Consultant is a must watch. It provides a really important piece of context to that final scene, as well as giving us an answer to where exactly The Abomination ended up.

As you can probably tell, I have a massive soft spot for The Incredible Hulk, and I kind of struggle to understand why it has received the level of hate within this fanbase that it has. It wasn’t received poorly upon its release, has a 7.7 rating on IMDB, and is sitting with an audience score of 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, so clearly the film is at least average. I suspect that there is this real belief with some fans that any MCU film that is less than perfect is bad, although that is something I have noticed about fanbases in general, and I will just never subscribe to that way of thinking. I really hope that people revisit it in light of the She-Hulk series and that we can begin end this frankly toxic view that seems to be prevalent in some corners of film criticism. In my humble opinion, The Incredible Hulk has always been one of the finest pieces of underappreciated media and I look forward to re-visiting it soon.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 is often considered to be one of the worst films in the MCU, and the thing is… I don’t think that’s wrong. However, I disagree with anybody saying the film is straight up awful. There are certainly criticisms I can (and will) make, but to write it off entirely kills any real discussion. This mentality of “the film is bad so don’t watch it” is the polar opposite of the ethos that I believe so firmly I made it this blog’s tagline; every film is worth something. It’s a mentality that will crop up a few more times in this franchise, so allow me to say, not for the last time, that even the “worst” film in the MCU is still of average quality. If you see films on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best, then I believe at worst that the worst film in this franchise is still a 5.

Iron Man 2 takes place roughly 6 months after Iron Man and shows Tony Stark grappling with his own mortality as the palladium in the arc reactor in his chest slowly kills him. Meanwhile, he is attempting to prevent the US Military from taking his suits that they have classified as weapons, and surviving attacks from disgraced Russian scientist Ivan Vanko.

The son of Anto Vanko, who had helped create the original arc reactor with Howard Stark in the 1970’s, Ivan has also miniaturised the technology and is using it to electrify a pair of metal whips, whilst disgracing the Stark legacy. All of these events are escalated by weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer who has been hired to build Iron Man suits for the Military and brings Vanko in to assist him.

The film was released in 2010 as the third entry in the MCU, but it sits fourth chronologically. This essentially provides us with a two part story when coupled with the original Iron Man that details the origins of Tony Stark and his struggles. This is also the first of these stories that doesn’t feature an Infinity Stone, instead focussing on the world’s biggest superpower – money. Having watched Tony save his own life and decree himself a superhero in part one, we now get to see the full blown repercussions of those actions. The decaying of his body and his relationships, the attempts by Justin and Ivan on his life, and the overbearing presence of SHIELD are all his own fault. There’s this running joke within the MCU Fandom that everything is Tony’s fault—something worth keeping an eye on as we go forward—and with Iron Man 2 it’s definitely true. Not only has he let his ego run wild, but with his death imminent, he has chosen to let that trait dominate him. It’s only by the film’s climax that he’s even remotely attempting to reel himself in and, despite him being a jerk, it makes him a compelling character.

If the first 3 films in the MCU chronologically are hinting at a larger universe then Iron Man 2 is where we see the first actual signs of set-up. It’s here that we are introduced to Natasha Romanoff, otherwise known as The Black Widow, who is a top tier spy and very attractive and… that’s is all we learn about her. There’s a very real effort on behalf of the filmmakers to let us know how deadly she is, which I won’t fault them for, however it’s done from a very masculine perspective. Her clothes are tight and her hair is frizzy but not messy, and her costume is noticeably unzipped so as to give us cleavage. You would presume that because this was over a decade ago that her character and the way she is treated would change, but this is incorrect and, trust me, we’ll get to that. As far as 2010 character introductions go, this one is fairly solid.

Speaking of character introductions, we are re-introduced to Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes. We had already spent a large amount of time with him in Iron Man but between films actor Terrance Howard was replaced by Don Cheadle, who has played the role ever since. At the time, it was unclear as to precisely why this had happened, and the specifics still aren’t known to anybody outside of the situation, although it appears as though the issue was money related. It’s no secret that Robert Downey Jr was given a significant pay rise between films, and it appears to me as if Marvel was unwilling to extend that same courtesy to Terrance Howard, although that is just a theory. Whilst Cheadle has been brilliant in the role, I can’t help but wonder how much more imposing Howard’s Rhodey would have been. This was the first time that Marvel re-cast a role, but it was by no means the last and we’ll get to them soon enough.

I still have a soft spot for Iron Man 2, as I made clear up front I don’t think it’s bad, but its biggest impact is that it sets up a couple of elements that will crop up again. This isn’t to say that I think the film is boring, I find Ivan Vanko a really interesting contrast to Tony Stark and Justin Hammer is so ridiculously entertaining that I’m a little sad he hasn’t been brought back yet. However the way that the film choses to treat Vanko is far from perfect, seeming to have more interest in the drones that he helped create than the man himself. Ultimately his “climactic battle” is only a couple of minutes long, and it results in his death, making him the 3rd MCU villain to hold this fate and the 2nd by Tony’s hand. The really big takeaways from the plot seem to be that Black Widow is here now, that Agent Coulson is about to handle the discovery of Thor’s hammer Mjölnir and that SHIELD/Nick Fury doesn’t entirely trust Stark. It’s worth noting that Stark doesn’t leave this film as an Avenger, he leaves it as a consultant.

I think this one gets a bad rap, along with a couple of the following films, and I don’t think that’s fair. Like I said, I find it to be really reductive to just write a film off because it’s bad and there are some standout moments. Justin Hammer’s entire character is one of them, along with the way it shows Tony’s insane ego and how smart he is. The guy literally creates a brand new element based on decades old research from his dad. The final thing that gets mentioned a bunch is the theory that the kid in the Iron Man helmet at the Stark Expo is Peter Parker. It’s something that was “confirmed” by current Spidey Tom Holland and MCU Helmsman Kevin Fiege in 2017, but I don’t agree. I think that it’s a nice theory, but that it remains just that. Further, just because you state something retroactively, doesn’t make it true. I’m definitely a little biased on this because I’m not really a fan of the way that Tony Stark has replaced Uncle Ben in the MCU, but that is an issue for another time. As it is, I like Iron Man 2 and I like the way it leads into Tho,r but first it’s time for something incredible.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Iron Man

2008 truly was a different time. When Iron Man was released during the summer of that year: there were no sprawling cinematic universes, The Dark Knight was still in post-production, and I was an 11 year old heterosexual. Over the past 13 years, all of that has changed. Cinematic Universes seem to be a dime a dozen, The Dark Knight has gone down in history as one of the greatest superhero films of all time, and I have become a 24 year old bisexual with a marvellous fiancé. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is how good the original Iron Man is. The origin story of weapons manufacturer-turned-vindicator Tony Stark has found its way into the mythos of popular culture, kickstarting a decade-long franchise that shows no sign of slowing down. Batmen have come and gone over the years but it seems like Robert Downey Jr is practically irreplaceable as Iron Man.

It’s easy to forget just how much was riding on the success of this film. At the time, Marvel Studios was best known for its infamous 1986 movie Howard the Duck, and as a result had sold off many of its most popular characters. The rights for Tony Stark in particular had spent time with Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and New Line Cinema before Marvel reacquired the rights in 2006. Even then, Marvel was relying on Paramount Pictures to actually distribute the film. Meanwhile, the casting of Robert Downey Jr was a major deal considering he was making a career comeback after his well publicised arrest relating to drug possession in the late 1990s. All of this was riding on the shoulders of director Jon Favreau, hot off of the heels of Zathura, and Kevin Feige, who had been present for every Marvel-related film since X-Men. Feige hoped that if this and the following film The Incredible Hulk did well, that perhaps they could make several other films to culminate in a project about The Avengers: Earths Mightiest Heroes.

Needless to say, Iron Man was a success, raking in $585million at the Box Office and earning the title as the 8th highest grossing film of that year. It kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which at the time of publication, has grossed $22.56billion and has practically single-handedly ensured that nerdy film critics continue to have things to write about. I know it sounds like I’m gushing, but I really feel like I can’t overstate how important Iron Man was, and still is. Without it, there is no MCU, and there might not even be an Avengers. There’s an alternate timeline where Kevin Feige’s experiment failed and it is seen as their Dark Universe, but I am so thankful that it’s not this one. With all of that history laid bare, let’s take a look at the film itself to see how it sits within the universe it created.

Chronologically, Iron Man is the 3rd film in the MCU, taking place in 2009. At the time, it was presumed to take place in the year it was released but, with further MCU releases, the timeline became a little bit murky. The official Marvel timeline has it taking place in 2010, closer to the events of the following films. The main reason that Iron Man, and the rest of those “Phase 1” movies, work, is that it stands alone instead of setting up a grander universe. I could write an entire article about why practically every single Shared Universe fails these days, but the main reason is that they attempt to recreate Avengers Assemble instead of Iron Man. Yes, Avengers Assemble was instrumental to the MCU’s success, but it was built on the foundations of Iron Man. This film didn’t set up the universe as much as the universe extracted elements from this film. As a result, this also works as part of the larger story by showing us what happened to Howard Stark, Nick Fury, and Phil Coulson, whilst introducing us to Howard’s grown son Tony who will become a lynchpin going forwards.

Iron Man really isn’t about the MCU, it’s about Tony, so as a result there isn’t much chronology to discuss here. Perhaps the biggest seeds planted are The Ten Rings, and the treatment of villains. In retrospect, this introduction to The Ten Rings is fairly understated. They’re presented as your run of the mill villainous organisation, but they’re never actually “defeated” as such. A couple of seemingly key players die, but the organisation itself will live on to appear again in Iron Man 3 and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The real villain here is Tony’s mentor Obidiah Stane as a representation of Capitalism, which is an irony not lost on me. Special shout out to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, named after the man but not owned by the company, which feels like a reminder of what is to come. Stane ends this film by dying, which is something we’re going to see happen to a lot of these MCU villains, and he’s one of the best ones. Previously we’ve seen Red Skull die but Yon-Rogg survive, so this feels like the start of a pattern.

Iron Man is a film that I have no issues gushing about. It led to a franchise that I love, is arguably one of the most important films in pop culture history, and still genuinely holds up today. It works on its own and as part of a larger narrative that hadn’t even been written yet. The soundtrack is noticeably 2008, which sets it apart from the rest of the film (so is the CGI, though that is consistent through the franchise). I know that what came after has become an unstoppable behemoth and there are some who tire of it, but damn Iron Man is good.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

MCU Reviews: Prologue

I have been following the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) since its inception, which at the time of writing was 13 years ago. It was a different time, and I was a different person, but my love for the MCU has remained more or less the same. Since 2008 I have watched all 23 feature films, 5 “One Shots” and 7 of the 13 television series, however not all of those series’ are considered MCU Canon, which has been a point of contention for many. In the early days, there was a real effort to make shows like Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter feel like they could be connected to the larger picture, but as more projects have come out and timeline alterations have been made, this has not continued to be the case. One could certainly argue that those two shows are still canon, because with The Multiverse anything is possible, but I haven’t really seen them as such in the time that they have been around. This matter was laid to rest last year with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige stating in an interview that the previous Marvel Shows are separate from the main film timeline. For my series of reviews, I will be focussing purely on the official MCU Canon but instead of doing them in release order, I am opting to watch them in chronological order. Despite being a fan of the franchise for as long as it has been around, this will be the first time that I am viewing it this way.

My main purpose in these series, besides reviewing the films themselves, will be to see how differently the narrative flows. We, as fans, would like to think that it flow just as smoothly as the Star Wars franchise which also was not released according to its in-universe chronology, but I have my doubts. There is this general belief, I feel, that the MCU has always had this grand plan and that it has never had to walk back on or alter anything, but this simply isn’t true. When this was all still a little experiment, there was a semi-plan leading to Avengers Assemble but that plan also had an introduction to Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man) so clearly this franchise was built on a fair amount of faith. That faith has been well earned by now, but at the time superhero films had a poor reputation, as did Robert Downey Jr who would lead the very first endeavour Iron Man. As the universe grows, so too does the lore, and that lore can occasionally be tiny fragments that get forgotten about or retconned (looking at you Maximoff backstory). The other point of interest will be the mid/post credits scenes which almost always tie into the next film to be released. I love these segments, but I think that when viewing this franchise chronologically, these are going to cause a bit of a pacing issue.

I’ve been putting off a proper MCU Re-watch for a considerable amount of time now. I didn’t do one to prepare for Avengers: Endgame or Wandavision but I have been so invested in the story for such a long time that I didn’t have any issues remembering anything. There are certainly some projects that I have seen more than others, be it favouritism or lack of time since their release and after the lack of Marvel content in 2020, I found myself really missing this universe. I told myself I wouldn’t dip in and out of MCU films last year because I knew that my Big Re-watch was coming but that may have been slightly foolish of me. After a year off, I’m eager to get back into it and with Phase 4 of the MCU currently in it’s beginning stage, I can’t think of a better time to do this.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer