It's been a couple years since we've seen the Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but he's returning in November's Thor: Ragnarok. And while Captain America: Civil War fixed a lot of the messy problems from Avengers: Age Of Ultron, the damage to the characterization of Dr. Bruce Banner (who didn't appear in Civil War) remains for now.
So, it's perfect time to take a look back at all of the times Hollywood has adapted the Hulk to see what worked, what didn't, and how Thor: Ragnarok can get him right again as a mean, green fighting machine who's always angry:
So get your conveniently stretchy pants ready, because we are going to HULK YOU OUT!
Back in the '60s, just after Hulk's first appearance in the comics, Marvel created many animated shows with varying quality. The original Spider-Man animated series — with the iconic theme song — remains a corny but still enjoyable classic, while Hulk...not so much.
If you want to experience the very first comic book appearance of the Hulk without actually reading the comics, then this show is for you, because it's basically a very poorly animated motion comic for kids to enjoy on Saturday mornings.
- If you want to see the comic storylines that started it all, Hulk does have that going for it.
- It also has one of the catchiest theme songs of any Marvel show, which embeds itself in your brain like the themes from DuckTales and X-Men.
What Didn't Work?
- The voice acting is almost impossible to understand, because of the poor quality.
- It has very poor animation. Like I said, it looks like a cheaply made motion comic with very little effort.
- Some things can remain timeless, and this is not one of those things. Elements of this show are staples of its era, and I can understand if some enjoy that (I enjoyed Spider-Man even with its '60s staples), but Hulk just doesn't always land where it wants to.
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The Incredible Hulk (1978)
Back in 2008, SyFy ran a marathon of this '70s series — starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno — as buildup for the MCU film of the same name; I decided to give it a shot even though I was expecting some stupid, campy, cheese along the lines of 1966's Batman. Much to my surprise, I was enthralled and watched the entire series from beginning to end.
- Lou Ferrigno! Yes he may not be accurate in terms of size and physique to the comics, but give the man credit for putting on that green makeup and pulling off the Hulk as perfectly as possible without CGI.
- As opposed to Adam West's Batman, the show takes itself so seriously. They could have gone straight camp — and yeah, there are a few tongue-in-cheek moments (we are dealing with a bodybuilder is green makeup, after all) — but the whole show has a very dark and serious tone to it that I really dig.
- All the acting is good: Bill Bixby performs well as David Banner (don't ask me why they changed Bruce's name), Ferrigno is an incredible Hulk, and every other actor who appears in the series never feels too wooden or too cartoonish.
- It's formulaic, but the formula works. Each episode is basically the same story: Banner goes to some town; he tries to find a peaceful life; somebody bad is causing trouble; Banner becomes the Hulk; Hulk stops villains; Banner is forced to leave; cue him hitchhiking. But I never found myself rolling my eyes like with some formulaic shows. The characters Banner comes across are well-written, and the dilemmas themselves allow for some nice drama. (Occasionally an episode breaks the formula, like one in which David is disfigured, has amnesia, and has to survive in the wilderness with the investigative reporter who is constantly hunting the Hulk.)
What Didn't Work?
- David Banner (the character, not the actor). Even though Bill Bixby's performance was good throughout the series, I just never found myself interested in the character of David; he was a bit bland. I found myself asking when Hulk was going to show up.
The Incredible Hulk (1996)
Back in the '90s, superhero cartoons had a renaissance with amazing shows like X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man and of course, The Incredible Hulk, which starred Neal McDonough (the dude who can't seem to go one year without appearing in something Marvel or DC-related) as Bruce Banner. Mark Hamill, Matt Frewer and a few others lent their famous voices, along with the amazing Lou Ferrigno reprising his role as the jolly green giant.
- The voice acting overall is really good. With an all-star cast like this, it's practically the same quality as Batman: The Animated Series. Neal McDonough (who would resprise the role in the 2005 video game The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction) is one of the best actors to portray Bruce Banner, thanks to his mix of a mild-mannered nature mixed with some good smarmy humor that surfaces every now and again. Matt Frewer plays Hulk's recurring nemesis, the Leader, and he does well. Mark Hamill is the king of voice acting, so you know that he's awesome as Gargoyle.
- Hulk is portrayed properly, showing the Jekyll and Hyde concept — which means Hulk is his own personality. Lou Ferrigno once again is great; the Hulk is very likable in this show with a lot of personality, despite basically talking like a caveman.
- The Sensational She-Hulk! The name may sound stupid, but this character has to be one of the most likable, funny and badass in Marvel's roster. Most fans were introduced to her via this show, and it turned her into a cult favorite, whom I consider to be Marvel's best female character. Both Lisa Zane and Cree Summer perform She-Hulk perfectly.
- The show is pure fun with a lot of action, guest appearances f many iconic Marvel characters, and comedy that actually works.
What Didn't Work?
- At times the animation looks like it's from the '80s, not the '90s. This is a common complaint I have with most of the Marvel shows from that era. If you compare it to Batman: TAS or Superman: TAS, The Incredible Hulk seems really lacking.
Oh boy...where to begin with this one? In the early 2000s, superhero films hadn't reached the Golden Age that we have today, so watching them was a gamble. You might get Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2, but you also might get Ang Lee's Hulk. This movie is often found on many Top 10 Worst lists, ranging from the "Top 10 Worst Superhero Movies" to just "Top 10 Worst Movies Ever Made."
Are the bad reviews a little over-exaggerated? Well...yes and no.
- To this day, this movie has one of the most impressive superhero casts: Eric Bana as Bruce Banner, Sam Elliot as General Ross, Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross, Josh Lucas as Glenn Talbot, and Nick Nolte as David Banner. They all perform their best given the script they had to work with, except for Lucas (more on that later).
- I've rewatched movies from the early 2000s and oftentimes the CGI makes me want to laugh or barf, but I found myself shocked by how the CGI in this movie is better than a lot of CGI today. The Hulk being the prime example: the amount of realistic detail is jaw-dropping, with every pore, hair and muscle beautifully detailed. I never think that I'm looking at a CG creature, but a real giant monster interacting with the world.
- The action scenes are a spectacle to watch. There is a fight scene between the Hulk and three mutated dogs that is a ton of fun; there is a massive fight with the military against the Hulk; and there is the climax which...is weird but had its fun parts. Basically, any time the Hulk appears on screen is the best part of the movie. After looking at behind-the-scenes for the film and seeing how much effort the director himself, Ang Lee, put into the motion performance and actions of the Hulk, I have to give him credit for greatly performing the monster.
What Didn't Work?
- WHAT A SNOOZE! There is a reason this movie was panned by audiences and critics. I'll admit, when the movie does something good? It's REALLY good, but when the movie goes bad, it goes pretty bad. My biggest complaint with the film is that whenever Hulk is not on screen, it drags on and on with one of the most boring stories I've ever witnessed.
- The other biggest problem is that this movie does not know what it wants to be: an artistic drama, a fun popcorn film or a monster thriller. It tries to blend all three together and it ends up being a messy film with an inconsistent tone.
- Glenn Talbot was a waste of a character. At first it seemed like Josh Lucas' Talbot was going to seem like an interesting antagonist, but ends up being a little too bland one moment then incredibly cheesy the next, until he leaves the movie making him feel kind of pointless and over-the-top.
- While the CGI and the motion performance of the Hulk was good, I was not fond of how this movie continued to make the Hulk bigger and bigger. At one point he's like 15 feet tall, and it kind of took me out of some scenes, but this is more of a nitpick on my part. And I wasn't fond of the fact that this Hulk is not a separate personality from Bruce Banner, like Stan Lee originally imagined.
Ultimate Avengers And Ultimate Avengers 2 (2006)
Before the MCU gave us the Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Lionsgate gave us two straight-to-DVD films that were surprisingly awesome and remain, to this day, the best animated Marvel films. We saw a much darker version of the Hulk, who is not a misunderstood creature with a heart of gold but a monster that will destroy everything he sees, including the Avengers. These movies featured Michael Massee as the exhausted and depressed Bruce Banner, with Fred Tatasciore as the Hulk.
- Like I mentioned, this Hulk is much darker, and I found that kind of refreshing. At first I wasn't sure what to think of this incarnation being an antihero (and even a villain) but it led to an amazing fight between the Avengers and the Hulk that I would love to see in the MCU; I was honestly kind of scared of the Hulk.
- Hulk does not play the biggest role in this film, but (like in the first MCU Avengers movie) he steals the show as soon as he enters with his battle against the Chitauri.
What Didn't Work?
- While the Hulk was an awesome monster, the performance of Bruce Banner was not that impressive. I know the intent was to make Bruce seem depressed and haunted by the Hulk but Michael Massee's performance just came off as very wooden and dry.
- The way the Hulk is defeated is one giant plot hole that ruins the climax for me.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
With Ang Lee's attempt at a live-action Hulk being a bomb among audiences and critics, did the Marvel Cinematic Universe have better luck with its reboot? Well...it's better, but it has its fair share of problems.
This reboot also has an impressive cast: Edward Norton as Bruce Banner (and the motion performance of the Hulk), Lou Ferrigno as the voice, Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/Abomination, and William Hurt as General Ross.
- Just like with 2003's film, most of the cast all perform their best given what they got, especially Edward Norton and Tim Roth who were downright perfect in their roles. Tim Roth was by far my favorite thing about this movie as Emil Blonsky, who transforms into the Abomination, Marvel's first somewhat decent villain because of actual development of the character.
- The action is spectacular when Hulk is battling Ross' squad, it is so much fun to watch and much more satisfying that the previous film thanks to having a much faster pace. The main fight between the Hulk and Abomination is one of the best superhero fight scenes to this day, despite it being a little too short for a climax in my opinion.
- Plenty of good fan service. If you are a fan of The Incredible Hulk TV show starring Bill Bixby, then you are going to be pleased by the amount of tributes and throwbacks, even down to the iconic music which plays when Hulk's walking down a road. There are one or two throwbacks that made my eyes roll, but I still think they made great tributes to an iconic series.
- The performance of the Hulk is perfect. They definitely took Stan Lee's idea for the Hulk and made it a Jekyll and Hyde situation. Both Bruce and Hulk feel like distinct characters, with Hulk feeling more like a lost child in a giant's body, which is brilliantly shown in a scene between the Hulk and Betty in a cave.
- There is one scene where we see Bruce transform into the Hulk while he's strapped to a table and it's amazing; the detail in the CGI was at its best. We'll get to the rest of the CGI later.
- "HULK SMASH!" That alone gives the movie bonus points, because we finally get to hear that iconic line.
What Didn't Work?
- While the motion performance of the Hulk was great, I HATED the look of the Hulk himself in this version. They went with a very murky green that hurts my eyes; he looks nothing like Edward Norton (at least the 2003 version looked somewhat like Eric Bana). The fact that his hair grows longer when he becomes the Hulk makes no sense to me, and the CGI is actually less impressive than Ang Lee's Hulk. I still groan when I see that the CGI is very cartoonish at times.
- Tim Blake Nelson as Samuel Sterns (who was hinted at becoming the Leader) felt off. At times he felt like he belonged in a completely different movie with his performance.
- Liv Tyler's performance fell flat as per usual. In every movie I've seen her in, I think she is the most bland actress; I never cared for her Arwen in the Lord of the Rings films, we all know how Michael Bay's Armageddon turned out, and she was basically a rushed romantic interest in The Incredible Hulk.
- One thing that ruins the movie for me was the behind-the-scenes clash between Marvel and Edward Norton. For those who are unaware, the original script for The Incredible Hulk was written by Norton, but he claims the studio ripped it apart and gave him no credit when the movie actually came out. Perhaps they learned from that experience to give Edgar Wright his credit for Ant-Man.
Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (2010)
Marvel has had many great animated series, but the very best (in my opinion) was the short-lived but very epic Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, which featured a unique portrayal of the Hulk. Upon watching this and Ultimate Avengers, I realized that the Hulk and Bruce Banner are like Marvel's Joker: the character can be twisted and altered in many different ways, depending on the writer. Fred Tatasciore reprises the role of the Hulk while Banner is played by Gabriel Mann.
- Avengers: Earth's Mightest Heroes has a very different take on Hulk, who has been around long enough that he no longer speaks like a caveman and is even able to have a full-on conversation with Bruce. (Bruce has talked Hulk into being a hero on one condition: Bruce has to be the one stuck inside from now on.) The whole show focuses more on Hulk's character, as this silent jerk with a heart of gold who butts heads with the rest of the team but would do anything to help them.
- Hulk has probably some of the best action bits in the entire show, such as with the fight between the Avengers and Graviton.
What Didn't Work?
- The fact that this show was CANCELED BEFORE IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN! Curse you, Marvel!
(Before I move on, I just wanted to briefly explain that I am going to be skipping reviews of Avengers Assemble and Hulk and the Agents Of S.M.A.S.H. simply because I'd rather not spend over an hour ranting about how both shows suck and neither Hulk impresses me in the least. Okay, then, moving on!
The Avengers (2012) And Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015)
So after Edward Norton left the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel replaced him in The Avengers with Mark Ruffalo. Most people weren't sure about Ruffalo when he was first announced. Could he pull it off? Well, then came May of 2012, and we were reintroduced to Banner and Hulk in, yet again, a very unique way.
- Mark Ruffalo is, in my opinion, the best actor to portray Bruce Banner. It was really refreshing to finally see a version of the character who isn't haunted by the Hulk and/or is looking for a cure. This is a Banner who has basically given up on that, and has accepted that Hulk is a part of him now. So instead of a broody Hulk, this Banner takes a page from Neal McDonough's version where Banner is mild-mannered with a smarmy humor on top of it. He's very likable...at least in the first Avengers. We'll get to Age of Ultron later.
- The CGI is astounding! The detail on the Hulk looks even better than Ang Lee's version, the Hulk's face looks just like Mark Ruffalo's, and the color has been restored to Hulk, showing that Marvel did listen to the complaints with the solo film.
- Hulk and Banner have some of the best scenes in superhero movie history: tossing Loki around like a ragdoll, taking out a Chitauri dragon creature with one one punch and his fight with Thor on the Helicarrier; the Hulkbuster fight is a common favorite (even though I felt it was weak).
What Didn't Work?
- I hated Age of Ultron — I mean, REALLY hated Age of Ultron — and Hulk was one of many reasons why. We got more scenes of Hulk interacting with others, and I came to the conclusion that I absolutely despise how Hulk is currently being portrayed. Rather than him being like a child, as previously established, Hulk is now reduced to a big green gorilla who just grunts and huffs a lot while banging his hands on the ground. Not only is this just a bad way to portray the Hulk, but it is a huge inconsistency because this version of the Hulk is NOT another reboot; this is a continuation of the same Hulk from The Incredible Hulk, so the fact that he acts so differently is frustrating. So Mark Ruffalo's Hulk is a reverse of Edward Norton's: he looks great but is portrayed poorly.
- Oh, remember when I praised Mark Ruffalo's Banner for being a refreshing take on the character that's not all broody? Did you want to see that continue on with Age of Ultron? TOO BAD! We're back to the Bruce who is is haunted by the Hulk and tries his hardest to avoid becoming him. Oh, and Banner comes off as a cowardly weasel with shifting allegiances within the team.
- His relationship with Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow is one of the worst-written romances in cinematic history. I was cringing and facepalming every time they'd try to develop that subplot.
So basically, Age of Ultron ruined Mark Ruffalo's portrayal of the Hulk. PerhapsThor: Ragnarok can save it by studying what worked (and didn't) in all of the above efforts. I look forward to seeing what comes of the Jade Giant in the future, whether it be in film or TV, because Hulk will always remain one of the greatest heroes ever.
Hulk will return in Thor: Ragnarok, which premieres in theaters on November 3rd, 2017. What's your favorite version of the Hulk?