I re-watched "HULK" yesterday for the first time in a number of years (or as a previous commentator called it "Brokeback Hulk") and I still think it is better than the second attempt to establish a separate franchise for the character.
Looking at it again post Marvel Phase whatever-we're-in-now (yes, comic boys - you are being goaded), I couldn't help but wonder if "HULK" was setting the template for what was to come.
I haven't even finished writing and I can already hear the splutters of indignation and angry tapping of the keyboards from the comic boys for whom this is utter sacrilege.
What "evidence" am I going to produce? Firstly, the director, Ang Lee - at that point in his career, action films were not littering his filmography (and they still don't) - so a rather strange choice to helm a such a title. Personally, I will akin that to the announcement of Kenneth Brannagh for "THOR" and even Michael Apted for "THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH". To me, it is reasonable to believe that both Stan Lee and Kevin Feige wanted this title to be more than casual observers (i.e., the standard filmgoing public) thought it was. A director like Lee (and Brannagh) could bring a final product which may demonstrate the subtlety of storylines that graphic novels developed into. Once of the things that made the TV show good was the nuances of Bill Bixby's performance as Banner, not just Ferringo overturning cars.
By agreeing to the origin story being merged with a more layered (although Nolte gives scene-chomping-hit-you-over-the-head performance at times) "child paying for the sins of the father" extension, I feel the ground was being laid for writers to show that these characters were not just about protecting Earth or whatever their universe, but to show that comics had developed into a true art form merging image and word in a manner not grasped outside the medium's readers.
Secondly, Eric Bana. "HULK" ends with his Banner providing medical services deep in South America, off the radar. It really isn't too hard to imagine his Banner traveling to India where Natasha found him in "AVENGERS" or that the only organisation that would be interested in observing him would be S.H.I.E.L.D. For me Ruffalo's performance echoes the gentler elements of Bana's performance but now meshed with an acceptance of what he is, what he can be and, more importantly, the coping mechanisms Banner has now developed. Of course, Ruffalo's Banner/Hulk has been written by Joss Whedon, who is no shrinking violet when creating nuanced and complex characters but any ideas for all these characters would have been signed off by Lee and Feige.
Lastly, and this is very flimsy, but the only words spoken in "HULK" by the Hulk is "puny human" to Banner; so when the same character utters "puny god" in "AVENGERS", you have to wonder if the time has come for "HULK" to be re-assessed?