Remember in my 'Iron Man' review how I said the next movie might not hold up as well? That's because the next movie is 'The Incredible Hulk'. That's not at all to say that the movie is bad. In fact, I quite enjoy it's execution, and it was definitely a triumph above whatever that 2003 Ang Lee disaster was. But let's face it, the Hulk himself looks and acts differently than he does now, and Banner was played by Ed Norton here instead of Mark Ruffalo, who I think we all agree is the better portrayal of Banner altogether. Norton did a fine job, but now we KNOW Ruffalo as that dude.
To give this movie credit, however, it knew full well that we already knew what Hulks origin story was. Gamma radiation in an experiment gone awry, and it's all set up in the opening credits. The film actually starts while Banner is hiding in South America, chatting back and forth with someone named Mr. Blue, in search of a cure. In the meantime, General 'Thunderbolt' Ross (William Hurt) chases Banner with a desire to dissect him and use whatever it is that transforms Banner as a weapon.
Eventually, the online chat between Banner and Blue results in Blue needing him to come back to his hometown in order to meet, and work on a cure together. During this time, Banner is also reunited with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), who is our love interest in this story, the beauty who tames the beast, and of course the daughter of the crooked General Ross, complicating it all quite nicely.
Meanwhile, again, Gen. Ross brings a war-hungry soldier into play named Blonsky (Tim Roth) using a super solider serum on him (hello 'Captain America' tease) in order to be able to fight the Hulk and attempt to bring him down. Of course, this leads to Blonsky craving a bit too much power, and I THINK we all know he eventually becomes The Abomination. The whole climactic scene of this is essentially a one-on-one monster fight in the middle of Manhattan (filmed largely in my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario). It's cool if you're into that sort of thing, and frankly to be expected from a Hulk movie.
The only reasons this hasn't aged well have to do with Norton's ultimate replacement, and the CG might look a little bit off here and there, although they still did great. However, this was a bit more of a serious story. There's not a hell of a lot of humor to this one, and it's more of a tragic tale. It's still a decent movie, and for me, it finds itself somewhere in the middle of my list when it comes to this universe. I appreciated it's execution, but it IS kinda difficult to keep the Hulk interesting while keeping him a dark figure. The "inner struggle" concept just gets old.
What I am happy to see is the new Hulk where the studio has finally realized "hey, this is pretty goofy stuff" and they've since put some humor behind the character, realizing that what they have is essentially a giant, green gorilla with superhuman strength. Hulk still manages to be a tragic figure, but they have managed to balance things with the overall cartoonish concept of such a character.
But, going back to this movie, 'The Incredible Hulk' is still very much technically a part of this particular universe, even though some consider it not to be. This is largely due to the differences in Edward Norton's Bruce Banner and Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner, which is now pretty much the definitive portrayal. The only thing really keeping this on that list of movies, though, is the pre-credits scene. Otherwise, one COULD technically skip this movie, and just be introduced to the Hulk through 'The Avengers'. But I would still recommend keeping this one on the list, because as far as Hulk movies go, this one probably did the solo project the best with what it had to work with.
PRE-CREDIT SCENE: Thunderbolt Ross is in a bar taking shots and contemplating his newfound problems. Tony Stark enters and informs him that a team of special people is going to be put together, hinting once again at a possible 'Avengers' movie.