I remember 2008. I remember the announcement on the news that Marvel was getting their own studio called Marvel Cinematic Universe aka “MCU”. Two of the comic book heroes pictured behind the anchor were Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. I later found that perfectly ironic, as these two specific heroes would set the MCU on a long and incredible course for changing the film industry and comic book movies forever.
These two films came out before Disney bought the MCU and it shows. The humor in both films are far more subtle and wittier, and since they didn’t have to necessarily appeal to kids the storylines and action was far edgier and darker. As much as I enjoyed Phases 1–3 of the MCU, especially the most classic films The Avengers, Captain America: Winter Solidier, Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of The Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Infinity War, No Way Home etc. One can’t help but wonder what would the MCU look and feel like had Disney never bought the burgeoning company? I guess we’d only know that in an alternate universe… or one of the multi- verses. But regardless of what could’ve been or already is, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk set off the MCU’s ginormous legacy off proper, and without either of them the MCU may have never got off the ground.
There are so many reasons why this film remains an underrated masterpiece but I’m gonna share my top 5:
- Tony Stark\Robert Downey Jr.
Tony Stark aka “I am Iron Man” himself. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is one of those magical things that happened that we’ll never be able to explain. He was simply born to play this role and clearly reveled in it. This was Downey’s big comeback after years of struggling with past demons that affected his career. That all changed when he was cast in his iconic role, and now it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing Tony Stark\Iron Man in the future. He brought all the droll wit, charisma and likability that cannot be topped.
Before we got into Gods and infinity stones and variants and multi-verses etc. Iron Man set the Marvel universe in a much more realistic and down to earth tone, but also a technologically advanced world. The film also dealt with subject matter much more real, such as war and war profiteering, redemption, class etc. All of this helped ground the film and made us as an audience relate to Tony Stark’s world.
3. Perfect blend of humor and drama\action.
No doubt that Robert Downey Jr. is a comedy genius and gave us plenty of laughs with his dry wit and antics. What’s great about Iron Man’s humor is that it never came off as jokey and forced as a lot of the humor and more recent MCU films do. The film made sure to balance good humor with grounded dramatic moments and incredible action sequences that became memorable. That includes the iconic Iron Man rescue scene.
4. Great Villain.
No doubt that Obadiah Stane, played brilliantly by Jeff Bridges, is the best villain out of the stand alone Iron Man franchise. He was so great, in fact that the next two sequels could never top or even match him. Obadiah’s personal connection with Tony as a surrogate father made it so heart wrenching when it turned out that he was behind everything, giving the movie that much more pathos.
5. Perfect Casting.
Robert Downey Jr. Terrence Howard, Gweneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges… A cast like that only comes together when somebody upstairs decides to smile down at you. As much as Iron Man is Downey’s film, it’s the supporting cast that he had excellent chemistry with that really helped make the movie what it was and is. As much as I am a big fan of Don Cheadle, you can’t convince me that the world would be a much better place if Terrence Howard never got replaced as Rhodey. The chemistry between Downey and Howard was so genuine and believable, that you actually believe that these two men grew up together as lifelong buddies. The fact that Cheadle’s Rhodey has mostly been underused and developed besides the whole War Machine thing really throws salt in the wound to what could’ve been had Howard stayed on. And what else could be said about the Downey and Paltrow as the classic will they\won’t they couple that you couldn’t help but root for? Pepper Potts became a great character and Paltrow’s natural likability and wit added a lot to the film. Perfect casting all around.
The Incredible Hulk:
- Respect and faithfullness to the classic Bill Bixby\Lou Ferrigno 1978 tv series.
The 1978–1983 tv show became a classic for many, including the producers and writers of the 2008 film. The film is basically one big love letter to the series, with Edward Norton himself, who had never read a single comic book agreed to do the film just because he was such a big fan of the show. The film even had a fun cameo by the Hulk himself: Lou Ferrigno. This film is a perfect example of how an adaptation should pay respect and homage to the original. Bonus points for cleverly getting the lonely man theme from the series in there too.
2. Edward Norton.
Look, I know there are a bunch of people who adore Mark Ruffalo and his portrayal as Banner\Hulk. But as good a job as he’s done, if you ask me Edward Norton just embodied the spirit of Bruce Banner. For me personally Bill Bixby will always be the number 1 Banner, but Norton’s well done portrayal made him a worthy successor to Bix. While Ruffalo’s Banner is a bit more of the socially awkward nerdy scientist, Norton’s approach was similar to Bixby’s: A cool, reserved and resourceful man who also happened to be a hyper intelligent scientist. Once again, the supporting cast does not disappoint with such amazing talent as Liv Tyler, Ty Burrell and especially incredible performances by both Tim Roth and the late great William Hurt.
3. The Incredible Hulk is… Incredible.
I know the Hulk’s rep has taken a bit of a hit these days, thanks to some poor decisions made by some producers\writers, but The Hulk is incredible for a reason, and the 2008 film shows him in all his Hulky glory. The Hulk certainly smashed alright, going toe to toe with the military and Abomination and although not entirely coming out of both encounters without a few scrapes, no doubt that at the end of the day the Hulk reigned supreme. Let’s be honest, this Hulk would’ve kicked Thanos’ ass.
4. Perfect blend of humor and drama\action.
Just like Iron Man, this film had a perfect balance of appropriate humor and intense drama and action. The humorous references to “You won’t like me when I’m angry” and Bill Bixby’s previous tv show The Courtship of Eddie’s Father were especially nice touches. The drama was far darker and complex than most MCU films go for as well, and let’s not get started on the epic and memorable action sequences.
5. Best adaptation of the Hulk\Banner story on the big screen.
The tragedy of the Banner\Hulk connection has always been compelling and I feel that the film expertly told that story with respect to the comic books and the tv series. The struggle Banner faces with the big green giant has always been an homage to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and that duality hasn’t been as well explored since the 2008 film.
In closing, these two films had been vastly overlooked in terms of the ground they broke and path they each made for the MCU since, but the past few years has seemed to have been kind to both films with a much bigger appreciation by many fans who finally realized how special these two films were. In my opinion they each rank as high caliber stand alone comic book film adaptations as Superman: The Movie, Hellboy 1 and 2, The Dark Knight, Sam Raimi’s Spiderman and Spiderman 2 and Blade, and they hold up today as well as any of those. But that’s up to you to decide. I hope that if you haven’t seen either film in a long time or even at all, that I have inspired you to dust off the DVDs or search for them on whatever streaming site is holding them, and see if you’re just as enamored by them as I am. See you next time, folks.