The Incredible Hulk ending explained: The MCU is born

The Incredible Hulk may be one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first movies, but two of its ending scenes are still relevant today.
The Incredible Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.. Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel 2015
The Incredible Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.. Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel 2015 /

Way back before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the titan that it is today, The Incredible Hulk was just a second 2000s attempt to reboot the title character's live-action legacy. Released in 2008, it starred Edward Norton as the mean, green, future Avenger in a story that showed audiences how Bruce Banner struggled to manage his rage, and the repercussions of that.

The Incredible Hulk was met with mixed reviews. Some people love the movie for Edward Norton;s performance; he represented Bruce Banner well, especially coming off Eric Bana’s Hulk. However, some people disagreed with his portrayal; he may have been too cool and secure in himself. Bruce's insecurities are well-known in the comic book community.

Either way, the movie’s influence can’t be ignored. The success of The Incredible Hulk helped continue the momentum of the MCU. If this movie flopped, Iron Man would have seemed like a fluke. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Another thing that is attributed to the MCU thriving is the ending of The Incredible Hulk. Two crucial moments at the end of the movie both lead into The Avengers and beyond. First was Bruce Banner accepting his Hulk side. The other was Tony Stark’s conversation with Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross. I’m going to break down both and explain why they’re important.

The Incredible Hulk's post-credits scene sets up The Avengers

After failing to take out the Hulk, helping cause millions of dollars of damage to Harlem, and likely being taken off the Hulk and Super Soldier project, Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross was distraught. That’s why he is seen drowning his sorrows in a dark-lit bar that smells like stale beer. In walks Tony Stark with a smart remark and a proposal. Stark tells Ross that he’s putting a team together. When Ross asks more questions, Tony gives his classic sarcastic smile.

The assumption is that Tony is talking about the Avengers Initiative. However, William Hurt doesn't reprise his role as General Ross in the 2012 film The Avengers. Why? Well, it turns out that there is more to this story. Something happened before Tony Stark walked into that bar.

After the Hulk and Abomination fight, Agent Phil Coulson and Jasper Sitwell meet in a diner to discuss The Avengers (see: One Shot: The Consultant). They discovered that the Council wanted Emil Blonsky on the Avengers (and exonerated, too). Coulson and Sitwell knew that couldn't happen. That’s why they sent Tony Stark into that bar. They needed someone arrogant and annoying so Ross would rethink putting Blonsky on The Avengers. Thankfully, their plan worked, and the villain did not end up on the team of superheroes. There's no way the Abomination should've been allowed on The Avengers.

I recommend watching One Shot: The Consultant on Disney Plus. Maximiliano Hernández (Agent Sitwell) and Clark Gregg (Coulson) are great and it explains why Ross wasn’t seen in The Avengers.

Embracing the green

The actual ending scene of The Incredible Hulk is one that people remember. One of the focuses during the 2008 movie was Bruce Banner controlling his heart rate. When it went over a certain point, he would end up Hulking out. At the end of the movie, however, Bruce is meditating. At first, it seems like he’s trying to keep the Hulk back. But that's not the case at all. What he’s doing is unprecedented; Bruce is controlling when the Hulk would be released. 

This is one of the most significant moments for him as a character. In The Avengers, Bruce tells everyone that he’s always angry. It’s a classic line but there’s more to it than the comedy and excitement of the big Avengers team-up moment. Bruce acknowledged that he still has to control the rage inside him, but also demonstrates some control. This would come into play throughout the MCU. It came to a head during Avengers: Endgame when Bruce and the Hulk became one.

While history often forgets about The Incredible Hulk (particularly because Edward Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo for all subsequent MCU movies), it does provide some much-needed context to the Hulk character, explaining how Banner learns to control his greener alter-ego. It also gives us an in-depth look at the General Ross character, who has become an important recurring character within the franchise.

With Captain America: Brave New World now revisiting a number of plotlines that the film explored, The Incredible Hulk may be about to become more relevant than ever. So now may be a good time to revisit it!

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