The Marvel Cinematic Universe began 13 years ago with Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, but 2008 also saw the release of Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk. The star famously didn’t reprise Bruce Banner in 2012’s The Avengers, with Mark Ruffalo replacing him as the far from jolly green giant. The Incredible Hulk often polls bottom in rankings of MCU movies with Kevin Feige admitting in 2016 during a Captain America: Civil War screening Q&A: “Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk portrayal set a lot of things right in a way that made us all very happy.”
Of course, Downey Jr’s Tony Stark featured in The Incredible Hulk end credits scene with William Hurt’s Thaddeus Ross, who went on to feature in Captain America Civil War, Avengers Infinity War, Avengers Endgame and Black Widow later this year.
So it’s not like the awkward second MCU movie isn’t canon, but there is a way of redeeming it and explaining the recasting.
Next year, Benedict Cumberbatch stars in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which is rumoured to feature past Fox and Sony superheroes entering the MCU.
Making The Incredible Hulk a movie set in another reality would work really well if Norton could be persuaded to reprise his Bruce Banner.
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And with some fans thinking that Avengers 5 will follow the Secret Wars comic book storyline, featuring alternate versions of superheroes existing in the same space, just imagine both Incredible Hulks teaming up.
Perhaps even taking on Tim Roth’s Abomination, who, interestingly enough, is reprising his The Incredible Hulk villain in Disney+ show She-Hulk alongside Ruffalo’s Smart Hulk.
Not only that, but Doc Leonard Samson from the Norton flick appears to have been referenced in the upcoming The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
The leaked snap sees a safety warning sign by a company in the MCU called Samson Development, which could be referencing Ty Burrell’s character.
Given that Marvel Phase 4 is set to explore the MCU multiverse and Disney own the Fox characters, it feels like some much-loved superheroes will be entering the MCU for the first time.
But not just Fox, since Untitled Spider-Man 3 is heavily rumoured to feature past Sony Peter Parkers played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, along with a whole host of previous villains.
Maguire Spider-Man trilogy director Sam Raimi is helming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, so our best bet is that those Sony characters will only cameo in Tom Holland’s solo threequel before appearing in his movie some three months later.
Most recently, Chris Evans is rumoured to be reprising his Human Torch from the Fox Fantastic Four movies for Doctor Strange 2.
So taking all this into account, if Norton can be persuaded to return, we imagine it’ll happen if that is Feige’s intention. The original MCU Bruce Banner hasn’t been particularly positive when it comes to his Incredible Hulk movie in recent years, admitting he wanted a better script that was more like a Christopher Nolan Batman movie.
Nevertheless, he told Total Film in 2019: “I grew up on the Hulk, I loved it. And actually, people really liked the movie. You know, kids love the movie. It’s another one of those things: the amount of noise that people whip up around it. It’s so silly. I couldn’t be more happy to have been part of that whole tradition.”
So maybe a return in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness would be a way of redeeming his take on the character?
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is released in cinemas on March 25, 2022.