It ain’t easy being green in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with it being no secret that Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk is the black sheep of the Avengers family. Premiering in 2008 as the second MCU outing, it’s the only Phase One movie not to get a sequel.
We’ve come a long way from the early days of the Green Meanie, most notably as The Incredible Hulk was Edward Norton’s only time in the role before Mark Ruffalo took over for The Avengers. As things come full circle and we revisit some of these forgotten arcs, Leterrier has revealed his grand plans for a scrapped sequel.
Introducing Multiple Hulks
In a candid interview with ComicBook.com, Leterrier has offered some insight into what he had planned, teasing an expanded family of Hulks long before Tatiana Maslany’s Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk was on the scene. Confirming who would’ve been part of the sequel, Leterrier said, “There was like Grey Hulk, Red Hulks – there was a lot of good stuff that we were planning.”
For those who don’t know, Stan Lee had originally wanted Hulk to be grey, but due to an inking problem, we got the now-iconic green look. Grey Hulk was later explained as the ‘original’ version of Hulk, where repeated exposure to Gamma radiation turned him green. Grey Hulk had the intelligence of Banner and some of the common Savage Hulk’s strength, even adopting the alias of “Joe Fixit” – a morally ‘grey’ Las Vegas enforcer.
Red Hulk, sometimes known as Rulk or the IncREDible Hulk, was introduced in 2008’s in Hulk Vol. 2 #1. It was later revealed that Hulk is a Gamma-radiated Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, who was portrayed by William Hurt in The Incredible Hulk and will soon be played by Harrison Ford in Captain America: Brave New World following Hurt’s passing. Leterrier doesn’t reveal what roles Grey and Red Hulk would’ve had, but it’s safe to assume the latter would’ve been an antagonist.
By the sounds of it, Leterrier’s plan for Grey Hulk was to keep a serious tone instead of the taco-gobbling Smart Hulk we met in Avengers: Endgame. The Incredible Hulk kept it light in terms of Hulk lore, but Leterrier added, “Hulk is a complex character within the Marvel Universe. You want the primeval Hulk… the rage Hulk. And then when you go Grey Hulk and Smart Hulk you lose that a little bit and you get a little bit more kiddish with it.”
Leterrier concluded by saying that the current iteration of Hulk is a million miles away from where he saw the Emerald Giant going: “But that was the fun of where I was in my movie, with the access to consciousness and all that stuff. That was really fun. And that’s what I was aiming to do. But take my time with it. Because there’s so many characters they want it all fast [laughs]. I like She-Hulk, but then you know, yoga between Hulk and… I was like ‘Okay! yeah, we’re very far from my Hulk.'”
What Happened to the Sequel?
As far back as 2008, Norton told Total Film a lot was left out of The Incredible Hulk because it was supposed to be the “first chapter” of a multi-movie story. Instead, there were middling reviews, a disappointing box office, and Norton stepping away from the role because he didn’t want to be typecast. Ruffalo had been Leterrier’s first choice before casting Norton, and with Bruce Banner back for The Avengers, the rest was (quite literally) history.
Despite the recast being one of the MCU’s forgotten dramas, She-Hulk poked fun at it. Ruffalo’s Banner referred to the fight between Abomination (Tim Roth) and Norton’s Hulk, joking, “I’m a completely different person now – literally.” Since She-Hulk, there’s been plenty of talk about adapting the “Planet Hulk” or “World War Hulk” comic arcs, which both had been mentioned as early as 2012 as possible Hulk standalones by MCU overlord Kevin Feige. Ultimately, Universal owning the rights to Hulk had left him resigned to the background of ensembles and the likes of Thor: Ragnarok.
Leterrier left the ending of The Incredible Hulk deliberately ambiguous to tease a sequel or leave things there. Notably, there was a stinger of Tim Blake Nelson’s Samuel Sterns becoming the villainous Leader. Roth also told IGN how the original plan was to sink Abomination to the bottom of the ocean in a steel box. Leterrier explained to MTV how the final shot was there to cue Hulk’s future, saying audiences could decide whether he’d be a villain for the Avengers to tackle. Things didn’t turn out that way, with the character quickly being recruited to take on Loki. While Hulk was always destined to be an integral part of the Avengers, it would’ve been interesting to see him dabble in villainy for a bit longer.
Big bad Hulk has been shown the door, but what about the rest of Leterrier’s ideas? Even as the pieces come together, Grey Hulk seems an unlikely addition to the MCU thanks to Smart Hulk. Then again, Red Hulk is poised to appear in the franchise’s imminent future. Ford has played dumb in interviews, even asking, “What is the Red Hulk,” although set photos of him in ripped pants suggest he’s playing coy to save the surprise of Ross’ big transformation.
Despite its forgotten legacy, The Incredible Hulk is more relevant than ever. Alongside the return of a recast Ross, Nelson is coming back as Sterns and Liv Tyler gets a long-awaited chance to play Betty Ross again in Captain America: Brave New World. We can’t see Norton coming back for more, but with the Multiverse only just giving a peek at its potential and Avengers: Secret Wars on the way, never say never.