Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Question for the Week of April 14-20: Hulk, what Hulk?

Will there be another Hulk standalone film?
So, by now, we are well into the next phase of Marvel's film plans. The sequels to Thor and Captain America have come out, both to solid reviews and box office earnings. Similarly, Avengers 2 is scheduled to come out in Summer 2015 and earn another billion dollars.

And, in addition to all that, the plans are diversifying. The Marvel Universe is expanding cinematically to include this Summer's Guardians of the Galaxy film. An Ant-Man film directed by Edgar Wright is under way. And Marvel exec Feige is talking about plans that extend well into the next decade. It's a busy era... But, among all these ideas, there hasn't been much word about the Hulk.

The 2003 film by Ang Lee kicked off the current state of affairs, despite its decidedly mixed success. Not only was that Marvel's first effort in the millennium, but the picture is considered canon for the purposes of all the films that followed. While Mark Ruffalo was the second replacement (and best player) for the role, the events of Lee's film still count.

I never saw the 2008 sequel that starred Edward Norton. I was burnt out on the first film, and I value my time and money. Maybe if it were available for streaming on Netflix, I'd see it on a dick day or something. However, the Hulk - as a cinematic character - has clearly not been dismissed by Marvel.

So why did Captain America 3 get a release date 5 days after Cap 2 came out, yet there's still no word about a new Hulk feature?

Well, simply put, I think the studio finally realized how difficult a character he is to convey in film. I'm fine with the role being a living example of Chekhov's gun, but without knowing how his inner demon works, the audience has so many things to deal with.

How can you cheer on or truly feel for a part that doesn't know what he's doing? Is the Hulk a real threat to innocents, or are they always going to be lucky? Or does he try to avoid them? And who's gonna clean up all this mess?

Much of the critical commentary on The Avengers - whether it be Red Letter Media, or Honest Trailers, or CinemaSins - invariably call out Ruffalo's big scene near the end of that film. In each case, they all express doubt, claiming that this scene means that Dr. Banner can control his terrible rage. And this is where you see how the character isn't the best fit for his own line of films.

Why? Because intelligent, movie-savvy people still don't understand how this beast works. I'd like to think that one needs no comic book knowledge to understand how the scene has some logic, but I'm still shocked. I'm shocked two films and Whedon's work didn't clarify what should have made sense at the time.

So let's make it clear: the Hulk attacks whatever made Bruce angry enough to transform in the first place. If a guy punches Bruce Banner and he gets enraged, the Hulk will go after that guy. If the Hulk gets attacked by something else while going after the punching-guy, then he may switch targets. So that great moment in Avengers makes perfect sense because Bruce directed his anger towards that giant space fish.

The other Avengers didn't fight or anger the Hulk, so he was able to understand and follow Captain America's advice to "Smash." The creature isn't completely stupid, just burdened with a lot of emotion and the intelligence of a very small child. So once it had a definite, non-good-guy target, this "mindless beast" was ready to step up and fight the good fight.

Of course, this still raises the questions of whether the green giant knows that it is doing something good and positive, whether it's actively trying to save or help anyone, and thus deserving of being called "a hero." It is the sort of thing one should ask of any character in any story or film. Do they have agency over themselves and their actions. To my mind, the answer to each of these here is "no."

The sad truth is that in this Marvel cinematic world, only Dr. Banner gets to be the hero in his stories. He's the hero by not letting himself get angry. He's the hero by using his genius to help others. And, when his back is up against a wall, he's the hero by giving up control and letting the indestructible creature within him take on the nastiest, most powerful bad guys.

But the very fact that the Hulk can't be hero makes him a difficult case for his own set of films. Actually, it can be done, but you'd need to give plenty of time to both the man and the monster - to develop them both, and to show how each of them work, separately as well as together. In that way, the Hulk tv series can make a lot out of the part, but a few films haven't been able to do as well.

It's a damn shame, too, as I like Ruffalo more than most of the other actors who were pulled into the Avengers. Maybe some day, writers will figure out how to handle this even better than Whedon did. The Hulk calls up issues of abuse, choice, and conscience - heady issues which are largely skimmed by most superhero films, the new Marvel ones included. If (or when) those writers do, we could get some very, very interesting movies on our hands.


  1. What might be more interesting is making a She-Hulk movie-think about it, audiences are sort of hard wired to accept emotional nuances in female leads(even if they're the warrior maiden type) and from what I recall, She-Hulk is a bit more in control of her alter ego than Bruce Banner is seen to be at times(depending on which version of the character from the comics they go with). Not to mention it would be awesome to have her team up Black Widow to stomp a little bad guy ass:)

    1. Y'know what? That idea sounds perfect! Not only would it diminish the (sorry) sausage-fest that is the modern super-hero movie, it would give them a Hulk-esque character who - if I recall my comic books correctly - was always more of an intelligent juggernaut than the Hulk was usually depicted as.

      It would also give the Marvel Cinematic Universe a fresher place to start from. And, hell, they could even fold the original Hulk back into the stories!

      Very well done, Lady T! Thank you!


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