Avengers Week - Hulk: Always Angry
Welcome to Avengers Week here at Mirror Box! Each day, we’ll feature a piece from our incredible writers that highlights each original member of the iconic team and discuss the cultural impact and relevance these characters have on the big screen! In our next piece, Colby McHugh explores the cinematic career of a certain gamma irradiated individual who could probably benefit from some therapy. Of course, I’m referring to the Incredible Hulk!
“You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
That famous line has been quoted for almost forty years now, originating in the Bill Bixby led television show that began back in the 70’s, and has since (hopefully) been taken over by the cleverly written line from the original Avengers (2012), in which Bruce Banner quips to Captain America, “That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.”
There aren’t many superhero led productions that have been both successful in the early years of the comics AND still in the modern day.
The Hulk is one of the few. Yes, yes, I know he hasn’t had a solo movie since 2008 and probably won’t anytime soon, but he’s still an integral reason that the films he does appear in are so successful.
Bruce Banner has had one of the stranger cinematic histories of the Superhero Age of movies. His first appearance in film was Ang Lee’s Hulk, which I’m shocked to say came out all the way back in 2003. I was very much a child back then, so it’s crazy to think that the Hulk has more or less been in the consciousness for nearly twenty years, and most of my life.
Back then, the only other superhero movies with any critical acclaim were Spider-Man and the X-Men franchise. Daredevil, an unfortunate Ben Affleck led film, also came out in 2003, but the less said about that, the better. (I definitely also saw this one in theaters and liked it, but don’t hold it against me. I was naïve.)
Lee’s Hulk was not very well received and frankly, has not aged very well. Ang Lee deserves some credit though. His Hulk was more introspective and not quite as destructive or violent as he’d previously been portrayed in the comics, and audiences just didn’t get it. The story itself is a bit too convoluted and don’t even get me started about the weird, comic book-y editing. Either way, not the best cinematic debut for our big green friend, despite some solid casting in Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly as Banner and Betsy Ross.
The next effort, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, directed by Louis Leterrier, was a shift from Lee’s film in many ways. Bana and Connelly were recast, with Edward Norton and Liv Tyler stepping in. Leterrier, who previously directed the first two Transporter films, certainly had more of an eye for action than Lee had, so the CGI was much more expansive than the last film. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen this one, but I definitely remember enjoying it much more than the first. Plus, who doesn’t love Tim Roth chewing up scenery as the villain? It still wasn’t a huge success with critics though, and I think this was around the time Marvel realized the Hulk wasn’t really built for solo movies.
Thus, his next appearance in the aforementioned Avengers film was a breath of fresh air. Recast yet again, this time with personal man crush Mark Ruffalo. Needless to say, I was pumped. With Joss Whedon taking the reins of the still fresh Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was so refreshing to see both Banner and Hulk play important roles. With all the quippy, clever writing that Whedon was known for, he was able to create scenes and conversations that thrived off of the characters being themselves and interacting with one another. This was the first right step Marvel had made with the Hulk cinematically, and it’s easy to see why they’ve let Ruffalo keep the role. He’s just great.
And with that right step, the MCU almost immediately took a step back with Avengers: Age of Ultron, which tried to cram far too much into a single movie, including a poorly thought out romantic relationship with the Black Widow. It’s not a bad movie, by any means, just not quite up to the level of the films leading up to it. Plus, from everything I’ve read, there was a fair amount of studio meddling that all added up to make Joss Whedon leave the franchise, and eventually help DC finish Justice League.
The Hulk would be entirely left out of Captain America: Civil War for reasons that would be explained in his next appearance of Thor: Ragnarok. This Taika Waititi led sci-fi comedy really opened both Banner and Hulk up to an entirely new style of film that they both were very much able to thrive in. Getting to see the Hulk himself interacting and speaking with Thor throughout the film was such a refreshing change of pace. They gave the Hulk a personality! And with that, it added tons of depth to the internal conflict that he has with Banner; a conflict that would be explored further in 2018’s Infinity War.
Within the first five minutes of that film, the Hulk is beaten SO badly by Thanos that he essentially refuses to make an appearance throughout the rest of the three-hour long movie. That bold choice would allow Banner to be the hero and make his mark on a film that is chock full of superheroes that are interesting in their own right. And of course, being one of the original Avengers, he survives that fateful “Snap” at the finale.
Which leads us into our most recent, and potentially my favorite, Hulk appearance. Endgame deserves credit for MANY unexpected choices (the five-year time jump, FAT Thor, etc), but giving us Professor Hulk was such an inspired decision. As an avid comic book reader, the idea of having a smart Hulk/Banner hybrid is not that crazy to me, but I NEVER expected to see that kind of fan service on screen. And to make things even better, it totally worked, at least in my humble opinion.
Almost every interaction and conversation he has in Endgame made me smile, particularly when he offers Paul Rudd a taco after he loses his own. Talk about a wholesome moment.
With all the characters from Endgame, we don’t really know where this next phase of the MCU will take us, but after seeing Professor Hulk on the big screen, who knows what’s possible!
Are we going to get an Amadeus Cho as the Totally Awesome Hulk? I certainly wouldn’t be opposed. What about Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross as Red Hulk? Ridiculous, but maybe not too far fetched. My hope is that eventually, they’ll introduce She-Hulk, because who doesn’t wanna see a green skinned, super strong lawyer that could kick your ass? I know I do.
I’m pretty excited for the future of the MCU, regardless of what they decide.