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Thursday Treasures

June 27, 2013

Hulk in Film

By Kelvin Cedeno

Hulk in Film 

In honor of Who's Who Wednesday writer Erik Anderson, this week's Thursday Treasures will focus on Erik's favorite Marvel superhero: the Hulk. In the Marvel universe, few characters have had as many incarnations as this behemoth. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1962, the raging green beast (originally gray in his debut) has been portrayed on television, in animation, and on the big screen. We'll be taking a look at his journey in the latter part which consists of Hulk (2003), The Incredible Hulk (2008), and The Avengers (2012).

Hulk (2003)

Hulk

After the success of X-Men (2000) and especially Spider-Man (2002), the superhero genre was deemed officially alive again. Marvel started going through its vast array of characters in search of potential film franchises. At the time, the Hulk was the most recognizable Marvel character after Spider-Man and Wolverine, so it was only natural that he would be selected. Not so natural was the choice to hire director Ang Lee, known more for pensive dramas than anything else. As such, of the three different cinematic Hulks, his is the most contemplative version, delving into the psychology of Bruce Banner's newfound dual nature. In accordance with this, actor Eric Bana plays the character as very reserved, someone who doesn't emote very much whether it be positively or negatively. He's a blank slate, and the Hulk he turns into resents him for it. Thus, this film probably bests highlights the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde aspect of the character.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The Incredible Hulk

Ang Lee's Hulk did decently in terms of box office receipts, but due to both the nature of its budget and Marvel's expectations, it was considered a disappointment. By 2008, Marvel began producing its own films starting with Iron Man. The Incredible Hulk, directed by Louis Leterrier, was the second in a proposed Marvel Cinematic Universe, a franchise of films all meant to co-exist in the same world and cross reference each other just like the comics. Concerned over criticisms that the 2003 picture was too slow and meditative, they took a proposed screenplay meant to be a direct sequel to that film and reformed it into a reboot. This new Hulk was essentially a chase film akin to the Jason Bourne series. Bruce, as played by Edward Norton who also did uncredited work on the revised screenplay, is someone constantly on the run from the government. The Hulk isn't a manifestation of something deeply rooted inside of him all along like in Lee's. It's some foreign monster Bruce has no emotional or psychological connection to, a disease he's desperate to be cured of.

The Avengers (2012)

Avengers Hulk

The finale to Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Joss Whedon's The Avengers brings together all of the heroes whose origin stories we've experienced, including the Hulk's. Unfortunately, Edward Norton and Marvel did not see eye to eye on the final cut of The Incredible Hulk and parted ways, resulting in a recast. His replacement, Mark Ruffalo, offers a different angle to Bruce Banner from how Eric Bana and Edward Norton approached it. Bana was quietly aloof, bewildered at the creature he had become. Norton was distressed, determined to do anything he could to rid himself of this unrecognizable symptom. Ruffalo's interpretation is meant to be in the same continuity as Norton's, but here, he plays Bruce as weary, someone who reluctantly accepts his fate and does his best to live with the day-to-day burden. Unlike the other two films, there's no Betty Ross here to calm him down and tap into the man inside the beast. Bruce is instead forced to access it himself with a bit of support from, surprisingly, Tony Stark. In the end, the line between Bruce and the Hulk becomes more blurred as he gains control of 'the other guy' and manages to help save the day in the process.

With three different interpretations of the same character, it's apparent that there's no real definitive way to portray the Hulk. He can be a psychological character study, a deeply conflicted and misunderstood creature, or a rousing crowd-pleaser of a supporting player. No matter what approach films, television shows, and comics take, one thing is for sure: it's not easy being green.

 

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