One of the most anticipated films of 2012, The Avengers brings together a gaggle of super-heroes introduced (or re-introduced in some cases) to audiences over the last three years in their own movies. There is a lot to keep track of, so we are continuing our “boot camp” with The Incredible Hulk.
The characters of Bruce Banner and the Hulk most familiar to audiences today have striking differences from the characters that first appeared in May of 1962. Not only was the original Banner a bit more of a jerk, but the Hulk was grey instead of green, capable of a fair amount of discourse and cognitive abilities and the change from Banner to Hulk came at sunset rather than due to emotional extremes.
Other elements of the original Hulk’s origin story will likely sound familiar, however. An extremely intelligent physicist, Banner is working with the US Military under the observation of General “Thunderbolt” Ross and along side the General’s daughter, Betty. His mission is to create a Gamma-bomb. When the time comes to test the bomb, an innocent teenage boy comes on the scene (security was apparently very light when it came to testing new weapons technology) and Banner heroically saves the boy while exposing himself to high levels of Gamma radiation.
The consequences are the creature creator Stan Lee, who worked with Jack Kirby to bring The Incredible Hulk to life, calls “Frankenstein meets Jekyll and Hyde.” After his brief stint as the grey creature, coming out only at night, The Hulk becomes the familiar “green rage machine” we all know and love.
Throughout the years there have been many, many variations to not only the Bruce Banner origin story, one of which includes the fateful experiment involving his attempts to create a super-soldier serum rather than a gamma bomb, but also the personalities of both Banner and the Hulk, Banner’s childhood, and the relationship of the Hulk and Banner to each other.
In a popular plot-line, a back-story is given to Banner in which his father is terribly abusive, his mother extremely loving. His father, also a physicist, worries that Bruce’s exposure to radiation in the womb (via his mother being so close his own experiments) might have caused mutations, something that is backed up by Bruce’s extraordinary intelligence. In some versions of the tale, this leads to a predisposition toward dissociative identity disorder (DID, formerly known as “multiple personalities”).
Hence, The Hulk and Banner exist as separate personalities. Sometimes the Hulk has Banner’s memories and the ability to speak and reason, other times he is more childlike, fueled by rage – literally getting stronger the angrier he gets. There are so many incarnations of the Hulk – (Red Hulk, Grey Hulk, Savage Hulk, Merged Hulk, The Professor) that any attempt on my part to detail them all would likely lead to no good. Two old friends and nerds extraordinaire, Brad Quinn and Jeff Woods, have helped me narrow things down to a manageable level, so here are the key points that will be helpful in understanding The Hulk in The Avengers.
The Basics: Hulk’s powers and back-story in the films are most influenced by the Ultimate Universe in Marvel. In this universe, Banner’s transformation is triggered by emotional changes, primarily anger, and his mental abilities as The Hulk are childish at best. He can communicate and be communicated with, but it is limited. As the Hulk, his powers include super strength, including legs strong enough to match Thor in speed and propel him as high in space as Earth’s upper atmosphere. He also has regeneration powers and, likely, an extended lifespan.
Banner is a man haunted by the duality of his consciousness and the actions The Hulk takes. Not always on good terms with his fellow Avengers, Banner is often mistrusted, as The Hulk does in fact get bloodthirsty, and he is hard to control. He is tremendously powerful, however; arguably more so than any other member of the team.
It is the 2008, The Incredible Hulk directed by Louis Leterrier and staring Edward Nortion and Liv Tyler that serves as the prequel leading into The Avengers, not the version from 2003 staring Eric Bana.
Rather than focusing on the accident that created the Hulk, the film tells Banner’s origin story in a series of images and clips during the opening credits. General Ross and Betty are there; Banner is conducting an experiment with Gamma Radiation on himself (similar to the 1980s TV adaptation staring Bill Bixby) and Something Goes Horribly Wrong. Bam! The Hulk is created, nearly kills Betty and others in his frantic escape, and thus incurs the wrath of General Ross, who makes it his mission to hunt down Banner and the Creature.
Banner leaves, fearing for Betty’s safety as well as that of others, and attempts to find a cure for his condition. In this version of the tale, the emergence of The Hulk comes with any emotional reaction that makes Banner’s pulse get too high. His powers are similar to those listed above in the comics section, and his cognitive abilities also match the more childlike Hulk, but he is certainly a more sympathetic Hulk than some of the more monstrous portrayals in the comics.
Immediately and consistently, the one person who can get through to Banner as The Hulk is Betty. In a King-Kong-esque scene, we see Betty calm him down after a rampage, looking deep into his eyes and later commenting that she is sure that contrary to Banner’s belief, there is something of Bruce still present when he is The Hulk.
For all intents and purposes, the villains of The Incredible Hulk are General Ross (William Hurt) and his crony, Emil Blonski, played with brilliant menace, arrogance and cunning by Tim Roth. We see an interesting inclusion of a super-soldier serum, similar to the one that serves as an origins story for The Hulk himself in (one) comic universe, and the introduction of a character that will likely show up in the sequel (if one is made) as Banner’s friend-turned-nemesis, Samuel Sterns (Mr. Blue in his communications with Banner as they seek a cure for Banner’s condition together).
By the end of the film, it is firmly established that Betty is still the love of Banner’s life and yet it is still necessary for him to stay in hiding. General Ross has been thoroughly thrown for a loop by the dramatic events he has seen unfold, perhaps for the first time questioning his self-righteous certainty that Banner and The Hulk must be destroyed. It is in this state of confusion that Ross is approached by Tony Stark with an intriguing and cryptic message from S.H.I.E.L.D., one we are fairly certain involves finding Banner not to kill him, but to use him as a member of The Avengers, although that name has yet to be assigned to the as-of-yet unformed team.
The 2008 trailer:
The Incredible Hulk was certainly not a flop, but in my opinion it was both underrated and under-seen by audiences. A fan of both Ed Norton and giant, powerful, beasts fighting for good, I found it to be positively rousing. The inclusion, even for just a moment, of the haunting theme song from the 80s show reminded me that one of the things that is so compelling about Hulk’s story is that for Banner, being a super hero is not fun. Unlike Tony Stark and Captain America, there is no choice involved with his transformation from “mild mannered” man to “green rage monster,” as Stark calls him in one trailer for the film. Unlike Thor, he is far from jovial and arrogant about his powers. The combination of Banner’s internal resistance to “give into” the Hulk and the inability of The Hulk to be controlled will likely lead to some powerful tension as the team is assembled. It is Banner himself who says in one trailer, “We’re not a team. We’re a time bomb.” Surely, his own volatile nature contributes to that combustibility.
Famously (in the geek world, at least), Mark Ruffalo has replaced Ed Norton in The Avengers, after rumors that Norton was hard to work with, and counter accusations from Norton that he was dismissed for no particularly good reason. I would say I hope this doesn’t hurt the film’s chances of success, but everything points to audiences foaming at the mouth for this film, so I doubt it is a concern. I love Ed Norton, and I think he did a fantastic job in the prequel, but Mark Ruffalo has even more of the Banner look to me, perhaps because it was Bill Bixby that first introduced me to the character, and I can easily see him bringing the needed vulnerability and reticence needed.
It is worth noting that Ruffalo will also be “acting” as the Hulk, using the same CGI technology used for the creation of Golum in Lord of the Rings.
Once again, I was unable to enjoy the interactive features on my Blu-ray copy of The Incredible Hulk, as my system is not hooked up to the internet (I should really get on that, I know), here’s your complete list of what you get on the Blu-ray, available from Amazon for about 12$
- U Control – Thunderbolt Files
- U Control – Scene Explorer
- U Control – Comic Book Gallery
- U Control – Animated Comic
- U Control – Picture in Picture
- Alternate Opening
- Deleted Scenes
- The Making of Incredible
- Becoming The Hulk
- Becoming The Abomination
- Anatomy of a Hulk Out
- From Comic Book to Screen
- Feature commentary with Director Louis Leterrier and Tim Roth
- BD Live – My Chat
- BD Live – My Scenes Sharing
- BD Live – Exclusive Content
The good folks at IGN did a better job than I could explaining the extras (since they could access all of them), so please click here to be taken to their website for the details. I will say I enjoyed the extras on this disc far more than the Iron Man Blu-ray (it is worth remembering that I did not get the Ultimate Iron Man set, however). In particular, I am happy to report there is commentary for this film, from the director and Tim Roth! It is absolutely worth the money for this disc. Most, but not all of, the bonus features are also included on the DVD, so read carefully before purchasing.
That’s it for Mr. Banner and his alter-ego. Be sure to stay tuned for more Avengers Boot Camp posts, including Black Widow, Thor, Loki and, of course, Cap.
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