Hulk Smash... ingly good, actually

[[Edit: Hi, people from some kind of Iron Man message board. Poke around the blog to find other stuff on Avengers, Iron Man, and RDJ.]]

When we went to see The Avengers I was not expecting to be impressed by the Hulk. The green guy has not exactly had a good record on either the big or small screen. The Hulk's story is really just your basic werewolf tale, and it's far too easy to ham it up to the point of self-parody, making Banner nothing but a giant bucket of angst and the Hulk nothing but a really big blunt object. For some reason, the casting is also often terrible -- prior to the Norton version, their greatest success in the part was Lou Ferrigno.

(Ferrigno is not actually a bad actor. YouTube has a few episodes of the infamous TV series, which happens to include one where a sudden infusion of plot-related unobtanium results in Ferrigno spending about an hour playing not-the-Hulk, and delivering lines other than "Rauuuuugh!" They manage to get tears out of him at one point, which appear to be real and on-command -- you can fake those with eye drops, but I don't think I've ever seen a crew bother to fake the runny nose part as well. It's just that he was actually cast because he was goddamn bloody huge and cool with most of his costume being green airbrush paint. Ferrigno is also not an ungrateful guy; he loved doing the part and is still asked back to do the voice work for animated and CGI Hulk, including in the Avengers movie.)

A cursory check of the IMDb shows that I've never seen Mark Ruffalo in anything else, and I think I might have to fix that. He seems like a fairly bright guy, insofar as you can tell these things from an IMDb quote page -- which is to say that he speaks in full sentences and occasionally uses the word 'fuck' as an intensifier. Also a little bit pointy around the outside edges, especially when he talks about the entertainment industry. Evidently when contract negotiations fell through, Ed Norton recommended Ruffalo as his replacement, and I have to say I'm glad he did.

Dollars to donuts he got along horrifyingly well with RDJ. No actual evidence for this, other than the same detector that goes off whenever I see Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard on screen together, or Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. Possibly Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander, although I haven't seen enough of Rizzoli & Isles to be sure of that one.


[Spoilers from here. You have been warned.]



I pretty much went in just hoping that whoever played Bruce Banner would not fuck up the rest of the movie for me, but much to my surprise, Ruffalo's Banner is actually interesting -- interesting, and not entirely transparent. Most interpretations of Banner are of a man overwhelmed by sadness and rage, who occasionally busts out some of that patented nonsensical Marvel Science before going back into woe-is-me mode. This Banner is all-round smart. He's all right with other people kowtowing to him as a scientist, and has made enough peace with his life to let them see the regret, but he only lets flashes of the general people-intelligence out. Even after he purposely feints at the Black Widow when she goes to collect him from India, just to see how scared she really is, almost nobody seems to notice that he is as wary of them as they are of him. And that Banner is frankly a lot better with observation than they are.

The one exception is Tony Stark. I find this hilarious, particularly as it actually seems to make Banner like him. Very few people like Stark, especially if they're stuck in a room with him for more than ten minutes, or fewer than three drinks. It probably helped that while the entire rest of the Helibase was like OH SHIT THAT'S THE BIG GUY, DON'T LOOK AT HIM FUNNY, Stark's first reaction was YAY SMART GUY, LET'S GO TALK PHYSICS. Nobody else questions this, because Stark is a walking impulse control problem and they are already positive he's somehow going to be the death of them all, but Banner decides to take it at face value. Which, frankly, I think is the right way to take it -- not to put too fine a point on it, but even Stark would find it hard to lie about something he hadn't bothered thinking through.

Turns out that Stark being genuinely friendly is even more nerve-wracking for everybody than Banner being in existence. Mostly because he's aiming it at Banner. He's very directly Starkish when he's in the lab alone with Banner (he goes into 'so, this Hulk thing, ever consider how cool it actually is?' without prompting, when everyone else, including Banner, has been pointedly not mentioning He Who Must Not Be Named), and doesn't act any less like himself when other people are around.

The contrast is made quite explicit when Captain America comes in to talk to the two of them. The second Banner has his attention occupied by something else, Stark decides to casually jab him in the side with some kind of buzzer thing, just to see what would happen. This is Tony Stark, so his actual thought process was probably almost literally
  1. Poke Dr. Jekyll Banner with zappy pen
  2. ??????
  3. Profit!
Cap immediately blows a gasket. Banner just looks at him like 'wow, you are so twelve years old' and then ignores it. He's not annoyed, and he really shouldn't be, because getting casually jabbed with a buzzer thing is probably the biggest act of faith anyone has shown him since he got there. Stark is a reckless idiot, but Stark is also an engineer. If he knew what the end result of the experiment would be, he wouldn't bother to run it, because predictability is boring. The very fact that it occurred to Stark to surprise-annoy him in the first place means that Stark is not 100% sure he will Hulk out at the slightest provocation -- and Stark is pretty much the only one.

Quite unexpected, character-wise, in a movie that otherwise revels in its four-color clichés. I also liked that it was Stark's utterly self-centered philosophy of personal achievement that gave Banner the push he needed to accept that the Hulk was part of him. I figured Iron Man would get his moment of redemption-through-teamwork, but I expected someone to talk Banner around with the traditional 'planet in danger, problem bigger than you, you have a duty to confront something you fear in order to fix it'. The fact that it was actually someone smacking into him the need to be more selfish sometimes was a nice twist, and kept things from getting altogether too saccharine.

Comments

  1. Finally saw the movie, and your description of the Tony/Bruce (not /, but /) interaction was spot on. Nicely evaluated.

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    1. One of my favorite character moments -- in a movie bursting with them -- is when Stark jabs him with the pen, Banner glances down at it. You see a very brief flash of grin before the camera cuts back to Stark staring at him, basically going 'Hulk now? No? Now?'. It's an instant communication: Stark is making fun of everyone else on the damn carrier for tiptoeing around, and Banner has just gotten the joke.

      Cap, of course, does not. Because he is far too busy doing exactly the thing that Stark is mocking.

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  2. I did try to get you to watch Brothers Bloom..

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    1. Possibly you did! I have no idea who you are, and I don't remember this, but I have a lot of recs socked away that I am ticking my way through as I have time. I believe I'm only about fifteen years behind right now.

      I've gone back and prodded the interwebs for other stuff Ruffalo's done -- watching clips, I think I did see Eternal Sunshine at some point, but I wouldn't have recognized him from it. I would not have recognized him from pretty much anything else, in fact, and nothing I've seen would have inspired me to call him for Bruce Banner. But watching him speak as himself, I know exactly why someone piped up with, "You know, turn the volume down by like half, and I think we could have a winner here..."

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    2. You should watch Brick first, though, of course.

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    3. Not much to do in Western Mass today, is there? :)

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    4. That early in the morning? Other than watching Brick and eating breakfast? Not s'much.

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    5. Do I get an internet-cookie for winning the Sherlock game by figuring out who you were before I ran out of clues or gave up and cross-checked your IP address?

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