Bruce Banner and his alter-ego, the Hulk, are very well known in the general public. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1962, he represented the powerless and those who fought back against those wielding power. The late 70s saw the TV series The Incredible Hulk come to fruition and took another three decades before the superhero would appear on the big screen, inhabited by three different actors: Eric Bana in Hulk, Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk and Mark Ruffalo in the upcoming film The Avengers. Who’s to say which film was best when this CGI monster has struggled to find a proper adaptation in the last decade.
Before getting into the specific portrayals, here’s a basic history of the green behemoth:
Bruce Banner became the Hulk through mutation, due to his experiments with gamma bombs for the U.S. military. The G-bomb was intended to function as a reverse neutron bomb, making war bloodless by annihilating inorganic matter (like guns and tanks) and leaving behind living tissue unharmed (man). Getting caught infront of the gama rays, Bruce would transform into the muscled and gray Hulk. Wanting a cure, Bruce altered his mutation and got his trademark green-colored skin. The military would then hunt the Hulk, because he was perceived as a threat and Bruce Banner would transform into the monster due to a surge of adrenaline (in part by rage, fear and/or pain). There’s been many iterations that included childhood traumas, psychological maladies (Dissociative Identity Disorder) that would define the nature of Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk.
Ang Lee directed the first adaptation of the Hulk (2003) which didn’t do so well in theaters or on DVD and neither with fans (partly due to the X-Men franchise doing so well at the time). Eric Bana’s Hulk was much more of a “monster” than a hero. Similar to the comics, Hulk would increase in strength and size the angrier he became. The “look” of the Hulk was overly muscled, sleek and green hued to the point that it looked too cartoonish (especially with those purple shorts). Playing to the kitsch of the comics and the TV series, the film was chock-full of clichÃ©s and it’s a surprise Bana gets through them without laughing, but he also looked the part by juggling all those elements with a sense of humor (albeit, unintentionally).
Then in 2008, Marvel Studios (after buying back the film rights) produced The Incredible Hulk. Directed by Louis Leterrier and starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, this version of the story would be a reboot of the superhero and would continue into The Avengers four years later. Norton’s portrayal was a little too serious for my taste, but dealt with the reality of becoming the Hulk by hiding away in South America and learning meditative ways to control his alter-ego. See what I mean? It all just reeks of absurdity (Norton had co-written the script to his liking) and although the film keeps continuity and nods to the comics more often, this version of the Hulk was less muscled and smooth, but leaner and more ragged. Instead of focusing on the origins of becoming the Hulk, the film dealt with that in flashback’s as to focus on the threat of the film: Blonsky, who’d later become Abomination. Becoming much more dangerous and cognizant in not killing humans during his altered state, there was an attempt with motion capture to enhance the more “human” emotions of the Hulk.
Little is yet known of Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk as we haven’t seen The Avengers yet, but what we do know is that this version of Bruce Banner/Hulk will be the same in Joss Whedon’s Avengers as the one in Leterrier’s reboot film. With continuity intact, Ruffalo has taken the reins and could prove the most relatable Bruce/Hulk version yet. Thanks to both Rufallo and Whedon discussing this latest iteration of the superhero as being “less self-involved, more flesh and blood, an extension of Bruce Banner and not a “CGI thing” roaring and leaping in the air”, but a Hulk that’s dangerous and could infact hurt someone. Whedon would go on to say that Ruffalo’s portrayal would be “graceful and awkward, meek and confident, funny and sad”. Essentially making him a walking contradiction reflecting the Bruce/Hulk dynamic and added humor to the character, Ruffalo spoke extensively with Whedon on how to portray the character:
“We kind of felt like, we wanted to just go to the next generation, just take what they’ve done before and keep moving through with it. We came to the Hulk where we left Banner, almost meditating to see if he could start to control when those eyes turn green so you’re like, ‘Oh, maybe he’s going to have some mastery over it.’ We took the last Hulk where he’s meditating and can almost do it and we just made him more mature,” he explained. “You come to a point in your life where you’re like, ‘Okay, this is who I am, this is the best me I’ll be and these are my shortcomings and these are my strengths. I’m gonna turn and face my life and accept it and stop trying to run from it and that’s what we thought Banner had, a world weary wry sense of humor about his situation.”
Based on what I’ve read and seen in the latest trailers, I wouldn’t mind seeing a new Hulk film with Mark Ruffalo in the lead. It seems that the character is now focused, “real” and much more dangerous than the cartoonish version with Eric Bana or the self-involved nature of Edward Norton’s performance. Each of the previous incarnations displayed elements of the Hulk-mythology and tone, fighting different villains each time (General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross, Blonsky/Abomination and now Loki/Alien force) it would demonstrate the versatility of the character. Although, there’s the common thread with the Hulk, in that he’ll always be a danger to humans and himself.