Sunday, April 06, 2014

#718. I owe an apology to the Geek Twins

So, I owe an apology to the Geek Twins.  The Twins are also known as Nigel and Maurice Mitchell (I have no idea if they have particular preferences as to which one's name is listed first when they aren't referred to merely as the Twins; this could be like Lennon & McCartney, Simon & Garfunkel, Batman & Robin, and now I owe them another apology).

Back on St. Patrick's Day, they talked about an appropriately green-themed topic, the Incredible Hulk, some of the things a new movie might do should Marvel ever get around to it.  You can read it here.  In the comments section, you can read what I said and why I'm apologizing now, because I've reconsidered.  I think it probably would be pretty cool to feature the likes of Rick Jones, Doc Sampson, and The Leader in a new Hulk movie.

Now, it's also necessary to talk about the other Hulk movies to date.  There have, of course, been two solo adventures as well as his memorable theft of The Avengers itself.  Seriously, isn't that one more appropriately known as Hulk & the Avengers (rather than, say, The Avengers & Hulk)?

I'm actually a pretty big fan of the 2003 Ang Lee effort Hulk.  This was one of the original Marvel universe movies.  Only Blade, X-Men, Blade II, Spider-Man, X2: X-Men United, and Daredevil precede it (effectively predating Hulk to the whole Fantastic Four and Avengers franchises).  While that list certainly makes Hulk seem like a regular Johnny Come Lately, the fact that Lee directed it puts the movie in a different tradition than it's generally considered.  Without Lee it's possible we would never have had Christopher Nolan do Batman.  Famously, a different actor has portrayed Bruce Banner in each of his cinematic appearances to date.  The first was Eric Bana, a hugely talented, unorthodox actor who is known for a subdued presence, which is about as opposite as you can have for the jade giant known as the Hulk.  Besides Bana there's also Jennifer Connelly (always an asset) as Betty Ross and Nick Nolte as Banner's father David, who does end up becoming a typically overblown villain.  But what I love about the movie is that it also tries to be Shakespearean with the Banner family, which is probably also why fans ended up scratching their heads over the effort.  Shakespearean?  In a Hulk movie?  It's actually the Hulk moments I don't particularly care for, the big dumb idiot bouncing around, battling Hulk dogs, tanks, etc.  Everything the movie is otherwise is lost in those moments, as far as I'm concerned exposing the true weakness of the character by demonstrating he can be reduced to something so ridiculously simple, not even a monster to be rooted for.  Just the man who doesn't want to become it.  And with good reason, all the way around!

Right after the release of Iron Man, the start of the Avengers cycle, the second release was The Incredible Hulk in 2008, starring Edward Norton, another long-time favorite actor, known for his cerebral approach.  The fact that the movie didn't really know what to do with Norton pretty much explains everything that's wrong with it, as well as the fact that it was equally at a loss with Jeff Bridges, a year away from winning Best Actor at the Oscars for Crazy Heart.  The story certainly does a number of things right, the classic Hulk story of being on the run (which was the whole Fugitive approach of the 1977-1982 TV series starring Lou Ferrigno) as well as the debut of Doc Sampson (portrayed by Ty Burrell!).  It ties in well with Hulk's later appearance in The Avengers.  Generally, though, this one's considered even more of a failure than its predecessor.  You know it had to be when every Avengers flick since then has been favorably received.

Speaking of which, Avengers itself was one of the biggest blockbusters ever, and a considerable portion of its success is owed to Hulk, this time portrayed by Mark Ruffalo.  I can't say I'm nearly as big a fan of Ruffalo as Bana or Norton, but I certainly respect him, best known until turning green for his quiet presence in much smaller dramas.  And he's absolutely perfect in the role, probably much more natural than the other two, thanks in large part to the fact that in a reduced presence much greater focus was necessary, so that it was much easier to nail what exactly Banner, and the Hulk, needed to accomplish.

It might also be noted that one of the strengths of Ruffalo's portrayal was that he had someone to work off of, Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow.  And this is where my apology begins.  I originally noted in the Geek Twins' observations that the character of Betty Ross (who in Incredible Hulk was played by Liv Tyler) served the function of the bridge between Banner and Hulk adequately and therefore it was unnecessary to present someone else in a similar position.  I didn't see how it would do much good to have another comic book character with a basically similar dynamic (albeit minus romantic elements!).

Then I started absorbing the trailers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  I've never really understood the point of the Falcon character.  In the comics, as far as I can tell he's just kind of there, a random partner.  In Marvel logic, you can throw anyone together as a team.  It just doesn't matter.  Luke Cage & Iron Fist.  Cable & Deadpool.  Spider-Man & the Avengers.  Captain America, of course, once had the sidekick Bucky, who was lost in WWII.

But in the trailers, Falcon shows up and...he's seems to become the bridge.  He's someone who accepts Captain America as something other than the dude who was woken up from the WWII era to become a member of the Avengers.  No other member of the team has an ally like that.  Thor certainly wouldn't consider Loki that way, not even the Warriors Three.  Iron Man?  James Rhodes sort of counts.  Okay, he's about as close as they come.  (It doesn't hurt that Rhodes has been played by a couple of excellent actors in Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle, just as Falcon is by Anthony Mackie, who's been a favorite since We Are Marshall.)

Hulk probably needs someone like Falcon.  And he's got some supporting characters like that, including Doc Sampson.  I didn't want to consider Doc a possibility, because I feared he'd become just another idiotic foe who smashes things on the screen.  In the comics, he can be enemy and ally.  In the movies, it seems guaranteed he would an enemy, at least at some point in the story.  He's one of several characters who has also gotten a dose of gamma radiation, which has had vague effects on him.  What Doc could easily do is give Hulk a counterpoint, something that could give him hope and also show how things could be worse.  He could even become a professional athlete, subtly point out the PED analogies that already exist in the character of Captain America that haven't really been addressed.  He could even be the bridge between Hulk and the Captain (which as of Incredible Hulk also exists in the movies as part of their origin stories).  That would be pretty awesome.

The Leader I was equally fearful of, because two Hulk movies have already given us a pair of villains who have been blown up to Hulk proportions to give him another monster adversary, and no matter what Leader's character description in the comics, you know the movies would want more of a fight than a cerebral showdown.  But it could work both ways!  The Leader's gamma radiation made him smarter.  Like Doc Sampson he got something totally different from it than Bruce Banner.  He serves, then, as a counterpoint to our main character.  He could very easily taunt Banner, goad him into becoming, well, a big dumb monster, the opposite of the Leader, force Banner to either evolve or die.  That sort of thing.  (The Twins also wanted Hulk to talk a little more.  This would certainly force that.)  Even if they don't actually fight each other, it could be Leader who forces Hulk into becoming known as the public menace that the comics like to make him out to be (such as in the "World War Hulk" arc or the original Ultimates comics that also gave us, well, the Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury and the Avengers movies themselves).  And that would be pretty epic.

Now what to do with Rick Jones?  I objected to Rick because, well, he's a scrawny little thing who's...just kind of Hulk's friend.  The comics have often had a hard time figuring out what to do with Rick, too.  At one point he was drafted into becoming Marvel's surrogate for Billy Batson when it decided to make its Captain Marvel more similar to the other Captain Marvel, the human who changes places with the hero.  He was Marvel's Snapper Carr.  Have no idea who Snapper Carr is?  Well, that's about as much about Rick Jones as I need to explain.  He's an anachronism, basically totally unnecessary for modern requirements.

But.  As the Twins themselves point out, Rick is also kind of the reason Bruce Banner became the Hulk in the first place.  And so maybe it's Rick who carries the guilt that works so well in other Marvel properties like Spider-Man, who is perhaps used as a pawn by the Leader.  (I tend to connect everything together.  So of course if Doc Sampson, the Leader, and Rick Jones exist at all in the movies, they have to be part of the same story.)  If Rick is the reason Banner was irradiated in the first place, that guilt he's been carrying around since then could become a tremendous bargaining chip.

Hulk does kind of need these figures in his movie appearances.  He needs people to ground him, put him into context.  That's why his appearance in Avengers had such an effect, because it was filled with context.  When the Hulk shows up, he's not some freak who smashes things, a monster who must immediately be removed from any regular context in order to work.  He's a Hulk who interacts, not just smashes.  And the more characters you give him to interact with, the better.

Yes, the better.  So I apologize.  Hulk smash!


Pat Dilloway said...

Sure, you'll apologize to them.

He probably does need a sidekick type character because the Hulk is pretty one-dimensional.


Like you and the Twins pointed out if the Hulk could be more lingual it might help. Saying more than "HULK SMASH!" Having conversational English would help. I too would love to see The Leader take on the Hulk.

Glenda Cates said...

Thank you for the post as this is something my husband and son would enjoy reading as they like all of these movies.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Hey thanks Man. I'll pass this link on to Nigel. You make a good point about Rick Jones. They'd have to rewrite the Hulk origin a bit, but it's Banner's guilt over Jones that motivates him a lot in the comics. He needs to be in there. Falcon is one of Captain America's dearest friends and partners in the comics, so I've been meaning to write an article explaining his importance. I'm not sure when it'll go up, but I'll let you know. :)

Nigel G. Mitchell said...

No apology needed! I thought you made some good points in your rebuttal. You make some good points here as well. More Hulk is awesome

Tony Laplume said...

Honestly, I know so little about Falcon I'm going off the impression he's left in my limited experience. So I'm looking forward to that one. No rush, though!

Remembering Grace said...

I love your essays and this one is no exception! I'll have to re-watch all of these movies and then read this again...this makes me so happy, for some reason... :)


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