Between all of the phases we have seen in Marvel’s universe and the 10 or so Marvel Studios movies we will be seeing in the next few years, it seems as though every hero with movie potential has been accounted for and is being accommodated into the ongoing continuity. But as can be the the case when parents have a large number of children, sometimes kids can be left out or forgotten from time to time. In the Marvel family, that child is The Incredible Hulk. Sure, he’s one of the older kids and he developed early, but one too many slip-ups and he’s just not a priority anymore when you’re picking where everyone’s going out to eat on Sunday night. Nowadays, the not-so-jolly green giant is one of the only characters in the Marvel Universe who has been deliberately demoted to an ensemble player.
To be fair, Hulk has had his fair share of chances. First there was Ang Lee’s Hulk, which with perfect hindsight was never going to work in the current continuity – if only for it’s soft and at times quiet intensity. There were teasers and posters and famous actors galore but in the end it didn’t wow the kids, and that matters. So Hulk peaked too soon, so what? That sort of thing can easily be remedied with a reboot. Dump damaged Eric Bana and morose Jennifer Connelly and give us Edward Norton and…Liv Tyler, as a physicist? Really? Ok, whatever. Well Louis Leterrier was directing with a few Transporter films under his belt, so balls-out action wouldn’t be a problem. No, the problem was once again timing. The Incredible Hulk hit theatres a month after Iron Man. In a direct comparison – and be honest, how could there not be in such a small time span? – Hulk just couldn’t cut it. Also, Liv Tyler was supposed to be a physicist. Just saying, it’s weird.
So we have one Hulk film that went for critical acclaim and lost popular appeal, and a second film that opted for action and lost to Iron Man. The continuity for the reboot could have been salvaged if talks hadn’t broken down with Norton. Don’t get me wrong, Mark Ruffalo is an impeccable Banner, but where does that leave our favourite gamma-giant?
Looking back on it, it’s not hard to see why Marvel would be more than a little gun-shy with the Hulk property. Whether they like it or not, a Hulk movie would always be in direct comparison with another Marvel movie a few months before or after. Well we know for a fact that the risk isn’t planned for the next four or five years since Hulk didn’t make an appearance in the run-down of upcoming Marvel films. The question becomes, is it worth taking the risk again in the future?
There is a lot more working in Hulk’s favour now. For one, we have the makings of a Robert Downey Jr. factor with Mark Ruffalo. Say what you will about the popularity of Iron Man, if an actor even 10% less charismatic than Downey was wearing the suit then the glaring flaws in Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3 may not have been so compassionately overlooked. The character is as popular as the actor, and that balance is what we could see in mark Ruffalo. Sure, he was a little quiet at times in The Avengers, but he got his hands dirty when it was needed and a fair few scenes were based entirely around him. When you compare how much attention and plot was shared out between Hulk and, say, Thor, it’s pretty even – maybe even a little more for Hulk.
And everyone loved Ruffalo as Banner, in many ways because is anti-Iron Man. A soft spoken, fidgety, unstable man with unmatchable power that is completely out of his control – a destroyer to Stark’s creator. So what we see happening is a bedrock being established that may not have as much money, love or attention behind it from Marvel as Iron Man does, but whether intended or not there’s a popularity that’s getting some muscle to it.
So a Ruffalo/Hulk film is definitely something that the audience wants to see. the question becomes how feasible it is. For one, expectations from story-lines are not what they used to be, back in the day, you could just have a dude with superpowers figuring stuff out and end it with a huge testosterone-charged fight. But with more films comes more variations, and with more variations comes more expectations for something new and daring. Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy have a similar team-up premise, but could they be more structurally different? And despite being the classic action hero, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was as much an espionage film as an action flick. Bottom line, you can pick any number of early Hulk story-lines and throw a dart at one and you’ll come up with a big green dude not wanting to be a big green dude and fighting against another big green dude. Or a green dude with a big head. And as much as we’d like to see a Planet Hulk film, what are the chances without a heck of a lot more foundation that just isn’t there?
Maybe it’s stupidly simple. Maybe it’s just Hulk’s affiliation with war and the justification of wild violence that Marvel just doesn’t want to probe to closely – unless he’s a cartoon where it’s easier to write off destruction. The phrase “today’s political climate” is one that I’d like to punch repeatedly in the face, but it’s something that a big studio has to have a ten minute conversation about every month. So is Hulk only a hero when he’s around other heroes who can point him in the right direction and tell him what to smash?
Bottom line, Hulk is the kid that Marvel just can’t deal with right now. They have to make sure that the more well behaved kids are eating right and have the support they need to get onto college. Once all the other kids have flown the nest and can make it on their own, then they can turn their attention to Hulk. Maybe by that point the landscape will be more accepting of alternative, darker story-lines in the Marvel continuity. It’s definitely going in that direction, so perhaps 7 or 8 years down the line, we’ll want to see banner when he’s angry.