While it’s not surprising that The Avengers has literally made a billion dollars in its first few weeks, what IS a bit surprising is that the movie’s breakout superhero was The Hulk. Mark Ruffalo was great as Big Green/Bruce Banner; he has one of the movie’s best lines and the two best scenes (two sight gags which also make The Avengers the year’s funniest movie), and finally Hulk fans get to see the character done right. Also, a billion dollars is a lot of money, so ABC has decided to greenlight a Hulk TV show, which may premiere as early as next fall. So, is this good news for Hulk fans?
When I was a kid, there was, in fact, a Hulk TV show. CBS’ The Incredible Hulk starred Bill Bixby as David Banner (they did not call him Bruce, for some reason), with Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. It was actually pretty popular, and ran from 1977 to 1982. As we know, “popular” does not necessarily mean “good”; most episodes involved Banner – on the run from a pesky reporter, Jack McGee, who thinks that Banner is the Hulk and is responsible for the deaths of some people, or some such – arriving in some backwoods town and stopping some two-bit local criminals from doing unsavory things. Oh, and he also fought bears on occasion.
Those decrying the overuse of CGI in superhero flicks, please take note. The Incredible Hulk wasn’t particularly incredible; the limits of TV special effects and budgets meant that the Hulk never got to fight any cool Marvel villains or do much smashing. (He tended to throw guys into dumpsters and/or large piles of trash.) The tone was also a bit dreary – Banner was a somber loner, always on the run from the cops and the military, and while that’s been an integral part of the character, after 80 episodes it got to be a bit much. In 1988, the Hulk returned to TV in the aptly named The Incredible Hulk Returns, which tried to Marvel things up a big by adding “Thor” to the mix. I say “Thor” because, well, here’s a pic of Stan Lee with the two from the set:
The Hulk hasn’t fared much better on the big screen, which is weird, considering the talent involved. Ang Lee’s Hulk was a strange mix of comic book literalism and 50s monster movie, with a healthy dose of Joseph Campbell Daddy Issues thrown in – Nick Nolte plays Bruce Banner’s dad, who somehow has something to dosing young Banner with gamma rays so that he eventually turns into the Hulk. Also, there are Hulk-Dogs. In the sequel The Incredible Hulk, Banner learns to like being the Hulk, as he gets to save the world from Tim Roth’s Abomination, a sort of Evil Fish-Hulk. In both cases, the guys playing Banner were good choices – Eric Bana in the first, Ed Norton in the second – but the movies were dour, humorless CGI-fests, and the Hulk himself never comes across as anything other than an unthinking green clod.
And that’s where The Avengers succeeded. Mark Ruffalo’s rumpled, nerdy, slightly snarky and always angry Banner is great, but his Hulk is even better, and has a sense of humor to boot. (“Puny god.”) In addition, movie Banner has figured out how to control his Hulkification, which completely changes the whole theme of the tale – he’s now a bonafide superhero, and not just a big green rage monster.
So which Hulk will we get next? The show is being produced by genre wizard Guillermo del Toro, who knows his way around big tough monsters with a heart of gold. There’s been no word on casting or scripts, so whether we’ll see an Avengers prequel in which Banner still is figuring out how to tame the beast or this newer, cooler hero Hulk remains to be answered. As does the question of whether or not this Hulk versus Thor fight is better than Joss Whedon’s.