For many, The Hulk is a character who brings back memories of the American television series that ran from 1977-1982. This CBS show starred Bill Bixby as Dr. David Bruce Banner and Lou Ferrigno as The Hulk. Yet to this day, it is Ferrigno’s name that is synonymous with the character. So much so, that when casting Hulk, Ang Lee got Ferrigno to voice the character, with Louis Leterrier following suit for The Incredible Hulk and Joss Whedon has him returning for The Avengers. So it would be safe to assume that Ferrigno is somewhat part of the Marvel furniture.
But what about his alter ego? If Lou Ferrigno IS The Hulk, who deserves the title of Bruce Banner? With Joss Whedon’s long-awaited Marvel-madness being unleashed on the public in the form of The Avengers in Summer 2012, there has been much dispute over the circumstances surrounding Edward Norton’s departure when fans clearly feel he was the superior Banner.
But let’s start with the original. Enter Mr Eric Bana. Although he is the only one of the three without an Oscar nomination to date, from the moment he burst onto the scene in Andrew Dominik’s Chopper, it was evident the Australian was one to watch. For me, Ang Lee’s film was a massive disappointment. Too much of the film was spent with his huge green alter ego jumping around in the desert or fighting crazy Gamma-infected poodles. I didn’t see the initial need (money, anyone?!) for Marvel’s bizarre reboot mission when Eric Bana wasn’t really given enough of a chance to show off as the tormented Doctor. The script was so heavy on back story that a sequel with Bana in charge and on the run could have finally let the world see how well suited he was to the part. Jennifer Connelly bats Liv Tyler out of the park any day of the week and I think a sequel, away from Lee’s direction, could have set the franchise on the right direction towards its inevitable Avengers outcome.
I don’t think we can come to a fair conclusion on Eric Bana as Brucie here, as John Turman, Michael France and James Schamus’ script wasn’t as intelligent as it could have been and Bana and Connelly did their best to struggle through it.
Now, if anyone fits the bill for Bruce Banner, it should be Edward Norton. On paper he is the most qualified actor – with two Oscar nominations and a penchant for playing characters with dual personalities, we’re seemingly onto a winner here. From his roles in Fight Club and American History X we know he’s not afraid of getting into a few tussles, but obviously it was his green counterpart who did that on his behalf in Louis Letterier’s 2008 film. Fans greeted this second outing a lot more warmly than Ang Lee’s 2003 version. So why, then, can’t the public have their preferred Bruce Banner back on the silver screen?
Without getting into it too much, it would seem that Norton’s no-show for The Avengers is down to a whole number of things. Where many point the finger at Marvel assuming they want to save money, I highly doubt this. You don’t announce a film starring Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Stellan Skarsgard, Chris Evans and Samuel L. Jackson if you’re not willing to pay a few bucks. Is it down to creative differences, scriptwriting and contractual issues? Most probably. Ed worked on Zak Penn’s original script, adding more dialogue heavy scenes that were included in the trailer but ultimately not in the film. Understandably the guy was pretty upset when his contract gave him more creative control than he was eventually given. But Norton spoke of wanting to revisit the character at the 2010 SXSW Festival and after sitting down with Joss Whedon, both parties reported their enthusiasm back to the Marvel camp. So what went wrong? The fact is we’re never going to know. All you Norton fans have to accept you won’t be getting him back for any future Marvel adventures.
Even though it wasn’t his best performance, it’s very hard to think Marvel were happy to replace the two-time Oscar nominated actor with somebody else, especially an unknown as was reported at the time. But let’s look at his replacement, because I don’t think it’s a bad call – even if I was pretty taken aback the actor chose the role when it was officially announced at Comic-Con last year. Enter Mark Ruffalo.
I guess it would be safe to assume that Bruce Banner has come to terms with his condition by this point and that he’s a little more in control and at ease with his situation. As much of a pain as it may be. So I’m feeling the addition of Ruffalo could very well add a new sense of humour into the franchise that we definitely didn’t see with Bana and only caught glimpses of with Norton. Plus RDJ’s Tony Stark needs someone to keep him on his toes! Ruffalo’s proved countless times that he can mix hilarity with drama in films such as The Kids Are All Right, and even proves he’s a man worth pursuing in 13 Going on 30 opposite Jennifer Garner and Just Like Heaven with Reese Witherspoon. So this is a very clever bit of casting from the Marvel camp as women may prick their ears at the sound of his involvement.
Another plus is the eradication of a CGI Hulk and the inclusion of performance capture. Ruffalo will therefore be both Banner and monster, something that will helpfully aid the audience in making a quicker connection to the new actor. This should really help Ruffalo’s cause as I am wondering how much time Bruce will actually spend on the screen in human form. Afterall, the film’s main draw is the coming together of all these Marvel heavyweights, not their respective human counterparts. I guess at the start we’ll be force-fed some of the origins of how they came together, but there isn’t much need for individual background stories as they’ve all been set up by now – who needs to find out the Hulk’s history for the third time in less than ten years?!
For those of you still not sold, Ruffalo does have a bit of action experience in John Woo’s Windtalkers, and has gone down the crime route in films such as What Doesn’t Kill You and Collateral. But personally, I think his best trait is his ability to play lovable yet extremely complex characters. The best example of this would be his roles in Shutter Island, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Zodiac. Without sounding horrifically condescending, his geeky characters tend to remind me of a loyal dog. You put your entire trust in him, you know he can entirely hold his own, yet he’s never the leading man. And this is why I think he will make a fantastic Banner – because he has an incredibly realistic quality, has you gunning for him every step of the way and always makes you feel glad you’ve invested your time in him. I think it’s extremely admirable he’s finally decided to go down the superhero route and wouldn’t for a second consider it selling out. He’s very versatile and it’s time the world knew his name a little better. And, to make him the perfect fit for Banner, he does geeky oh so well.
So it may be a real shame Bana never got another chance, Norton unfortunately must have upset one too many people along the way, but this could all be a blessing in disguise. So please, let’s put our trust in a certain Mark Ruffalo. I can assure you he won’t disappoint.