THE AVENGERS: The HULK Reaction

The Avengers (2012) – The 6th Marvel Cinematic Universe Film – Directed by Joss Whedon – Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Alexis Denisof, Stan Lee, Powers Boothe, Lou Ferrigno, and Harry Dean Stanton.

Welcome to the eighth character-specific reaction to Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS. I’ve already written a 4,200+ word review of the film, but that wasn’t nearly enough to cover everything I wanted to talk about, so I’m going to write character-specific reactions to delve a bit deeper into the film. You can find all of the relevant AVENGERS links at the bottom of this post.

Let me be clear about what’s coming: SPOILERS. Lots and lots of SPOILERS. Read ahead only if you’re cool with that. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want things ruined, come on back when you do.

Also, please note that these reactions are evolving as we go. If you see some line I got wrong or a detail I overlooked, by all means let me know. I’ve seen the movie twice, but it’s a long movie and the audience reacts wildly in parts, so some things get lost or forgotten or misinterpreted. And I’m sure some of the quotes are wrong, but I will correct the mistakes as I become aware of them. Don’t be surprised if these reactions grow a bit in the coming days.

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“Puny God.”

The Hulk stole the show.

Built off a foundation of strong work by Mark Ruffalo as a less-victimized Bruce Banner, the Hulk is no longer a simplistic embodiment of rage, but rather a more complicated explosion of Banner’s Id in which the “Other Guy,” as Banner calls the Hulk, is far more than the “enormous green rage monster” of previous films.

A quick recap of where the Hulk has come from: Ang Lee’s underrated HULK isn’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe while Louis Letterier’s INCREDIBLE HULK is, but none of the three cinematic interpretations significantly contradict one another, and they actually work together rather well to build a strong, multi-film narrative arc for Banner and the Hulk.

In AVENGERS, Bruce Banner is living in India, helping out the sick, when the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) tricks him to the outskirts of town to recruit him in to a SHIELD operation to track the stolen Tesseract. They do the back and forth about Banner coming in, and what’s of primary concern to Bruce is whether Tasha and SHIELD want him or “the Other Guy.” While not referencing previous events directly, Banner is clearly concerned that SHIELD wants the Hulk. Tasha assures him this isn’t the case, that SHIELD only wants Banner’s expertise to track gamma radiation to bring the Tesseract back, and that if there was a bigger brained gamma radiation expert somewhere in the world, she’d be there instead of with him.

Banner is doubtful, of course, and he lashes out at Tasha as she sits at a table. He screams at her, slamming his fists into the table in an enraged state, and she quickly draws a gun on him. There’s clear fear in her eyes, and Banner, instead of going green as one would expect from his outburst, raises his hands in surrender. It’s Banner who tries to calm things down, and we’ve all seen this scene before …

Except we haven’t.

We immediately get our first taste of how Joss Whedon and Company’s conception of Bruce Banner and the Hulk has evolved from earlier incarnations. Banner talks Widow down because it’s Widow who’s on the verge of losing control of her emotions, not him.

Whedon does a masterful job at building the Banner/Hulk arc, teasing Banner’s “secret” through the film. It’s been a while since the Hulk got out of Banner and as the film progresses, different characters try to get Banner’s secret out of him. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) wonders if it’s mediation or “a big bag of weed,” but Banner never lets his secret out until the big final battle at the end of the film against the Chitauri. “That’s my secret, Cap,” Banner says as he walks towards the battle, “I’m always angry.”

This one line, this one simple, beautifully written and delivered line that comes right before we finally see Banner self-trigger his transformation into the Hulk. It’s the kind of line that, once delivered, completely recontextualizes everything you’ve seen prior to this moment in terms of the Hulk.

That said, what can we do with it?

There’s two transformations in the movie and the first appearance of the Hulk is a bit of the old fashioned, to borrow a line from Agent Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) conversation with Captain America (Chris Evans), as Banner can’t stop the Hulk from appearing, while the second transformation is self-triggered. What’s fascinating about these differing trigger mechanisms is that they effect the Hulk’s personality; when the Hulk is birthed out of anger, we get a classically-conceived, vicious, violent, out of control Hulk, but when Banner self-triggers the Other Guy, we get a Hulk that’s much more in control of himself and the result is two of the funniest bits in the entire movie.

Let’s take the transformations chronologically, starting with Banner on the Helicarrier.

The Bruce Banner that Steve Rogers meets on the deck of the Helicarrier (it’s in battleship mode at this point) displays a willingness to be sympathetic as well as a dry sense of black humor. Bruce is sympathetic to Steve being the man out of time, and this empathy for another is completely fitting with previous conceptions of Banner. The Eric Bana and Ed Norton Bruce Banners also tried to find a purpose in their lives by helping others, and Ruffalo on the deck of the Helicarrier is building on not only what he was doing in India, but those earlier Banners. When Tasha suggests that Banner and Rogers ought to get inside because it’s going to get hard to breathe, the two future Avengers mistakenly believe the ship is going to turn into a submarine. “Great idea,” Banner remarks dryly, and when they realized the Helicarrier is going up instead of down, Banner thinks it’s an even worse place to bottle up the Hulk.

(Which seems kinda silly, eh? It’s better to be trapped with the Hulk in the sky than the middle of the ocean, I would think.)

Ruffalo delivers these lines with a knowing sense of his condition. There’s a sadness to the humor, but there isn’t defeat in his voice. Where Ruffalo’s Banner differs greatly from previous incarnations is that he’s made his peace with the Hulk. “I got low,” he says to the assembled team. “I put a bullet in my mouth and the Other Guy spit it out.”

It’s a powerful admission in the middle of the film, and when someone gets on your case about this being a silly little action film, remind them that one of the characters at the center of this popcorn flick admits that he’s only able to be here because tried to kill himself and failed. This idea that the “Other Guy” won’t allow Banner to be killed suggests what Banner ultimately admits – that rage isn’t the key to the transformation, and the Hulk is less the bottled up rage monster and more the lurking subconscious lingering just beneath the surface.

Which isn’t to say you’ll suddenly like Banner when he gets angry. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) allows himself to be captured and ends up manipulating the team to exacerbate their personality conflicts. His ultimate goal is to let the Hulk out to cause havoc during Hawkeye’s assault on the Helicarrier. When Hawkeye’s arrow explodes, Banner and Widow get knocked down a floor. She’s trapped, and he’s on the verge of losing it. Now it’s Tasha’s turn to try and calm Banner down but she’s not successful and we get the arrival of a very angry Hulk into our midst.

Tasha is visibly frightened the Hulk is visibly agitated. They “fight,” which is to say Tasha becomes very, very afraid and tries to escape and the Hulk tries to prevent this. Tasha is saved by Thor (Chris Hemsworth), which leads to a Thor vs. Hulk battle in the middle of the Helicarrier.

Yup. That’s as awesome as it sounds. The Thor v. Hulk battle is incredibly violent, and again I have to point out that the personal combat scenes in AVENGERS are pretty darn great because we can really feel the power. There’s a truly fantastic moment when Thor calls Mjolnir to him and delivers a jaw-crunching uppercut to the Hulk that sends the big man flying. It’s a huge thrill to see these two beat the crap out of each other, and the CGI guys deserve major kudos for how good the Hulk looks and how good he moves.

The Hulk ends up jumping off the Helicarrier when a fighter jet attacks him, and there’s a King Kong sense to the Hulk bashing and tearing apart the jet from its back. I love the moment when the pilot ejects and the Hulk catches him, only to toss him aside.

Critically, in this battle the Hulk is dangerously out of control because that’s the state he was in when he transformed.

This isn’t the case for the final battle. After crashing in an abandoned factory and having a chat with Harry Dean Stanton about his fall, Banner gets on a bike and drives into the city, surprising most of the Avengers with his reappearance. This time around, Banner self-triggers into the Hulk and we get a Hulk that takes commands from Captain America and goes out and smashes the heck out of the Chitauri. It’s simply fantastic to watch a Hulk be able to operate without any concern for anything. Whedon (externally) and Captain America (internally) have found a way to let the Hulk out to play without restraint. Seeing him try to rip the jaw off a Chitauri leviathan and just generally smash the hell out of anything and everything he wants, and for this to be a GOOD THING is a clever way for all of us to simply enjoy the Hulk and remove the burden of Banner’s guilt.

Our enjoyment of the Hulk is raised even more by Whedon’s secret weapon – the Hulk is hilarious.

No, the Hulk doesn’t start telling jokes or indulging in some Whedon certified one-liners. Instead, Hulk gets us to laugh by his actions and it was pretty clear that both times I watched the film in the theater, the Hulk’s actions during the Chitauri battle got the most applause. The Hulk and Thor team up to take down a Leviathan and as they’re standing there side-by-side with the fight over, there’s a single quiet moment, and then the Hulk shoots out his left hand and pounds Thor off the screen. It’s the kind of moment that is so unexpected that the laughter it creates in the audience is not just one of thinking the scene funny but of the disbelief in the audience’s mind. It’s such an unexpected move – to see one hero sucker punching another in the middle of an epic battle against an enemy – and such a hilarious move that it’s easily one of the most joyous feelings I’ve ever experienced in a movie theater.

And then AVENGERS tops it.

Up in Stark Tower, the Hulk and Loki face off and Loki dresses down the Hulk with a vicious, elitist verbal assault. “Enough!” the Asgardian commands the Hulk. “All of you are beneath me. I am a god, you dull creature and I shall not be bullied-!”

Loki’s rant is cut off right then and there by the Hulk grabbing the God of Lies and slamming him around like a ragdoll. It is brutal and ridiculous and hilarious and one of the most awesome scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The Hulk leaves a wheezing broken shell of a god lying on the cracked floor and walks away in disgust.

“Puny god,” he grumbles.

Derrick Ferguson and others have pointed out that they missed this line the first time they saw the film because the audience was roaring so wildly and loudly.

“Puny god.”

This isn’t the Intelligent Hulk or Fix-It Hulk, but it’s not the mindless brute, either. This is a Hulk who understands what’s going on around him and can act with some agency instead of simply being the enormous green rage monster. It’s a really smart decision to push the character in this direction. At the end of the movie, when Iron Man is falling down through the sky after delivering the nuke that blows up the Chitauri ship, it’s the Hulk who jumps up to save him from crashing to earth. One of the best parts of the individual character arcs is how Tony Stark and Bruce Banner developed a real relationship with one another, and I believe it’s this friendship that causes the Hulk to be the one that jumps into the sky to catch a falling Stark.

Mark Ruffalo is fantastic as Bruce Banner and Joss Whedon’s conception of the Hulk as a creature who’s personality is partly determined by the trigger mechanism combine to have a Hulk that steals the show.

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Atomic Reactions: Marvel Comics on Film now available.

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THE AVENGERS REVIEW INDEX

THE AVENGERS: THE MOVIE REVIEW
THE AVENGERS: THE HAWKEYE REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE AGENT COULSON REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE BLACK WIDOW REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE NICK FURY REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE MARIA HILL REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE CAPTAIN AMERICA REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE CHITAURI/THANOS REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE HULK REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE THOR REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE LOKI REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE IRON MAN REACTION

THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE REVIEW INDEX

1. IRON MAN
2. THE INCREDIBLE HULK
3. IRON MAN 2
4. THOR
5. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

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4 thoughts on “THE AVENGERS: The HULK Reaction

  1. I was waiting to see what you had to say, specifically, about the Hulk here Mark, and again, fine job and well put.

    I said it before, and you did as well, Ruffalo/Hulk stole this movie.

    Not much to add, since you covered the bases pretty well. I will guess that it would be much worse to be 5 miles high in a ship overloaded with explosives, and an angry Hulk than 200 feet underwater with the same, if only that there is at least a chance to surface a sub and maybe save some crew members if banner loses it and really cripples the ship. If Hulk had really gone for broke and caused the carrier to crash a lot more lives would have been lost.

    The reactions of everyone around Banner made things wonderfully uncomfortable. The bout of PTSD he induced in Widow notwithstanding, it’s clear every human (with the possible exception of Stark, but even there you sensed a little trepidation) who knew anything about what they were dealing with was genuinely frightened. Stark was the only person who would really get close to Banner at all, and while you could see a friendship build between the men, I also had the feeling that most of what we were seeing was Stark testing the boundries. He wanted to know exactly what the stress limits of this ‘thing’ were, in a manner simmilar to his stress tests of the various Iron Man suits (all testing done while in the suit and at no small personal risk, because otherwise where’s the fun?)

    I also wanted to add one observation about the end of the carrier rampage scene, that said to me that even then Hulk was more rational than we were led to believe.

    For one, if Hulk really just wanted to destroy the carrier, it would have been easy for him to just ignore the 50-cal rounds the fighter jet was bouncing off his back, or punch through a bulkhead further into the carrier to avoid them. He instead looks like he locks eyes with the pilot, then jumps onto the plane. What got me was that even though he could clearly see the pilot, and in the previous cannon film had no problem thrashing soldiers that had been shooting at him, in this case he avoids the cockpit totally, and just tears up the rear of the craft.

    Second, and I’ll have to go back and watch the film again to confirm this (twice now I’ve been too caught up in the moment to say for sure), I’m pretty sure that his catch-and-release of the pilot may have been to be sure he was thrown clear of the burning, tumbling jet, and not a random act of the blind rage Hulk.

    That scene, with the pilot, was made even more memorable for me, by the way, the first time I watched in the theater. When he caught the ejection seat you could hear at least half the theater gasp, and in that moment of relative silence after Hulk throws him up out of the way, a guy in the row behind me says, “Oh, thank God!” with genuine relief.

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  2. The exchange with Harry Dean Stanton is pretty funny too:
    “So, are you an alien?”
    “No.”
    “Then, son.. you got a condition!”

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  3. Ruffalo turned out to be a great and different Banner from any portrayal before that finally made the scientist every bit as interesting as the monster. And Rufflo turned into the greatest version of The Hulk ever seen on screen, live action or animated. That was the dual role for Hulk I always wished for but never expected. And when his casting was announced I thought Mark Ruffalo was a bizarre and questionable choice. Boy was I happy to be so very wrong. RUFF HULK NEEDS HIS OWN MOVIE!!!!! Or at least give him the teamup role with someone like Widow and War Machine did in other people’s films….

    And … now I want to see a fan edit of Ang’s Hulk and 08 Incredible Hulk both recut with Ruffalo in the roles.

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