As comic characters go, I’ve never quite understood the appeal of The Incredible Hulk. He’s big. He’s green. He’s scary. He’s hideous like The Thing, only with a better complexion. He lacks the sex appeal of Superman and Batman, and if I saw him coming in my direction, I’d pray for a swift, as-painless-as-possible demise.
Still, Hollywood and comic fans love the Incredible Hulk. In 2007, Empire magazine named him the 14th greatest comic book character ever. He’s had video games, an animated series, his own 1978-82 TV series, and several movie-of-the-week spin-offs. In 2003, there was the Ang Lee-directed Hulk, starring Eric Bana. I’ve never seen the entire film, but I recently caught 40 minutes of it on mute while running on the treadmill at the gym. Though I very much enjoyed looking at Bana, who deserves to be a bigger star, the entire affair seemed so gloom-and-doomy. When the Fifth Dimension’s “Let the Sunshine In” arrived on my iPod, they might as well have been singing about the film. No wonder it was a commercial disappointment, opening with $62.1 million, but dropping a hefty 70 per cent in weekend two, and ending its theatrical run with a North American gross that was only a little more than double its opening-weekend haul.
Five years later, The Incredible Hulk was released as more of a reboot than a sequel, with Edward Norton taking over for Bana in the title role. The film’s box-office was comparable to Hulk‘s, but for some mysterious reason, it wasn’t considered a disappointment. Maybe it was the fact that critics expected less from director Louis Leterrier. Or maybe after the underperformance of Hulk, expectations were lower. Whatever the reason, the big-screen Hulks clearly weren’t inciting the fan fervor of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man or Wolverine.
Yet here we go again. We’re not getting a new Hulk movie, but a new Hulk is on the way. Norton is out, and Mark Ruffalo is in. He’ll have a go at the role in the upcoming The Avengers movie, directed by Joss Whedon and due May 4, 2012. The big difference is that in the film, which will feature assorted Marvel Comics superheroes, Ruffalo will play both David Banner and his big, green alter-ego, unlike Bana and Norton, who tackled Banner while CGI did the rest.
Ditching the computer generation for a flesh-and-blook Hulk might be key to reviving the character’s mass appeal, but I’m not quite sure why Ruffalo got the job. Nothing about him screams superheroic, and the majority of his screen roles thus far have emphasized emotion over action. I can see him pulling off a line like “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” beautifully, but it ain’t so easy being green. Few people can make the color work, and I’m not so sure that it will suit a delicate actor like Ruffalo, who probably looks a lot better in blue, or white.
But then again, if Robert Downey Jr. can nail Iron Man and sell his butt-kicking qualities, anything is possible.