“Where’s Hulk’s solo film?” is the question I’ve frequently seen in most Avengers related news articles since 2012. It’s a question I’ve thought about many times since his spectacular appearance in The Avengers, but after watching that film for about the 50th time and Avengers: Age of Ultron recently, I’ve began asking myself new questions. Questions like “do we really need a Hulk standalone film?” and “has Marvel found the perfect place for the Hulk?” To answer those, we need to delve into the film history of the Hulk (“film Hulkstory”, if you will). SPOILERS FOR AGE OF ULTRON AHEAD.
Past: After a few television films starring Bill Bixby as David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, Universal Studios brought forth the first big screen adaptation of the Hulk in the 2003 Ang Lee directed film simply titled Hulk. The film adapts the classic story of the scientist turned monster, Bruce Banner (played by Eric Bana), with a few twists like his father being alive in the present and being directly responsible for Banner turning into the Hulk, among other things. The received mix reviews from critics and mostly negative reviews from fans.
After this, Marvel Studios reaqcuired the film rights of Hulk (but with Universal still distributing). Producer Avi Arad originally had a sequel to the Hulk targeted for 2005, with writers on board penning the script, but when Marvel Studios got the right back, Kevin Feige decided to leave Lee’s film behind and do a soft reboot in order to fit it within the continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that would be established with Iron Man. Lous Letterier was brough on board to direct, with Zak Penn writing the script.
However, trouble emerged when Edward Norton, who was casted as the lead Bruce Banner, constantly rewrote, added and removed scenes from the film. The Writers Guild of America however decided to solely credit Zak Penn for the screenplay. Producers and Norton would reportedly butt heads over several other concerns. Even after all of this, the film opened to a minor success, slightly outgrossing the 2003 film and making a small profit. The film, like most of Marvel Phase 1, centered on our lead character and his transition to hero. To this date it’s still Marvel’s lowest grossing film.
In pre-production for The Avengers, negotiations between Marvel and Norton fell through, and he didn’t return to reprise his role. Luckily, Mark Ruffalo (who almost got the role in the 2008 film) was cast. The film became the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time, and Ruffalo’s performance was widely praised, moreso than any Hulk. However, this wasn’t enough to get Ruffalo to star in an Incredible Hulk sequel, as he was the only Phase 1 lead not to get a sequel in Phase 2. The fan outcry for a standalone Hulk film was the strongest it had ever been.
Present: Ruffalo reprised his role in Phase 2 in an uncredited cameo in Iron Man 3, making him the first actor to play Bruce Banner in a feature film more than once. He reprised his role in this week’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, where writer/director Joss Whedon decided to put more emphasis on him and his romantic relationship with teammate Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), with them considering retiring from the superhero business and just disappearing. By the end of the film, Hulk does exactly that, but he does it alone. His fate was left open ended as he drifted through the skies in a S.H.I.E.L.D. Quinjet. Nick Fury believes that he dropped off into the ocean and swam for the nearest country, who knows if he did that.
I do believe Marvel has found themselves quite the sweetspot when it comes to utilizing the Hulk. When he only appears in Avengers films, it’s less pressure on how much screen time to use for the Hulk and for Banner, which has proven to be the main critique of the past two Hulk films. Also, Whedon has shown himself capable of developing the character through his interactions with other characters, so it begs the question why do we need another standalone Hulk movie when he’s getting his due in Avengers? In my own personal opinion, he’s just a fascinating character just waiting to be explored, but the popular answer would be he was awesome in Avengers, so he’d probably make an entertaining Marvel movie.
Future: Rumors of Hulk appearing in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 aside, as we look forward to Phase 3, there’s no sign of Hulk appearing until the two-part finale of Marvel’s overarching story, Avengers: Infinity War. Marvel is looking to introduce some of their most popular characters that haven’t been put to film yet in order to diversify their roster. Since they’re introducing characters like Black Panther, Carol Danvers and the Inhumans, it’s fine by me that Marvel only use Hulk in Avengers movies – only if they feel like they need to appease Hulk fans by giving him special treatment in those films. However, getting a third Thor movie and a third new Spider-Man series before giving Hulk one last chace is incredibly ridiculous.
Anyway, if Marvel is looking to do a Hulk standalone in the near future, what should/could they choose to adapt (if they are adapting a specific storyline)? I have a few in mind.
(Just to get it out of the way,) Planet Hulk seems to be the most wanted adaptation. For those unaware, Planet Hulk is a comic book storyline where the Illuminati (the really intelligent Marvel characters) decide they’ve had enough of Hulk so they put him in a rocket and shoot him to space. He accidentally crash lands onto this barbaric, gladiator planet, and you could probably assume what Hulk does from there. It’s a pretty good read, but there’s little-to-no Bruce Banner in it, so I highly doubt it will work on film, unless they heavily change it. There is a follow-up storyline to that titled World War Hulk, but if you like breathing, you wont mention it to me.
Now, I’d recommend Incredible Hulk: Pardoned followed by Incredible Hulk: Regression. It follows Bruce Banner as he finally gains complete control over the Hulk. The first part starts off pretty positive, with Hulk talking and acting like Banner would. He is pardoned for all of the actions of the Hulk and uses the Hulk’s strength to make a difference, but then things take a sharp turn as he slowly loses control and becomes more dangerous. It culminates spectacularly in the 300th issue of the series, and is a lead in to another favorite Hulk storyline of mine. These two storylines, however, I feel would make a good, if not great, Hulk movie (espescially after Age of Ultron).
Lastly, there’s all of Peter David’s work on the character. I loved this. He turned Hulk comics into a psychological exam. He created the idea that Bruce was abused as a child by his father, and that abuse caused pieces of Banner’s psyche to break which caused there to be different manifestations over the years (normal, really pissed off, smart but weak, dictator, etc). Also to be included in his run would and should be Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect and Hulk: The End, which are both dystopian future storylines that don’t take place within current continuity, but they’re excellent reads. David is my favorite Hulk writer, and his 12 years of consistently great work on the character is definitely what I’d like to see on screen.
With two back-to-back Hulk articles for #AEvengers, I’m all Hulked out, but I hope I’ve given at least a little bit of insight on what the character means to me, how/what the movie adaptations can do better, and the future of Marvel’s astonishing monster.
Featured Image: Universal Pictures; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures