This piece was being pushed around Twitter yesterday, and for good reason: it is a thoughtful and close reading of a character that could only be written by a critic who is also a fan, or at least who loves the character under examination. Film Crit Hulk looks not only at Mark Ruffalo’s performance in The Avengers, but also at Bruce Banner and The Hulk and what makes them compelling fictions. Ruffalo’s rendition of Banner is placed in the context of other interpretations, with Bill Bixby’s portrayal as a baseline.
One observation made here that I think is true for not only The Hulk, but for most comic book heroes (and villains) with dual identities is that casting, and getting “right”, the “civilian” aspect of the character is crucial to making the alter also interesting. As Film Crit notes, whatever identification viewers might have with The Hulk hinges on the identification one has with Bruce Banner. Yes, there is something appealing about thinking about being a big, strong, essentially invulnerable force that can smash whatever it wants, but it is only in knowing Bruce Banner that The Hulk becomes a character and not a spectacle.
One shot from The Avengers that I think shows what Film Crit Hulk notes as the compellingly contradictory nature of Bruce Banner/The Hulk, particularly in this incarnation, is one where Thor and The Hulk have just finished off a group of Chitauri, including one of the ‘big fish’. The two stand side-by-side and the Norse God turns to The Hulk, clearly thinking that they are going to share a moment, when Hulk punches Thor out of the frame. This is what it means to be Bruce Banner/The Hulk: always angry, able to battle alongside his compatriots, but unable to pause and savor the moment. This shot got a huge laugh from the audience in the theater I was in, which also goes to Film Crit Hulk’s analysis of the character and Ruffalo’s performance. I don’t think that there would be as much knowing joy from the audience if they were not on his side, sympathizing with his pain, as well as marveling at The Hulk’s strength and raw emotion.
You can read Film Crit Hulk’s essay in The New Yorker here: http://t.co/h6MQZ8lW