Before "The Avengers," if you asked someone at Marvel what they had planned for the Hulk character, they probably would have shrugged. With two standalone films based on the big green bruiser made within the past 10 years, it's safe to say that Marvel has given the character more than a fair shot on the big screen.
For various reasons, those previous films -- 2003's "Hulk" directed by Ang Lee and 2008's "The Incredible Hulk" directed by Louis Leterrier -- were not as successful as Marvel would have liked. That lack of critical or financial success put future solo adventures for the character somewhat in doubt, and no amount of gamma radiation would change hard numbers and bad reviews.
Lee and Leterrier's Hulk movies both had a lot of problems, but prime among them was the fact that, outside of a few action sequences, each film was a terribly dreary and sullen affair. The movies easily could have been titled the "Incredible Sulk, Parts 1 and 2." The respective Bruce Banners (played by Eric Bana in Lee's film and Edward Norton in Leterrier's) were rightfully portrayed as tortured souls with a great number of issues to work through. However, both films seemed to forget that in a comic book movie, pathos can only run so deep. Banner's struggles are integral to the character, but at the end of the day, audiences weren't showing up to watch inner turmoil play out on the screen; they were there to see the Hulk smash things.
Cut to 2012, and audiences are finally about to be treated to Joss Whedon's "The Avengers," a film that gets the Hulk right. Mark Ruffalo is now the third actor to play the character since 2003, but he succeeds in his portrayal of both Banner and "the other guy" because he does so with a sense of humour. Bana's and Norton's respective takes on the character were wonderfully acted performances (if a little intense), but neither of them looked on the bright side of things.
Put yourself in Banner's shoes: He's a guy who lives his life on the run because if he gets angry, he turns into a 12-foot-tall rage monster. Frankly, a little self-deprecating humour is probably the only thing keeping the guy sane. Whedon and Ruffalo find that sweet spot for the character, letting the rightfully troubled Banner release some of that tension with humour and a smile.
Given the runaway international success of "The Avengers" both critically and financially (the film has already made over $250 million outside of North America) and the impending box-office obliteration about to occur here in Canada and in the U.S., it seems that the future is looking good for all of the heroes featured in the super team epic. Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor all have sequels in the works, and Marvel is said to be hard at work planning standalone movies for some of their S.H.I.E.L.D. characters, including Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
The one character noticeably absent from this release plan is our big green friend the Hulk. But that might change very soon.
In a recent interview with business magazine Forbes, Marvel's Paul Gitter discussed the marketing side of the comic book company's movie efforts. It's pretty dry stuff, talking about the ins and outs of merchandising and market research, but there are some interesting nuggets about Marvel's future plans. In addition to talking about the continuing big screen adventures of Marvel's "big three" (Thor, Iron Man, and Cap), Gitter essentially confirms that an as-yet-unannounced Hulk film is likely to happen sooner rather than later, thanks to a strong response to the character in "The Avengers."
People actually like this lighter and funnier version of the Hulk. Who'd have thought? There's a big empty spot on Marvel's release calendar in the year 2015 with the Hulk's name on it. Ruffalo (who has signed on to play the character in six movies total!) will likely become the first contemporary actor to play the character more than once. HULK LIKE!
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