Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Banner Actor for "The Avengers"

As expected, Marvel Studios' The Avengers has changed my life.

I've been waiting for this weekend for years, ever since Sam Jackson's Nick Fury asked Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark, "You think you're the only hero in the world?"  Thank God he wasn't!

This six(!)-film franchise has constructed a multidimensional universe so well, even the word "multidimensional" in this context is multidimensional.  But so many bloggers have already analyzed what The Avengers did right; I'd like to briefly discuss what it almost did wrong -- namely, the Hulk.

Surely many fans were disappointed when the Internet confirmed that Ed Norton wasn't going to reprise his role as Bruce Banner in The Avengers.  I guess a movie pulling together this strings couldn't tie them up perfectly, but that loose end left a lot of skepticism.  Frankly, I didn't think Mark Ruffalo was right for the role.  Norton's Banner had the Dale Keown look I grew up with -- chiseled but lanky, perpetually furrowed brow, a man ready to burst out of his own skin (and who occasionally did).  Ruffalo's banner was a bit too square-jawed, stocky, and looked physically formidable in his own right.  I wondered why he was cast as a Norton replacement, when perhaps a step back to Eric Bana would've been a better choice.

(Hey, you can't blame Bana for Ang Lee's mistake -- Bana still made for a good Banner.)

Then I realized: Mark Ruffalo's Banner looks a lot like Bill Bixby's Banner -- and if Superman Returns taught us anything, Hollywood likes to pay homage to Hollywood whenever possible, source material be damned.

Indeed, with over 70 years' worth of Superman stories to tell, spanning thousands of comic books, Superman Returns sought to rehash the cinema's revered, unashamedly dated interpretation, which ultimately didn't refresh the franchise, but ended it in preparation for the latest silver screen adaptation.  With Ruffalo as Banner, I was afraid writer/director Joss Whedon was doing the same thing, pigeon-holing the Hulk to his '70s boob tube roots.  After all, for everything The Incredible Hulk did to clean up Ang Lee's mess, it still clung to the old TV show's origin sequence, leaving classic characters like Rick Jones and Doc Samson to fleeting footnotes.

I was wrong.  I wasn't wrong that Ruffalo is Bixby as Banner.  His folding up the sports coat, rolling up the sleeves, putting on the glasses -- all classic Bixby's Banner.  I was wrong that it wouldn't work in The Avengers -- in fact, it works so well, it reinforces the "old-fashioned" notion Agent Coulson insists is necessary to save the day, even moreso than the true "man out of time," Captain America.  Ruffalo's Banner is man so cornered by his own demon, it makes sense to see him in the '70s frump of Bixby's hard-travelling Banner.  Further, in the end, Ruffalo's Banner presents the cure Bixby's Banner sought for so long -- a secret that so stations a man in one moment of time, he seems to transcend it.

In short, Mark Ruffalo didn't just transform from Bruce Banner to the Hulk -- he transformed from my biggest fear about The Avengers on the silver screen to my favorite part of the whole film.  The Hulk is by far The Avengers' biggest strength -- yes, that's another word made multidimensional, and another reason the movie changed my life.

No comments: