Michael Lee is a writer, script consultant, script reader and judge. He’s worked as a creative executive for a few production companies and as reader and judge for some of the most prestigious screenwriting contests in the country including PAGE and Final Draft Big Break. He’s recently optioned his latest project: a science-fiction comedy entitled How to Conquer the Earth. Follow Michael on Facebook and Twitter:@GoldenAgeofGeek.
Last time I talked about how Marvel Studios made significant changes to Obadiah Stane in the first Iron Man movie. Now it’s time to examine the supervillain from The Incredible Hulk, which may be the black sheep of Marvel’s ambitious MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe.) The movie itself is entertaining and well made. It made plenty of money at the box office and earned praise from both audiences and comic book fans, yet it isn’t as fondly remembered as the first Iron Man film. The star of the movie Edward Norton was replaced when it came time to film the first Avengers movie. More so his replacement Mark Ruffalo became an instant fan favorite. Ruffalo’s portrayal of both Bruce Banner and his green skinned alter ego were markedly different from Norton’s. Norton brought a simmering intensity whereas Ruffalo surprised audiences by giving Bruce Banner an unexpectedly laid back demeanor. On the surface, he appeared to be a brand new character. And until Captain America: Civil War earlier this year there had been only a few reminders of the Incredible Hulk’s existence in any of the other Marvel movies.
But unlike the Ang Lee version, this movie remains canon. At the time it was very successful. Had it failed it might have killed the momentum for the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That alone makes it one of the important entries in the series. It was different in both look and feel from its predecessor. It wasn’t exactly like Iron Man. The Marvel projects don’t always get enough credit for their variety. They don’t give the audiences the same thing over and over again. This time the filmmakers added a little something extra to the superhero vs. supervillain dynamic which we’ll get to.
As last time a warning; SPOILERS AHEAD.
The Movie : The Incredible Hulk
The Supervillain: Emil Blonsky AKA The Abomination
If Iron Man the first movie in the MCU series was a bold new take on the superhero origin story, the second film Incredible Hulk did something even more unique. It dispensed with the whole origin story, something many fans and critics had been clamoring for. Bruce Banner is already on the run and trying to find a cure for his condition when the movie begins. The movie has a simple conflict; Banner wants to stay free, General Ross wants to put him in custody. To that end, he sends a soldier named Emil Blonsky to capture Banner. When Blonsky can’t handle Banner due to his monstrous alter ego, he undergoes special treatments to enhance his abilities.
Unfortunately, the treatments go awry and Blonsky is transformed into another hideous creature—one that’s even a greater menace than the Hulk. It was a solid plot with plenty of action and kept the audiences entertained but when you break it down to a synopsis, you notice a difference between this movie and Iron Man. The broad strokes of the plot aren’t as intimately connected to the hero as they were with Tony Stark. Bruce Banner isn’t forced to re-examine his whole life the way Stark did. Banner’s path is set from the beginning and doesn’t vary that much. He is the catalyst for a lot of the plot’s main events but rarely sets any of them in motion. Ironically, a large part of this is due to the decision to jettison the origin story. As it turns out, some characters need their origin stories. The Hulk’s origin story is what grounded the very successful Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV series. There we saw who Banner was before his accident. We understood that his entire journey was about trying to get back what he had lost. We get a little bit of that in the Incredible Hulk movie but not enough and it makes Banner’s journey is a little limited. Instead it’s the supervillain who undergoes the most change.
The Abomination on paper makes a lot of sense. He’s The Hulk only evil and physically stronger. But then there’s his design which screams 1960’s Marvel Comics. He’s a giant brute with blue scales, bat wings for ears and wears bikini briefs. He looks like a cross between a WWE superstar and one of HP Lovecraft’s creations. The design in the film wasn’t as campy but it also wasn’t that memorable. In the film, the Abomination resembled a lot of other CGI monsters but while design may be nothing special, the character is a dynamo when it comes to the story. Blonsky drives the action. He’s the reason the movie reaches its crisis point. He doesn’t however, have the same personal relationship with the hero like the one Obadiah Stane had with Tony Stark. Blonsky is driven more by pride and a personal drive to succeed regardless of the cost. That’s a good motivation but does make the relationship a little impersonal… That’s where the movie adds a new wrinkle.
Antagonist: General” Thunderbolt” Ross
The Incredible Hulk does add another layer to the story. In addition to its supervillain, the story has a proper antagonist in General Ross. Ross is a classic antagonist, someone whose goals are in direct opposition to the hero’s and who has clear and understandable motives for what he does. Ross believes and not without cause that Bruce Banner/The Hulk is a danger to the world at large and must be contained. The fact that his daughter is romantically involved with Banner just intensifies his animosity. He’s eventually forced to team up with Banner when The Abomination becomes an even bigger menace. At the time, no one seemed to notice but it was rare for even “regular” action adventure films to feature a true antagonist like Ross. And someone at Marvel was taking notes because the character would resurface several films down the line to play a critical role in Captain America: Civil War.
The Incredible Hulk is definitely the odd movie out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s still the only picture in the studio’s ambitious Phase One not to have a sequel. And there are no plans for one despite the Hulk being one of the mainstays of Marvel Comics. But the story offered a few new wrinkles to the genre. The next movie in the lineup tried to change things even more.
NOTE: Last week I stated that Obadiah Stane was the Marvel Supervillain who has changed the most in his journey from the comics to the screen. I stand by that. There is another character who has also undergone a radical change but I consider him a very special case that we’ll get to.
- More articles by Michael Lee
- Examining the Marvel Supervillains – Obadiah Stane AKA The Iron Monger
- Comic Books and Graphic Novels
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