17. The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, Hulk form voiced by Lou Ferrigno, The Incredible Hulk, 2008)
I really, really, enjoyed this film and never fully understood why it didn’t get all that much credit when it was released. I never thought it got enough attention, and it’s treated like the black sheep of the Marvel universe films, probably because Norton is the only one who didn’t return for the Avengers. As much as I liked Ruffalo’s acting, having Norton return and then having the same Avengers script with Hulk being awesome in it I think really would have given people more of an appreciation for this movie.
Another reason is because there was another cinematically released Hulk movie five years prior. There had been some build up to Ang Lee’s Hulk, as people were excited to see a modern big budget adaptation of the green giant on screen. After that movie was so terrible, however, when this one came out it was kind of like “Wait, what, another one? Uh, okay.” Had this film been allowed to be the first real big screen interpretation of the character, I think people would have paid a lot more attention to it.
What we got was an extremely entertaining (but not dumb, and not campy) action movie that showed the Hulk in all his glory, doing things the Hulk should be doing. Hell, the movie ended with an awesome fight scene where he duked it out with the Abomination – pretty much the best possible ending fight scene to a Hulk movie. What’s not to like?
People probably would have appreciated it a lot more if this was also the first time they really got to see the Hulk onscreen. But since we already saw him relatively recently, people considered this more of the “Oh okay, this is the simple action one to counteract the weird one” and never appreciated the movie on its own. The excellently shot first Hulk-out scene in the bottling plant, where the Hulk starts out draped in shadows and hidden while taking out soldiers before finally having a dramatic reveal – as awesome as that scene was, how much more awesome and impactful would it have been if it was the first time we’ve ever seen the Hulk onscreen?
I remember there was a scene in the show 30 Rock where a comic book nerd character is explaining comic book movies to someone, and says “And then they kept re-making the Hulk, and it kept getting worse!”
What? Worse? Did they even see the Incredible Hulk? How on earth could anyone possible think that this movie is worse than starfish dad biting into an electrical cord and then thunderbolting around?
Anyway, let’s get into what I like about this movie, and character.
To start off with, this movie starts off in a way that I really, really wish other non-sequel superhero movies would do (especially if they’re rebooting a character that’s already had a film or films made about them): the movie starts out, and he’s already the Hulk! It’s not an origin story, so the film just gets going with its own plot right from the start.
This is a Banner at a point of his life where he’s been dealing with the Hulk issue for some time. We see how hard his life is because of this: that he has to take careful measures to monitor his heart rate, engage in meditation exercises, etc. He can’t accept a paycheck because he can’t risk his identity getting out there, so he has to be day labor only to get by.
He starts off the movie with a single minded determination to get rid of the Hulk entirely. He’s not conflicted about it – he doesn’t want to use the Hulk to potentially make a scientific breakthrough or anything like he intended for it to be when he created, doesn’t want to use it as a weapon. When Sterns talks to him about the potential to use the Hulk to cure diseases, Banner refuses – the Hulk is a problem, it has to be gotten rid of.
Banner is constantly in a struggle for control – not just his own control over the Hulk, but avoiding the other characters like Blonsky and Ross who want to control him and the Hulk as well. When he finally meets Mr. Blue, the person who he thought could help him, it turns out that Sterns is just another guy who wants to control him for personal gain. Banner just can’t catch a break.
By the end of the movie, however, with the Abomination loose, Banner undergoes a character arc, and he sees that the Hulk doesn’t necessarily have to be considered a negative thing only – he realizes that while he may not be able to control the Hulk, he can maybe hope to “aim” it and use the Hulk as a force for good.
So, in its own way, this actually DOES have elements of a superhero origin story – the story arc of the character is about Banner realizing that the Hulk doesn’t just have to be an unstoppable monster – it’s about him learning for the first time to use the Hulk as a superhero.
Norton did a great job portraying the character, and gives Banner a kindness and personality. We like him and we feel for all his struggles and problems. And even though there have been movies where Liv Tyler has fallen flat for me, I actually really liked her in this one and thought her and Norton had really good chemistry. You can tell that these are people who are familiar with each other and have been to war and back. I liked the moment where Betty got pissed and yelled at the cab driver – a moment that has nothing to do with anything but is just a nice touch to flesh out the character and have you see more sides.
The action the Hulk is involved in is quite good as well – the bottling scene and the ending slugfest with the Abomination were really good, but my favorite was the battle with Blonsky when Blonsky essentially was super-soldiered and was bouncing around everywhere with super agility. A great choice of foe for the Hulk – someone who is small and quick that is too fast for the Hulk to hit. Sure, none of these moments are quite as satisfying as Hulk smashing Loki in Avengers, but they’re all really good, and I have no idea why all those people came out of Avengers saying “Finally, the Hulk has been done justice, and we get to see him doing Hulk stuff on screen for the first time!” First time? Go watch this one! He does Hulk stuff the whole movie!
Overall, this movie is a very entertaining action film, and I really liked Norton’s portrayal and thought his arc and decision at the end were satisfying. I wouldn’t change too much of anything, and it definitely set out what it set out to do: make a fun action movie starring the Hulk. The only reason it’s not higher is that (although I liked the arc I gave him, simple as it was) the character and movie aren’t really all that ambitious.
16 and 15 (Order TBD).
Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man, 2002; Spider-Man 2, 2004; Spider-Man 3, 2007)
Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, The Amazing Spider-Man, 2012)
Fear not – this is not a tie. I wouldn’t chicken out like that.
However, I am going to do something a bit unusual with these two characters that I’m not doing with any others on the list – I’m going to analyze both of them, and then declare a “victor” at the end of the analysis. (In the listing above, Maguire is listed first above only because he appeared first.)
I definitely did not intend to have the two Spider-Men right next to each other. In fact, I deliberately went out of my way to avoid it – I would have one ahead of the other, and then purposefully move Norton and/or Character #14 in between them to give them some space. And then I would reconsider, put the other Spider-Man ahead, and insert one or two characters between them again. Then I realized I was lying to myself – if I was flip flopping on them so much, far more than any other pair of characters on the list, surely they have to be right next to each other, right?
(By the way, I think it’s important to mention that Spider-Man is my favorite comic book character and the one I’m most interested in, and it’s not close.)
Anyway, let’s start with Maguire.
Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man
If you’ll recall, I said I had a problem with characters like Jean Grey where it was hard to balance out the positive aspects of the character with the negative aspects. All the characters I mentioned that for? Piece of cake, compared to Maguire’s Spider-Man. Where can I possibly put a character that was so fantastic in Spider-Man 2 and then also so awful in Spider-Man 3? Honestly, I was even tempted to cheat for a moment and separate the two into a “Spider-Man from Spider-Man 1 and 2” and put him in the Top 10, and then put “Spider-Man from Spider-Man 3” near the bottom, at least in the bad section if not even in putrid.
There are two scenes that I keep coming back to in my mind (one good, one bad) that exemplify this dichotomy.
The first is a small moment you might not even remember. In Spider-Man 2, he’s at the dinner party, he just had to watch Mary Jane get engaged, his boss is angry at him. He sees a waiter with a plate of hors d'oeuvres in front of him at the party. He reaches out to grab it – and someone else snipes the last bit of food right before he can reach it, and he frowns. A perfect little example of the Parker luck. Nothing is going right for him, not even the small things. That one shot tells you everything you need to know about this character at this stage without any dialogue, and all within the span of two seconds. It’s a small moment, but it’s one that really made me really think “Man, they are just nailing this, even the small details.”
On the flip side of the coin is a scene I’m sure you all remember. He goes to a nightclub. He does an unfathomably ridiculous dance that has no place in this film, or any other film except maybe “The Mask.” And then we abruptly go from this zany, off-the wall and ridiculously wacky scene…into Peter hitting his girlfriend, and then brooding silently on a wall.
Spider-Man 2 is one of the best superhero films ever made. Spider-Man 3 is a ridiculously stupid, convoluted mess, and to me, it is bar none the most disappointing superhero movie sequel ever made. (and considering you’ve basically seen me write an essay about the flaws of X3 by this point, that should tell you something).
There are other characters on this list, higher than this, who appear in bad movies. Heck,
there are two characters higher than this who appear as characters in four movies total, with only two of them being good and the other two being quite bad. But I can’t come anywhere close to punishing those characters for their bad movies. Close your eyes and think about Christopher Reeve as Superman. What are you thinking of? Whatever image it is, I bet it’s not him interacting with Richard Pryor or fighting Nuclear Man. No one thinks about Superman 3 or The Quest for Peace, it’s not a part of the public consciousness, we think of the good moments, the bad films are swept under the rug in our minds (and mine as well).
For that matter, what happened when Wolverine showed up for a cameo in First Class? The audience cheered! We love Wolverine! Who gives a crap about the fact that he was in X3 and X-Men Origins? No one remembers those! And when Tony Stark showed up in the Avengers movie and was his usual charming self, did ANYONE think or care about the fact that Iron Man 2 was a letdown?
Now close your eyes and think about Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man. I hope you’re lucky enough that you get a vision from Spider-Man 2 or even Spider-Man 1. Because for me, I think about him in his black suit dancing down the street in ridiculous fashion. (Sometimes it’s his outrageously stupid looking crying at Harry’s death). And I know for sure I’m not alone, because it seems like Spider-Man 3 caused the public consciousness to shun the first two movies as well.
And there’s a reason for it. Those other bad films with good characters that I mentioned, they didn’t basically ruin the character himself. I mean, hell, you could argue that Superman 3 and 4 are actually worse films cinematically than Spider-Man 3, but that was largely because of the other horrible crap going on, they didn’t ruin the character of Superman.
Spider-Man 3 had the character involved in scenes that were absolutely horrendous and downright embarrassing to watch, and were 100% caused by the character himself. It also had him hit his girlfriend. (Okay, maybe it was an accident, but still, it happened, the script made the choice of having him hit her). And now everyone thinks of Emo Peter.
And you know what’s even worse? The third film actually made it so the first two films weren’t quite as enjoyable anymore. You know how I said if I separated Peter from Part 3 from the Peter from the first two that S1/S2 Peter would be in the top ten? If Spider-Man 3 had never been made, the S1/S2 Peter would be in the top five. But the third film actually makes the first two films worse. The over the top, hokey elements that we found so charming and likable from the first two films weren’t quite as enjoyable anymore after we’ve seen them stretched to their perverted and embarrassing extremes. In that sense Spider-Man 3 as a film has a lot in common with the alien symbiote featured in it.
So, with all that being said, the fact that he’s still in the top 16 and maybe 15 in this list should tell you everything you need to know about how awesome Spider-Man 2 is.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the strengths of it. It was really the first superhero movie of this era to come out and be universally applauded by critics everywhere. (Oh, sure, X2 had come out the year prior to overwhelmingly positive reviews, but there was still a sense of “Oh, this is quite good…for a comic book movie.” Spider-Man 2 came out and everyone said “Regardless of genre, this is a fantastic film.”
A lot of what makes the film so good is Doc Ock and the other supporting characters like Jameson. But that’s not entirely relevant here, this is about the character of Peter Parker.
When it was announced that the villain for the film was Dr. Octopus and no one else, I was slightly confused. Doc Ock was a pretty simple villain in the comics – his origin and motivations are simple, and probably not enough to sustain an entire film. I thought it might have worked better if they flip-flopped Ock and Green Goblin so that Ock was the one in the origin film instead – he was a much simpler character that would have fit into the origin story perfectly, and Goblin was a richer character so it would have made more sense to have his arc be in a film where it could be fleshed out and given more justice.
What I didn’t realize until I saw the film, however, was that it made sense to have a simpler villain (although he is obviously greatly fleshed out in the movie as opposed to the comics character) because Spider-Man 2 is a movie that is so deeply about Peter Parker. So, yeah, Ock was great, Jameson was great, but Maguire’s Peter Parker himself is what made the movie excellent, so he gets most of the credit. Sure, he’s a little dopey, corny, and whiny at times – but that’s also a big part of what makes him human. He was raised by an older generation of parental figures, it makes perfect sense that some of his attitudes seem a bit old-timey and anachronistic. We see his struggles, his fears, and we have a blast at each moment even if the film seems a bit too corny at times.
Obviously I’m oversimplifying things a bit here – Spider-Man 2 had some bad moments regarding Peter (some of the stuff with Mary Jane, some of the scenes got a bit too cheesy) and Spider-Man 3 had some good ones (the fight with Sandman in the subway was awesome). But for the most part it’s a battle of two extremes. I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve hardly talked about Spider-Man 1, for good reason. This is a battle of two heavyweights, one on the side of good, one on the side of evil. Spider-Man 1 is a flawed but overall good set up film whose main purpose was setting us up for the awesomeness of Spider-Man 2, using it as some sort of tiebreaker would be like settling the Superman vs. Batman debate by saying that “Batman has a pretty competent sidekick named Robin in his corner, so he wins.” So let’s analyze Garfield instead.