People – sheesh! Take it easy, or you are going to bring down the house!
Ever seen a bunch of Hulk fans jumping around in celebration? It can be a little scary. (There is a crash, bang, and wallop in the background, followed by the tinkling of broken china.) *Author winces theatrically.* And it can be somewhat costly, too.
The reason they are jumping for joy is because yours truly is finally writing a post about Big Green. It may surprise people, but I do have a soft spot for the Hulk and Bruce Banner. It may not seem like it, but it is true.
I have not really seen The Hulk. I seem to recall catching some snippets of the movie, but from the reports which have come my way about the film, I did not miss much. The Incredible Hulk is a great time-filler when one is bored out of their skull or wants a tonic for a bad day. Otherwise, it is a rather unsatisfactory film. Just my opinion.
Marvel’s The Avengers, however, more than made up for these big screen flops. The not-so-jolly Green Giant and his puny alter ego came onscreen in a “smashing” way in this film. I was much more impressed with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner than Ed Norton or Eric Bana’s portrayals. Norton did a better job than Bana, for sure, and he physically fit the bill. But he hated being in a movie based on a comic book. It is not art, after all, which is what every actor seems to live for in Hollywood.
Yeah. Sure. Whatever. *Insert eye roll here, please, readers.* It is true that Hollywood’s imagination has tanked over the latter half of the twentieth century and early 2000s. Sure, they have had their moments – Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride, and other films. But what happens when an entertainment, artistic industry dives into the gutter and proclaims that trash is art? Kids’ movies take center stage because they are the best entertainment the audience can get their minds on.
This is not to pick on comic book-based movies. That attitude of mine disappeared after I saw The Avengers. Superhero films are good movies, highly entertaining, and unless it is Deadpool or some similar movie, you can bring the children to the cinema and not worry about exposing them to anything raunchy and disgusting.
Are superhero movies art? Not exactly.
Are they the classics, like Shakespeare’s works? Nope.
Are these films fun? You bet!
But let’s get back to the point of this post. After Hawkeye, the one Avenger we saw the least of in the Phase Two films was Bruce Banner. Still, you Hulk fans got an idea of where he was during that time-frame! (We Hawkeye fans had to wait until Ultron to see the archer again!!!!) The post-credits scene in Iron Man 3 showed Bruce sleeping through what Tony considered to be a psychological therapy session. Banner may know the basics of how psychology works, but he never became that kind of doctor. As he said, he did not have the “temperament.” Hulk’s patience has a very low ceiling – just ask Loki!
After The Avengers, Bruce joined Tony at Stark Tower, following through on his fellow scientist’s invite to drop by for some R&R. Or rather, R&D.
It must have felt good to be back at his old job again. There was nobody to hurt, nothing to break…. just a lot of fun research and development on gizmos that would change the world. And he had a great friend who understood him working at his elbow to boot. Pure heaven compared to running around the globe, the way he had been, for so many years.
Then the Avengers reformed after SHIELD collapsed. And once again, the Hulk had to be released on a semi-regular basis for the greater good.
But this time things were better again, although still less than ideal. Bruce was not alone now. He had friends. Thor, Tony, Cap, Hawkeye, and Black Widow were in the fight with him. As nightmarish as it was to dive back into the Hulk’s mind, Bruce had something to look forward to afterward. He got to go home to a bed, eat regularly, and spend time with people who were not deathly afraid of him. In a surprising twist of fate, even Natasha Romanoff no longer feared him. (We will go back to that later on.)
Anyway, fast-forward to the attack on the Sokovian HYDRA base in Age of Ultron. The team finally recovers Loki’s scepter, which Thor wants to take back to Asgard. No biggie, right? Bruce would be as glad to see the back of the “glowstick of destiny” as the rest of the team. One less thing to worry about. Perfect. Everything is just perfect.
Then Tony tells him he has found something like computer coding in the stone embedded in the scepter. This is fascinating. Wait, Strucker wanted an artificial intelligence? That does not sound like such a great idea….
But Tony thinks it is fantastic. He explains the theory, about how there would be no more need for the Avengers or fear of aliens attacking the planet if they had an A.I. standing at the door. And the theory is beautiful. Bruce begins to think that it could work. There are fifty-fifty odds, but still….
And this is where the problem started, readers. Scientific theories are great. The theory of artificial intelligence is a great idea. Right….?
Riiiiight….. This is where Tony went off the rails, taking Bruce with him. Tony relies on synthetics to do most everything. Yes, his superpower is his intelligence. But to keep that intellect from getting smashed to a pulp, he has to wear a suit of armor – a synthetic skin.
Now, there is nothing wrong with this, up to a point. The knights of the Middle Ages, the Roman legions, the Ancient Greeks – they all used synthetic means to protect themselves in battle. Tony’s problem is that he puts far too much faith in synthetic materials being the answer to all problems – hence the artificial intelligence he wanted to build to keep the world safe.
*Smacks forehead in aggravation.* Really? People have spent the last two hundred years trying to come up with a satisfactory solution to fix the world! You give that math equation to a computer – even one programmed to think like a human – and it is going to pop a fuse and die!
Or go on a worldwide, murderous rampage. Take your pick.
Bruce’s problem is that he can always be suckered by the theory of the thing. He knows synthetics will always be inferior to natural things. The guy turns into a one thousand pound mountain of angry muscle. He cannot move continents but he can sure “break… Harlem”!
So Bruce does not have the same faith in synthetics that Tony does. But he has a similar problem. He has faith in scientific theories. And theories, as beautiful as they may be at first, second, third, and umpteenth glance, are not necessarily things one should try to make a reality. Stories throughout the last two or three centuries have warned of this: Frankenstein, Brave New World, Terminator, Eagle Eye… If you want some stories that prove it while scaring the pants off of you, read Dean Koontz’ novels. They are full of terrifying warnings about science run amok.
But, like Tony and Bruce, most scientists are not paying any attention to the warning signs. Bruce is reluctant to make Tony’s theory a reality at first, it is true. But JARVIS, the A.I. butler who runs Stark Industries and helps the Avengers in combat, turned out all right. How bad could it be to try and jump start Ultron?
It turned out to be really, really bad.
Bruce is the first to admit this in the conference that occurs after Ultron steals the scepter and flees Avengers Tower. While Tony rushes to defend his belief in synthetics and technology, saying he can fix anything and everything under the sun with these assets, Bruce willingly admits that he was wrong. “Really?” Tony says. “Is that what you’re going to do? Roll over and show your belly every time things get ugly?” (I paraphrased that quote.)
Basically, he was saying, “Thanks for the help, pal! I thought we were friends!”
“Yeah,” Bruce responds in subtext, “We’re friends. We’re friends when we’re right and when we’re wrong. We were wrong, Tony. We made a murder bot. There is no defense for that. You told Ultron to fix the world. Well, I hate to break it to you, but the only human way to fix the world is to destroy it.”
When humans try to fix the world, they only make it worse. Want some examples? Here are just a few: Communism, Eugenicism, Fascism, Nazism, Scientism, socialism, and now secularism. Look them up. They all boil down to this: We’re humans. We’re the only species on the planet with intelligence, speech, writing, and an opposable thumb. We can fix all problems. But that means tons of us are going to have to die, and among those who remain some are going to be more equal than others.
It is Bruce’s acknowledgement that he was wrong, that he was taken in by a beautiful theory, which allows the others to forgive him. (With the possible exception of Tony.) Cap, Thor, Widow, Hawkeye – even Rhodey, Cho, and Hill all forgive Banner for helping to build Ultron. That does not mean he does not have to pay the piper. It just means his friends are not, by and large, holding a grudge against him.
But that attitude kind of gets rescinded when he helps Tony finish building Vision. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on Bruce. He was right when he said he was caught in a time-loop. Tony went after him with the same arguments he had used before to get Banner to help make Ultron. And Bruce bought it a second time. Though in this case, Vision was the antidote to Ultron. (We hope.) Does that absolve Bruce for playing in the forbidden zone twice..?
….Which might be one of the reasons Widow threw him down the hole to awaken the Hulk. Bruce was ready to run again, but as she pointed out, “The job’s not finished.” Bruce had to pay the piper. He had to go the whole nine yards, or he would carry the weight of what he had done with him for the rest of his life.
Widow understood that. She is an Avenger in part because, from her point of view, it is penance. She has not let go of her guilt – or enough of it – which does weigh her down. But this does not mean that she does not have to atone for the acts she committed while under the command of her Red Room handlers. She also has to fight so that their ideals and the aims of others like them are thwarted. That does not give her the same delusions of grandeur that Tony has…
But it does make her an Avenger. It does make her a heroine.
Bruce’s problem here is twofold. He is tired of being the Hulk and – just like everyone else – penance does not strike him as fun. It is not supposed to be. Penance is supposed to hurt. That is the way it works; you hurt someone, you have to make recompense. If you are out playing baseball with your friends and you break the neighbor’s window, you have to pay for the replacement window pane. Your wallet does not like that, and you do not like working extra hard to earn the money to pay for the window. No matter how sorry you are, though, you still have to pay for the new window.
Bruce had to pay for his recess in the forbidden playground. He had to see the job finished. As much as it hurt her to do what she did, as much as she wanted not to awaken the Hulk so she could run off into the sunset with Bruce, Widow knew they could not do that. Bruce would not be the man she loved if he bolted when things got tough. He had to stay and see the job done.
And the half of him that would do that was big and green and perpetually angry.
Bruce will figure that out sooner or later, if he has not figured it out already. Before I sign off, let us take a closer look at his relationships in the film, shall we?
We will look at him and Natasha first. Their relationship has already been extensively discussed in the post “Avengers: Age of Ultron – Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff.” But there is more to be said here.
It is really interesting that Widow should fall for Bruce. Their romance was certainly a curveball, despite the obvious poetic irony, considering she was terrified of him in Marvel’s The Avengers! And it is surprising that Bruce would fall for her as well. He certainly seemed to distrust her in the last film, and for good reason.
Widow is a near-instinctive liar. She was raised by liars and killers. Even if some part of her resisted their manipulation, she could not help but pick up some things from them by osmosis. Children always imprint off of their parents or those who raise them. It is an unconscious thing. Attitudes, phrases, habits – some of these are things we are simply born with. Others we learned from the observations of our elders we made as babies. It is how growing up works.
But in Age of Ultron, when Widow asks if Bruce will ever trust her, he responds: “It’s not you I don’t trust.”
WHOA!!! That was not the impression we got in the previous film! Natasha would probably have been the last person on the planet whom Bruce would have trusted back then. Now, though, their attitudes toward each other have changed drastically. Widow no longer fears Bruce or the Hulk, and neither of Banner’s personalities distrusts and hates her. Talk about Beauty and the Beast!
For Widow, this is the first time she has ever fallen in love. Oh, I am sure she has had liaisons with other guys. It was part of her job and one of the reasons she was called the Black Widow. The fact is that Natasha was a deadly lady of the evening, as it were, when she worked for the Red Room and the KGB. Bruce, on the other hand, had known love before with Betty Ross.
As we know, that did not work out well in the movies. Long distance romances are things no one in Hollywood believes in anymore. They have forgotten Odysseus and Penelope, the women who watched their men go to sea for years at a time, and the modern truckers and their wives. These are women who sit at home, holding the house together with duct tape and paper, praying their husbands’ trucks have not jack-knifed somewhere between Seattle and New York, killing them in the process. Hollywood and their cronies of a similar frame of mind always contend that long distance kills love.
I say they have no idea what love really is.
So why did Bruce leave Natasha at the end of Age of Ultron? There were a number of reasons. One, they had a perfect opportunity to run off together, and she threw him down a hole to bring out the big green guy. That hurts, and it probably makes him feel used, if not outright betrayed. That may be his surface thinking or initial reaction – and when he next shows up, those may be the words that come out of his mouth.
But there are other reasons. Widow could still be a mom, as I said before, by adoption. Marrying Bruce would be one thing, but after her confession at Hawkeye’s house, Bruce knows Natasha does not just want a husband. She wants what the Red Room operators worked so hard to deny her naturally – a family. He can only fill half the equation. Just because she cannot naturally have children does not mean Natasha could not become an adoptive mother.
Bruce knows that. And he knows that sooner or later, Natasha would have suggested the idea. But it would not work. He and the Hulk both have a soft spot for kids, but not on a daily basis. For a man with unshakeable faith in theories, this is one idea Bruce knows will never pan out for him. He can never be a father, not even by adoption. He does not have the temperament. Natasha does. If he were to stay with her, then her happiness would be incomplete. She would want children, and he cannot handle being a dad. It simply would not work.
Another factor for Bruce’s self-imposed exile might be his Scarlet Witch-induced rampage in South Africa. While no arrest warrant was issued immediately afterward, how much longer would that last? Eventually, he would be labeled a public danger and a menace again. And Natasha would leave her post as an Avenger, her job, her work, to go on the run with him when that happened.
He does not want to do that to her. That is no kind of life for a couple. It is hard enough on one. Bruce cannot settle down anywhere. He has to stay on the run, sleeping at odd hours, living from hand-to-mouth, quite probably for the rest of his life. He loves Natasha too much to drag her into that kind of life.
What is more, if the government(s) eventually caught up to him, he would be put in prison. Or some nincompoop would try to kill him. If Natasha ran off with him, then she would either be locked up or killed trying to protect him.
Bruce loves her too much to be willing to put her in that kind of danger. The only way to protect Natasha is to leave her, no matter how much it hurts. It is what he did with Betty Ross. General Thunderbolt Ross was not going to stop trying to bring Bruce down, and even though he might have drawn the line at killing Betty, he certainly was not averse to her getting hurt by being in close proximity to his attacks on the Hulk. He could always blame her injuries on the Hulk later on, when it was his obsession to bring him in that got her hurt in the first place.
Natasha would not have had even that protection. None of the other Avengers would. The only workable solution was to go on the run solo. No other plans were viable.
This is where we look at Bruce’s rapport with his male teammates. It is shown at the Avengers’ party after HYDRA’s defeat in Sokovia that Bruce and Steve have a fairly strong friendship. Since Cap is the most trustworthy man alive since Sir Galahad, Bruce’s confidence in him makes plenty of sense. Cap is probably one of the people Banner feels safest around. Nothing Cap says or does will “just set him off.” And the fact that Steve no longer fears angering him or worries that Bruce will simply explode means the two men have a healthy respect for each other. This makes him quite amenable to Cap’s orders and willing to listen when the other advises him to be Natasha’s boyfriend.
Bruce and Thor have a good – if awkward – friendship. Sometimes Thor’s glowing compliments on the Hulk’s performance in battle are really not what Banner wants to hear. Otherwise, they have a jovial understanding of each other. Thor knew Bruce could not lift the hammer because he saw the Hulk try that trick on the Helicarrier in The Avengers. So what if Bruce played at being King Kong and scared some of the others? Thor knows what he looks like when he is actually angry. He can tell when Bruce is playing around.
Bruce and Clint’s friendship still has some trust issues; though it is clear they respect each other and do not mind joking at the other’s expense. Remember when Clint was getting patched up in the Tower…?
Bruce (concerned): “How is he?”
Tony (with a straight face): “Unfortunately, he is still Barton.”
Bruce (biting back a laugh): “Oh, that’s terrible.”
Despite this, Clint is not amused when Bruce pretends to be on the verge of Hulking out after not lifting Mjolnir. It is not like he wants the party to tank, after all! Bruce realizes this and makes a sheepish, “Ah?” sound. Essentially he says, “Not funny, huh? Okay, I get the message.”
Otherwise, the two get along well. Both are worried when Natasha is captured by Ultron, though they show it in different ways. Bruce cannot show his agitation and anger the way Clint does. That could release the Hulk. But he is worried, and Clint understands that. Thanks to his wife’s insight, he also understands why Bruce is so worried. They each care about Natasha in their own way, and the brief moment when they and Tony are in the room with the Cradle shows this rather poignantly.
There is little else to say after this point. Bruce never gets to become friends with the Maximoff siblings. It could be a while before he forgives Wanda for sending him on a rampage through Johannesburg, too. Still, he was willing to work with the twins. That counts for something.
As for his friendship with Vision, at this point that is also non-existent. Maybe later they will get to know each other better. We will have to wait and see.
Anyway, puny humans, this is my post on the Hulk/Bruce Banner we see in Avengers: Age of Ultron. I know it was mostly about Bruce and not Big Green, but for cryin’ out loud, the Hulk is really hard for me to talk about! There is only one word which sums up his character and attitude, people….
The Mithril Guardian