What the Hulk taught me about character


Sometimes bad writing has as much to teach us, if not more, than good.

I wouldn’t say writing (and I’m including screenplay/scripting in this category) is completely unique in this respect, but I feel confident that musicians don’t have as much to gain by delving into crappy compositions.

Now this may seem a little harsh but I’m looking at you two Hulk movies:

There are probably a few criticisms to make of these films, but I want to specifically focus on character. Bruce Banner/The Hulk are a fascinating dual-personality with plenty of potential pickings for compelling characterization. After all you’ve basically got a superhero version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a classic character! what could possibly go wrong?

I remember when I sat down to watch The Credible Hulk, realizing that there is a bit of a story telling trap with The Hulk. All his plots seem reduced to Banner attempting to avoid The Hulk and external antagonists trying to provoke/kill/capture him. While this doesn’t seem too bad on the surface there is actually a major problem with it, well a few. For one people want to see the Hulk, it would be super awkward to have a film without the titular green giant, so while Banner might be motivated to avoid the big lug audiences do not.

This brings me to my first point – when fleshing out a character you’ve not to have some empathy for where the audience is going to sit with it. Usually we side with whatever the main character(s) want, but also readers will also have desires beyond this, such as seeing the Hulk rage out. The movie Logan provides a good example of this where Logan really doesn’t want to get dragged into the plot, but obviously as audiences, we do.

Jumping back to the Hulk movies, portraying a character wanting something different to the audience isn’t necessary going to ruin a story, but it needs to be handled deftly, as you want to sate your audience while also resolving character motivations.

This leads me to point two – when the Hulk typically appears in movies he basically solves everything. The quintessential Hulk appearance is either after some hapless thugs antagonist Banner, military attempt to capture him, or a similar big nasty appears that only Hulk can defeat. If you look at this from a story perspective its not actually that compelling:

  1. MC tries to avoid something the audience wants to see
  2. MC is antagonized forcing the situation
  3. Hulk solves everything

While I like the whole ‘you won’t like me when I’m angry’ thing it actually makes more compelling sense to allow Banner to choose to become Hulk, as the fact that Banner has no control over Hulk (usually) does that annoying thing where Main Character doesn’t have to take responsibility for his choices, after all it’s the bad guys that set Hulk off.

This brings me to my third and final point, the two movies mentioned above pull punches when it comes to Hulk’s danger. Despite being told that Hulk is super dangerous we are typically only shown him harming people who are trying to harm him, and causing property damage, which as we know in movies doesn’t matter anyway. I’m not suggesting that all Hulk stories go the bath of disturbing blood baths like the Marvel Ultimate universe did (in that comic series Hulk would often be described as eating several civilians whenever he got out) but having some consequences would definitely up the tension.

The reason I said all of this was a sort of trap is that I believe it seems like compelling story telling – a man trying to resist a dangerous power within himself, one that he can’t control, baddies trying to capture or kill him in relation to said power. But as I hope I conveyed above its not actually that interesting.

One final beef is that Hulk movies always seem to be about Hulk’s character developing,  and it’s always around Beatty and how Hulk seems to love her too (but platonically of course because WTF?) but its never presented in good story fashion where Hulk has to make choices (seems almost anathema right? But I think it could be done) he just abruptly does what he has to for the story.

What would make I believe a compelling Hulk centric film is one in which Banner actually develops and makes different choices in relation to the Hulk some good some bad and develops form them. As above even Hulk could actually be challenged to make choices, he is typically shown as little more than a smashing machine, but instances of Hulk being given a choice of targets for example could show steroid Kermit in a compelling situation.

I title this post about being taught about character, but it’s sort of turned into a rant about Mr Green, however I hope within said rant my insights are clear.

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