Can Anyone Play Dr. Bruce Banner? (Editorial)

We've had three different Hulk movies with three different actors. Does it really upset the Marvel cinematic universe if it is always someone different?

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By BJD - 5/28/2012

Many of us were very upset when we heard that Edward Norton wouldn’t be returning as the HULK in the “Avengers”. Many of us got very excited when Mr. Norton said he would return if the fans wanted him and when that petition appeared to get Mr. Norton back into the role. Many of us scoffed at the idea that anybody but Edward Norton could play Bruce Banner. Now that very same lot of us consider it blasphemy for anybody but Mark Ruffalo to play Dr. Banner whether it be on TV or in the movies. Are we just fickle fans? Was Mr. Ruffalo’s performance truly so overwhelming that it dwarfed Mr. Norton’s? Or is Bruce Banner such a plain Jane character that almost anybody can step into those shoes. I contend for the latter.

Hulk is by far my favorite comic book character and I, like many of you was upset with the idea of Edward Norton not returning in the “Avengers”. Like many of you I signed the petition to bring him back and I like many of you considered it a cardinal sin for anybody but Edward Norton to portray Dr. Banner. Well we’ve now had 3 movies where the Hulk has appeared and 3 different people have played Bruce Banner. Out of all the problems I’ve had with these movies never once has it been with the portrayal of Bruce Banner. Why is that? The answer, like it or not, is that Bruce Banner is a flat character. Hulk is the reason we go to see Hulk movies not Bruce Banner. There’s not a whole lot that is interesting about the good doctor. Sure he’s a tormented character, but his torment has always been tempered by his sense of proportion and noble heart with a sum result of just another unassuming face in the crowd.

Bruce Banner is not like Tony Stark, Thor, or Steve Rogers. Each one of the aforementioned characters are inseparable from their super hero identities. As Tony Stark said “I am Iron Man”. So because of this, the actor portraying each one these characters has a lot to do with the personality of that character. I firmly believe that no one can be Tony Stark other than RDJ. RDJ has infused his motor mouth wit coupled with his own dark history of drinking into a character that demands nothing less and has thereby branded his own personal stamp of ownership into the Iron Man armor. Chris Hemsworth doesn’t just look the part of Thor but has cemented a real sense of authority and honor into the god of thunder. We were all leery of Chris Evans as Captain America given his track record with other CBM’s but he managed to hit it out of the park by imbuing Steve Rogers with perseverance, selflessness, and tough as nails innocence. As for Bruce Banner, he’s no Dos Equis man. Can you honestly say that anything remarkable stood out about him between the 3 different actors that played him? I don’t think you can and I think that’s the way it is supposed to be. Banner is unremarkable, unassuming, and in control. For God sakes the man actively tries avoid stress and conflict…the very things that make any character interesting. While the Hulk is a demanding, out of control force of personal and urban destruction. The attractive tension between Banner and “the other guy” is that one is so boring that you probably wouldn’t notice him unless he bumped into you, while the other is so engaging that the world has no choice but to take notice. The Hulk and not Banner over stimulates our interest levels and that is why just about any male actor with talent and the appropriate age can play Bruce Banner.

Now with all this said, I will say that Edward Norton was my favorite Bruce Banner. However that is only because Eric Bana looked too young and Ruffalo looked too buff to be Banner…and that’s it, no other reason other than the physical appearance. It does enhance the visual dichotomy between Banner and the Hulk if Banner is small, lean, and possibly looks like he's got a touch of scoliosis.

So if and when that Hulk TV show finally does hit the small screen and we find Nick Stahl getting a second chance and making his big come back by playing Dr. Banner, don't Hulk out about it, instead just remember you're watching the show to see the Hulk.


This of course is all just my opinion. Feel free to hate me with all the rage and fury of a Hulk down in the trenches of comment board.

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32 Comments
marvelstudios - 5/28/2012, 3:41 PM
the hulk tv-series isnt part of the MCU so wouldnt care who plays banner. however i dont like to see a constant change of actors. kevin feige confirmed that we will see ruffalo hulk again
Ghostt - 5/28/2012, 3:44 PM
Ruffalo brought some depth to Banner that his predecessors did not. I refer to the subtle eye twitches, embarrassed looks, and nervous demeanor that people who are repressing something exhibit. This reminded me of shy, quiet people that I have seen 'Hulk out' after they get a few drink in them.
BJD - 5/28/2012, 3:51 PM
@Ghostt: you're saying that Edward Norton couldn't have twitched his eyes and looked embarrassed ...I think any actor can act shy and nervous...that's the whole point of what I'm saying
marvel72 - 5/28/2012, 3:55 PM
best bruce banner = bill bixby

best movie banner

1st mark ruffalo
2nd eric bana
3rd edward norton

no need to replace mark ruffalo,he was the best big screen banner & we'll see him again at least in the avengers 2 & maybe another hulk movie.
superbatspiderman - 5/28/2012, 4:13 PM
Techincally Bill Bixby wasn't Bruce Banner his name was David Banner but yeah he was good. Heck I even liked Eric Bana I thought he was decent in a not so decent movie.
superotherside - 5/28/2012, 4:20 PM
I'd say Norton was a great tormented Bruce Banner. Ruffalo was a great defined Bruce Banner. In the Avengers he seems to be under control pretty much, which is something interesting I didn't think they would do. I'd say Norton and Ruffalo's Banners were just different. Not better or worse. The thing that was better about Ruffalo's performance was the Hulk. He made the Hulk amazing. Something that Norton couldn't do because of the technology of the time. So yeah. I do like Ruffalo better as him because he played the Hulk.

And yes I agree. The Hulk is why I read Hulk stuff. I could care less about puny Banner. In fact in the comics I wish they would just separate them completely and have Banner be a scientist (not crazy) and just help out like Hank Pym. And have Hulk do his thing.
MrReese - 5/28/2012, 4:21 PM
I hate the fact that the keep changing actors.CONSISTENCY YA......[frick]ERS!!! XD

Ruffalo is gonna be the 1st actor 2 play Hulk twice n maybe more so no complains anymore. =)
marvel72 - 5/28/2012, 5:15 PM
@ superbatspiderman

robert bruce banner aka the hulk as gone by many aliases over the years in the comics.

-Annihilator
-Captain Universe
-Joe Fixit
-Mr. Fixit
-Mechano
-Professor
-War
-Bruce Bancroft
-David Banner
-David Bixby
-Bob Danner
-Bruce Jones
-Bruce Roberts
-David Blaine
-the Green Scar
-Green Goliath
-Jade Giant
-Bob
-World-breaker
-Sakaarson



himynameisnik - 5/28/2012, 5:18 PM
I want to see Ruffalo Hulk over and over, I loved it. It annoys me when actors change, I didn't like Rhodey changing in Iron Man 2 even though I prefered Cheadle for the role, I'm a continuity guy
BJD - 5/28/2012, 5:25 PM
@jokersfanhahahah: it sounds like you didn't catch the point of the article too well. I'm not addressing why actors change but just, does it matter that they do change with this particular character.

Yes I know Norton has a Hulk sized ego and that makes him difficult to work with...doesn't change the fact that he had the best physical appearance of all the three actors to play Dr. Banner....just my opinion.
golden123 - 5/28/2012, 5:44 PM
The idea that Bruce Banner should be recasted for every movie appearance is extremely interesting! Every actor that has portrayed the infected scientist has approached the character differently, and I am sided with you in that the real pull of the character is his Hulk counterpart. Why not let other actors have the roll. None of the live-action Banners have been bad performances. In fact, all the performances have been quite good to say the least. All the actors, thus far, have proved that the character can be portrayed various ways. Mark Ruffalo showed the man as being cautious and nervous, Edward Norton made the character out as cautious and determined, while Eric Bana, from my memory, portrayed the guy as being more nervous and measley. It's been a while since I've seen "The Hulk", though.

Excellent write up, by the way!
BJD - 5/28/2012, 6:13 PM
@golden123: thanks a lot!

However I'm not so much advocating that Bruce Banner should be re-casted every movie as much as I'm saying that I don't think it really matters...If Bruce Banner changed every movie I don't think it would be near as jarring as say Tony Stark changing from RDJ to Vince Vaughn
Tainted87 - 5/28/2012, 6:18 PM
In a word: no.
incrediblesuperbatspider - 5/28/2012, 6:52 PM
Wouldn't it be funny if they brought back Edward Norton for the avengers 2...it would confuse and throw everyone off lol
BJD - 5/28/2012, 7:01 PM
@Yossarain: that's not true at all...if it were, casting agents would be out of a job....Steve Buscemi can not play Blade, Taylor Lautner can not be Batman, and Reese Witherspoon can not be LOBO
BJD - 5/28/2012, 8:21 PM
@Yossarian: you couldn't understand that I was joking!? If you couldn't detect sarcasm in that then you might want go see a neurologist
BJD - 5/28/2012, 8:44 PM
@Yossarian: No worries mate. I know without the cadence and inflection of voice in can be hard to discern...
Ghostt - 5/28/2012, 9:01 PM
@BJD

saying Norton could have exhibited more subtle, nuanced acting does not mean he did. Norton was fine Banner, but Ruffalo captured it better.

...and yes, seeing how Hulk is the real star and Banner is only half of the character, the actor portraying him is not as important as most other characters. genius concept. catch the inflection there?

Tainted87 - 5/28/2012, 9:06 PM
I think Ruffalo really hit the spot, and he seemed to get on just fine with the cast and crew. Hopefully they'll keep him.
Kalel219 - 5/29/2012, 2:28 AM
See before seeing Ruffalo's take, I would have agreed people only go to see Hulk. But Ruffalo got me invested in Banner and he was the only actor to really come across as if he had a beast living in him.

"doesn't change the fact that he had the best physical appearance of all the three actors to play Dr. Banner....just my opinion"

Opinion can't be fact.
BJD - 5/29/2012, 4:46 AM
@kalel219: whoops...i meant to say that "it doesn't change the fact that my opinion is he was such and such...."

thanks for that.
MrsTonyStark0507 - 5/29/2012, 5:18 AM
Very good article. I agree. They were both so different, but both so great. I actually think Ruffalo looked like what I imagine Bruce Banner to look like and he looks like he has that rage just below the surface. But really, the only thing that matters is "HULK SMASH" and smash he did!

Kalel219 - Yup, totally agree!
AC1 - 5/30/2012, 7:16 AM
you've made some good points, but I think they lead to a different conclusion. I think past actors have played Bruce Banner as a plain Jane character, not that the character actually is plain Jane at all. Mark Ruffalo is the first actor to properly flesh him out (although Norton did give him some substance too). Ruffalo is so calm as a person that it reflects in his acting style, and as such, gives his portrayal of Banner a much more 'restrained' quality, like Banner has trained himself to stay calm in most situations. But there's that underlying anger he also portrays in the role, this Banner is one that is toeing the line between keeping his cool and exploding.

You responded to Ghostt by asking whether Norton couldn't add the little details like the nervous eye twitch Ruffalo did. He could have. But he didn't, and that's what makes Ruffalo the best Banner so far IMO, he really seems to understand the character better than any actor who played him before, and he obviously did his research into what that kind of anxiety can do to you. The little details are often the most important ones.

Plus, the icing on the cake is the fact that Ruffalo looks like he could facially be the Hulk. I'm not talking about the mo-cap, and that Hulk was designed to resemble Ruffalo. Even looking at the past two digital Hulks, and the comic book versions, Ruffalo has a strong resemblance to the Hulk's facial structure. And it makes sense, Banner transforming into Hulk wouldn't completely change his facial structure, otherwise when he changed back, he'd look completely different (and possibly disfigured). The Hulk looks like an exaggerated version of Banner in Avengers, which is how he should look.
ThunderKat - 5/30/2012, 12:19 PM
I think they've found the version they need to use.
The real issue is the different versions of the Hulk. "Hulk" was good, yet a little goofy. "Incredible Hulk" was dark and very Frankenstein's monster--which was appropriate. "The Avengers" Hulk fit the mold for that movie.
By the way, Eric Bana was terrible. His weak acting, terrible script, and even weaker directing are the elements that made "Hulk" so bad.
kilgorin83 - 6/3/2012, 2:47 PM
I think Ruffalo did a better job of doing the little things than Norton. The eye twitches, constant alertness and way he backed himself near walls to see everything made Ruffalo's Banner seem more like.... well Banner. Plus Ruffalo made Banner really seem like more of a scientist and genius than a fugitive. I didn't get that from Norton. As a matter of fact Norton's Banner had trouble learning spanish! Really?
TheUniverse - 6/18/2012, 5:13 AM
I watched the The Avengers and it was FREAKING AWESOME! I like them all but the Hulk/Bruce Banner STANDOUT among the rest.
TheUniverse - 6/18/2012, 5:13 AM
Mark Ruffalo did an AMAZING job and he gave JUSTICE to Hulk/Bruce Banner compared to the other 2 Hulk movies.
TheUniverse - 6/18/2012, 5:14 AM
Marvel and Disney made an EXCELLENT decision for giving the role to Mark Ruffalo. We NEED a new Hulk movie of Mark Ruffalo!
TheUniverse - 6/18/2012, 5:14 AM
edward norton SUCKS! Mark Ruffalo is THE HULK! END OF THE STORY!
TheUniverse - 6/18/2012, 5:16 AM
PROBLEM? LOL!
darthgasious - 6/20/2012, 11:59 PM
Why,oh why,oh WHY does everybody hate Eric Banna's/Ang Lee's hulk so much? It absolutely boggles my mind why this debate is solely between Mr.Norton and Mr.Ruffalo! I posted a slightly more "aggresive" comment above this on another Hulk thread, but this time I'm genuinely perplexed. Please, please help me understand what was so off putting about Bana's portrayal of the big guy. He had inner conflict,an interesting history to play off of,and Ang Lee's actual Hulk in my opinion was the the most emotive and expressive Hulk of any of the bunch! He was also alot greener which I preferd. Yeah Norton was pretty good (he's actually one of my favorite actors!) Ruffalo was great,I'll admit that, but why oh why poor old Eric Banna never mentioned in these discusions? Seriously - help me understand your thinking, I simply can't figure it out!
jjsflyingcircus - 4/1/2013, 12:32 PM
I disagree so hard with this post. The constant struggle for identity between Bruce Banner and the Hulk is what makes him such a compelling superhero! See my comments here: http://radicallyamazed.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/the-incredible-hulk-or-why-i-spend-so-much-time-alone/

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