15 August 2015 - 4:51 pm

Trusting monsters

Lullaby make Hulk sleepy (Picture: not mine)

Lullaby make Hulk sleepy
(Picture: not mine)

[Contains spoilers for Avengers 2: Age of Ultron]

I’ve babbled at length about Natasha, sterilisation, and monster-hood. Now I’d like to turn my attention to the other side of that almost-relationship: Bruce Banner and his struggles with ‘the other guy’.

One element that I think Avengers 2 handled poorly is the Hulk’s departure. To be clear: I have no objections to him leaving; it’s how it was shown in the movie that fell down for me. (Maybe there are some deleted scenes that go into it more; it’s too early to say!)

This is another one of those things that you have to watch for clues about, and try not to blink or you’ll miss it (much of the character work is like that in Age of Ultron). The clues are there, but they rely on being familiar with the other MCU movies and take a bit of piecing together. Personally, I think we (the audience) are being asked to work harder than we should have to to understand why Bruce left.

Ultimately, in my opinion, it comes down to trust. To understand why, you have to understand the thing that is most important to Bruce: control. Specifically, control over himself. At the end of The Incredible Hulk, we see (Edward Norton’s) Bruce learning how to bring the Hulk out on purpose through training and meditation. In The Avengers, (Mark Ruffalo’s) Bruce makes a kind of peace with that part of himself and reveals that he can be in control of when the Hulk comes out – and that he’s willing to do it when necessary.

In Avengers 2, Bruce has been working to extend his control with Natasha and her ‘lullaby’. She helps him to put the Hulk away; shutting down that part of himself that he still resents and dislikes, though he’s willing to use it when the team needs him to.

Still, he’s reluctant to try for anything like an adult relationship or a normal life. He doesn’t think he’s able to have those things with the monster inside him. He takes a lot of convincing, and it’s no accident that Natasha – the one person who can consistently put the Hulk back in his box and give Bruce back to himself – is the person he might have this life with.

Eventually, he comes around. In one of those ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moments, he says yes to her. They might not be running off and abandoning the mission like she suggested, mostly because they’re in the middle of a fight at the time, but it’s definitely on the cards. He says yes.

Unfortunately, his way of saying ‘yes’ is to tell her that he won’t change into ‘the other guy’ (“I have a compelling reason not to.”). Natasha’s response isn’t to tell him that they have a ‘code green’ or ask him to change just this one last time because they need the other guy: she pushes him off a ledge and forces the Hulk out.

That, I believe, is the moment she loses Bruce. He said no to the change and she ignored his choice. She disregarded his consent, took away his control, and betrayed his trust. The one person who is supposed to put the monster away proved herself willing to force it out, too.

We don’t really get any explanation of that. The Hulk is angry when he appears, but he’s always angry, and he’s quick to rush off into the battle at hand. He doesn’t take it out on Natasha (she’s standing right there) and doesn’t seem any different towards her. He looks out for her during the battle and makes sure she’s safe. And then he leaves.

Curiously, now that I think about it, he’s still in the Hulk form when he steals the plane and disappears. Is leaving something that the Hulk and Bruce agree on? Did she hurt them both with a single move?

I would have liked some clue in the movie about why Bruce left. No-one seems to have an explanation, not even Natasha. As the group’s chief manipulator (she charms the Hulk and manipulates Loki, for goodness’ sake), I would have expected her to have some understanding of the situation. Yet all we see is her staring off into space. Is she trying to figure it all out, or wondering how she could be such a huge idiot, or wondering if she’s destined to die alone for all she’s done? We’re not given any clues (that I could see), except that she’s clearly deeply affected by Bruce’s departure.

That’s the only way I can make this make sense. One small push shattered their relationship. One brief moment of pragmatism spoiled a romance. All of it very much in-character for each of those involved.

I just wish that we didn’t have to fill in the gaps ourselves.

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  1. Kunama says:

    See, I’ve stayed away from these movies because I don’t have the time or money to waste on action movies that don’t feature anywhere near enough women, but now I’m curious.

    August 18th, 2015 at 12:11 am

  2. Mel says:

    It’s true that the Marvel movies are only slowly starting to have proper female hero characters. So far, Black Widow has been the main one, and I like what they’ve done with her (Whedon is good at creating and presenting interesting female characters). I’m hoping that Wanda gets a bigger/better role to play in the future movies, after her intro in Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man left us with an interesting promise.

    Marvel seems to be sluggish in their response to audience demands for more female heroes in the line-up, but it’s moving in the right direction, I think.

    August 18th, 2015 at 10:29 am

  3. Defining monsters : : Adventures in Text says:

    […] up soon: Trusting Monsters (aka why did Bruce […]

    August 21st, 2015 at 3:40 pm

  4. Nicole Orr says:

    I still remember you first telling me about this point of view. When I came out of the movie, this wasn’t how I viewed Bruce’s leaving. However, after talking to you, your vision of the departure made SO much more sense. (Originally, I was quite confused) This is now the perspective that I spout at people whenever I find somebody who’s seen the movie.

    August 30th, 2015 at 1:59 pm

  5. Mel says:

    I found Bruce’s departure very abrupt; this explanation was the best I could work out, given there was so little in the movie to work with. I’m glad it makes sense to more than just me! 🙂

    August 31st, 2015 at 12:12 am