Out of all the characters featured in Marvel's The Avengers, The Hulk has had the hardest time on the big screen. By the time Joss Whedon's superhero team-up film hit theaters, its Hulk (actor Mark Ruffalo) was the third onscreen iteration of the character that fans had seen in the 21st century, after actors Eric Bana and Edward Norton played the character in 2003 and 2008, respectively.
With the Marvel Movie Universe alive and thriving, people tend to ponder Hulks past and Hulk's future - which is still uncertain at this time. Recently Eric Bana was once again dragged into the Hulk conversation - and according to the actor, not being THE franchise Hulk is something he does not at all regret.
Bana of course starred in Life of Pi director Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk adaptation - a film released during the dawn of the modern superhero blockbuster, when the thought of seeing something like Avengers was still just a fan's wishful thinking. While full of Lee's technical prowess - the film is structured to literally be a moving comic book - many fans still felt disappointed with the end result - especially the look and design of the CGI Hulk featured in that film.
In speaking with Huffpo, Bana was still saying his Mea culpas to fans who felt betrayed by Hulk:
I'm proud of what it tried to do. I apologize to all those people who were so angry about it... I'm fascinated by the people who hated that movie and feel compelled to watch it again, which always blows my mind. But, yeah, it is what it is and I certainly don't regret doing it.
Of course, having pride in his work in one film is one thing; however, Bana is also quite clear that he does not envy the position of actors like Ruffalo, who is locked into the Hulk role for the long term of Marvel's movie universe expansion:
I think I'm so lucky it didn't happen. So, I think the opposite -- one of the things I was most fearful of at the time is it being a huge success [laughs]... I feel very blessed to have been given the opportunities that I've had the last 10 years -- so I wouldn't want to change that for anything. Everyone's career is different and I'm not saying it wouldn't have been exciting -- it would have been a different thing... And I've really enjoyed my ride.
Interestingly enough, given how most hardcore fans view the eras of comic book movies in the early vs. late-2000s, Bana (as first prompted by the interviewer) makes the assertion that - in some ways - Lee's film was ahead of the curve: "...it was the first of the "dark" take. Make no mistake."
In the era of brooding and character-driven superhero movies, Hulk, it could be argued, fits better alongside the latter 2000s films than it did in the more lighthearted time of early 2000s superhero films. Certainly the examination of Bruce Banner's daddy and rage issues closer mirrors Dark Knight, Man of Steel, Amazing Spider-Man or The Wolverine than it does, say, Daredevil - though it likely still wouldn't fit in with the more fantastical and adventure-driven films in Marvel's "Phase One" lineup.
Despite how time may have softened fans' perspective, Hulk seems destined to go down as that one-off red-headed stepchild of Marvel superhero movies - while the debate about how it could've been received if it had been released in the Dark Knight era will likely continue for years to come.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
At the moment, it seems like we won't see Hulk onscreen again until The Avengers: Age of Ultron hits theaters on May 1, 2015.