Sunday, 22 February 2015


("What If..." Marvel made a Hulk film in Phase 2?)

Phase Two:

May 2013 - Iron Man 3
November 2013 - Thor: The Dark World
April 2014 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier
August 2014 - Guardians of the Galaxy
May 2015 - Avengers: Age of Ultron
July 2015 - Ant-Man

The Character of The Hulk
The one thing any new Hulk film has to get right is the character of the Hulk, and build on the way that Joss Whedon got it exactly right where the last two films, Ang Lee's 2003 effort starring Eric Bana and Louis Leterrier effort with Ed Norton in the role, missed the mark. 
I want to highlight a couple of moments from 2012's The Avengers (renamed Avengers Assemble in the UK) that made the difference.  
First is a line that's not even spoken by Bruce Banner, and it comes before we even get to see the new Hulk. Tony Stark tells Bruce Banner "You're tiptoeing, big man. You need to strut." and he's right; the Hulk struts. The Hulk thinks he's cool as fuck. He's not just a roaring rage monster, not all the time. Mostly, he's just extraordinarily grumpy, and wants to be left alone, but you know what? The Hulk likes being the Hulk. 

Watch what happens when faced with the Norse God, Loki. In one of the film's highlights, he swats him about like a rag doll and then struts away like the cock of the walk, with a grunted "Puny God!"  
While everyone wants to hear Bruce Banner give it some "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry..." audiences tend to be a bit (ahem) jaded and switch off from endless scenes of the irradiated scientist bent double on the floor in apparent constipation. 

As Mark Ruffalo himself notes "Traditionally you’re watching a guy who doesn’t want to do the very thing that you want him to do. It’s hard to take for two hours. I don’t know how many times you can use that same framing for it, but now he’s maturing and there’s a cool dynamic growing between Banner and The Hulk." 
At the time of writing, Age of Ultron is some two months away, but it's that last remark that chimes with me; that's what's interesting. That's what the film should really get at, what the last two films didn't even scratch the surface of. Where does Bruce Banner end and the Hulk begin? Are they two separate guys, or the same guy? 
Not so long ago, before the massive unveiling of the plans for Phase Three, there were vague rumours that Marvel Studios were so pleased with the green one's reception in Avengers that we might get a Planet Hulk film in Phase Three. This was before Guardians of the Galaxy had even hit, so it was perhaps a much more 'out there' prospect then, but even now it still sounds like a massive gamble, and (Ultron pending) a huge leap in story narrative.  
At the risk of apparent heresy, I'm not really sure Planet Hulk is really all that appealing a prospect anyway.  
But it's definitely a tricky proposal - is it really possible to pull off satisfying smash-filled action and tackle the big philosophical questions (without being ponderously boring) at the same time? 
Sod it, let's have a go... Come with me into "What If" land...
So "What If" the Marvel Cinematic Universe had had a Hulk movie as part of Phase Two...?
"New" Phase Two:
May 2013 - Iron Man 3
November 2013 - Thor: The Dark World
April 2014 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier
August 2014 - Guardians of the Galaxy
November 2014 - HULK: I.D.
May 2015 - Avengers: Age of Ultron
July 2015 - Ant-Man


A play on words - I.D. as in Identity, versus "id", as in the part of Sigmund Freud's structural model of the psyche that represents the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends, meaning that for our purposes the Hulk is the Id to Bruce Banner's "super-ego" (the critical and moralizing role) - that goes to the heart of what this film is about.  

Eyewatering. The CGI alone for at least 5 Hulk-type characters (more on that in a bit), plus Iron Man, plus Rescue would sink this straight away and that's before you even look at the cast list, and soundtrack. But never mind, this is just for fun, so let's spoil ourselves.

Decided to go a bit "Guardians of the Galaxy" with this, partly just for the obvious reasons, commerciality and whatnot, but also because I was trying to listen to stuff to get the right tone to the story - those earlier films had an over earnest leaden quality; this one needs to take Tony Stark's advice to heart and strut, and swagger - but I wanted something with raw power that gets the blood pumping, but with a cool stomp to it, to avoid the disheartening stodgy metal-lite grunge-dirge that inexplicably stank up Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, and other similar films (Hell, even the Avengers suffers from this - that Soundgarden track at the end  is nothing to write home about is it?). Obviously I want some more thoughtful stuff in places, and other picks were led by my story developing. As budget is again no consideration in the fantasy-football world of "What If", I've not skimped here either. 

Smash Hits:
1. Hysteria (Muse)
2. Being Green (Kermit the Frog)
3. For What It's Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
4. War (Edwin Starr)
5. Always on the Run (Lenny Kravitz feat. Slash)
6. Sleep Now in the Fire (Rage Against the Machine)
7. The Beast in Me (Nick Lowe)
8. Sign o' the Times (Prince)
9. No Fun (The Stooges)
10. Street Fighting Man (The Rolling Stones)
11. 20th Century Boy (Marc Bolan & T.Rex)
12. Rock 'n' Roll (Led Zeppelin)

Yeah, you read that right. Kermit the Frog. All will be explained... 

Just to give some of the game away already, here's my cast of characters:

Doctor Bruce Banner / The Hulk / Joe Fixit: Mark Ruffalo
Tony Stark / Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr.
Natasha Romonov / Black Widow: Scarlett Johanssen
Pepper Potts / Rescue: Gwyneth Paltrow
Jennifer Walters / She-Hulk: ???
Doctor Betty Ross: ???
Yuri Topolov / Gargoyle: ???
Igor Starsky: ???
General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross / Red Hulk: ???
Brigadier General Glenn Talbot: Adrian Pasdar
Rick Jones: ???
Wendigo: ???
Frank Castle / The Punisher: ???
Voice of J.A.R.V.I.S.: Paul Bettany

post credits:
Baron Wolfgang von Strucker: Thomas Kretschmann
Prince T'Challa / The Black Panther: Chadwick Boseman

In the post Avengers MCU, it's fine for Bruce Banner to turn up in Iron Man 3's post-credits sequence, and for Black Widow to have a substantial part in The Winter Soldier and we already know that Iron Man, Black Widow, Black Panther and now even Spider-Man are going to wage Civil War; so for our non-existent Hulk film of November 2014, we can't possibly pass up what everyone's wanted since they drove off together at the end of The Avengers: the Tony Stark / Bruce Banner buddy movie!

 In fact, I think a lot of people would pay good money just to watch these two characters in a Sideways-esque road movie, and sure they might get smashed but there wouldn't really be enough proper "smashing" for an actual Hulk movie... 

I wanted to introduce a couple of new characters, give the Hulk some decent, memorable, foes this time out and at least try to make sure the thing doesn't turn out to be the 'boy's club' do that some superhero films (including previous Hulk outings) can turn out as.

Hence Red Hulk and Gargoyle as primary villains, with a cameo from the Wendigo, introducing the She-Hulk and giving Pepper Potts the chance to go full on superhero as Rescue. I hadn't originally intended to include Black Widow but I needed a better explanation as to Gargoyle's background in the modern day (i.e. freed from his Cold War roots) and including a Russian mafia angle gave me a way into something else I wanted to include: a brief interlude that would include the Grey Hulk and Joe Fixit. I felt that not only would having Banner become Fixit for a spell give us something never before seen in a Hulk movie, but that it would also give She-Hulk and Rescue room to breathe and for the Red Hulk to gain the ascendancy ahead of a big showdown.  Punisher I've included in a way that might be how this character could be palatable to the Disney-friendly MCU i.e. make his weapons fantastical, and only used against creatures like the Hulk. He could be dropped though, then it would just be Talbot pursuing the Hulk in the 1 action scene I've given him. 

The Questions:
Hulk thinks himself completely separate from Banner, and hates him, believing him to be weak ("puny") and a prison within which he sleeps, Banner calls the Hulk "the other guy" and refers to him in the 3rd person but always feels responsible for the actions of the Hulk, but what's the truth...?

  • Is the mind of the Hulk a separate, self-contained thing that could be removed, a dormant section of brain?
  • Or does Banner's brain physically transform; do the neural pathways rewire themselves into a different configuration?
  • Can the Hulk's brain be scanned to find out? Can the Hulk be reasoned with, persuaded to undergo a scan? What would that take? The promise of separation? Some sort of power share deal, like who gets to drive the car this weekend?
  • Is the Hulk software or hardware? Is Banner "Safe Mode"? 
  • If the Hulk is becoming harder to control, does this mean that he is in fact the default? Is Banner just "Airplane Mode" when the Hulk's batteries are low?
  • Does the Hulk have a soul?
  • Is "The Hulk" even real or is he effectively just a brain damaged Banner who self-identifies incorrectly, a dissociated personality or fugue state?
  • Is the Hulk a psychopath? Is Banner?
  • Does Banner remember being the Hulk? And vice versa? Is that "his" memory?
  • And who asks (some or all) these questions? Bruce Banner - Tony Stark - Glenn Talbot - Betty Ross - Jen Walters - Natasha Romonov...

Obviously, very sketchy and with a few holes that need filling but hopefully enough of a backbone of plot to make some sense, so without further ado... 

We open right in the middle of Bruce Banner transforming into the Hulk, no waiting, no messing about - full on Hulk, straight away. Our whole opening sequence is cut to music with one song seguing into the next as the backdrop to smashing carnage.
The film starts with the familiar flicking comic book pages going into the Marvel logo to the start of Hysteria by Muse. As the first beat of the drum hits around the 10 seconds mark, we see a close-up of the Hulk's foot stomping a crater into the ground, and on the next a giant green fist pummeling the ground. As the music kicks off properly on 20 seconds(ish), we get a full shot of the Hulk roaring his rage into the night, and he then proceeds to battle his way through an assault by the military, his punches, stomps, crushes and smashes cut to the drum beat. He's thumping tanks, swatting low-flying jets out of the air and punching missiles back where they came. This goes on to about the 3 minute mark, where the action becomes slow motion, balletic, and is no longer cut to any beat as the song segues into Being Green sung by Kermit the Frog.  Poor old Hulk; this is a typical day in his life, he just can't go anywhere without the army trying to blast him to kingdom come. 

As this song fades out, Hulk has made it away from the army and finds himself in a desert clearing near a hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drill site in the New Mexico desert, where the army has set up a base. As he takes a step nearer, though, he's attacked by a giant werewolf-like creature, the Wendigo. 

The Hulk is observed from afar by Natasha Romonov AKA Black Widow, and she reports back by radio to an unseen colleague. 
The Hulk defeats the Wendigo, beating him unconscious, but something prevents him from killing at the last minute, just a flicker of humanity in the Hulk's eyes. He seems to shake himself, and shrugs his disdain - he's won, anyway. He bounds for the hills, with the army deciding to let him go - Glenn Talbot shouts at him to come back, but makes the mistake of calling him 'Banner'; the Hulk replies "Banner's not here. Leave a message after the SMASH!", thumps a tank and leaps away. Talbot orders the bound Wendigo brought back to base. 

The Hulk arrives at Black Widow's location, and she calms him down by telling him that he's safe here, and he'll be left alone. He transforms back into Bruce Banner, who collapses, exhausted. Widow observes a strange red blast at the base, in the distance, then helps Bruce up to a nearby car. 

We now get the film's titles and credits over scenes the next morning of protesters outside the base, holding anti-fracking banners and placards, and as Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth plays, we see lawyer Jennifer Walters drive up to the security gate to request entry to see her client, Rick Jones, and she's waved through. 
Jen visits Rick Jones, who's handcuffed to a hospital bed in the base sick bay because he's been accused of trespass on the military base. The base is on strict lockdown, with evidence of a massive fight/struggle, wrecked fixtures and broken glass everywhere, as well as warped metal and blast damage. Rick is keen to ask her "did he find what we were looking for?" and to tell her that he witnessed something incredible last night, but doesn't get the chance to say much before Talbot ejects Jen. 
Betty Ross wants to talk to Talbot too. After "a blast like that the base should have been flooded with gamma radiation, but there's none, zero." Talbot is more worried about Betty being straight back at work after her father was killed in the blast. She tells him she can't do any good at home, she has to find out what happened to him. 

Talbot tells her that they know what happened - General Ross sacrificed himself to save every man and woman on the base, took the brunt of the blast and was vaporized. Betty isn't so sure. She also wants to talk to him about the project manager, Dr. Igor Starsky, feeling that he's being evasive about the whole incident, but Talbot has to go... make a statement to the press, which is the sight that greets a bleary eyed Bruce Banner who awakens under the care of Natasha Romanov and Pepper Potts, in a cabin in the hills.  Talbot announces that the Hulk was seen escaping the scene of the attack and that Bruce Banner's believed to have connections to the anti-fracking protesters camped outside the base. As he stalks away from the conference, Talbot tells his aide to get Castle on the phone; "I'm ready to cut him a deal."

Natasha and Pepper assure Bruce that he could not possibly be to blame; he was never inside the base and certainly not at the time of the explosion. He still feels responsible and insists that he wants to go to see Betty Ross at the military base, despite the risk of capture. Pepper tells him that they may have a way on to the base anyway - and Jen arrives at the cabin.

At the base, Talbot tells Dr. Igor Starsky he wants drilling to start again as soon as possible, "we need that new gas you've discovered you've discovered; we have to have those weapons ready as soon as possible - we can't afford another Battle of New York, and if Project Insight hadn't been compromised we wouldn't be in bed with you and this AIM group you've inherited." 

Starsky tells Talbot that it will be two weeks, maybe three, until the Vibranium drill head can be replaced, then sneaks into a store room which hides a door through the rock face behind the wall. Starsky goes down the secret passage to a laboratory where he meets with gamma mutated former FSB & Russian Mafia scientist Yuri Topolov AKA The Gargoyle. 

Gargoyle tells Starsky he needs to prevent Betty Ross getting a better look at the remains of the "guard dog" i.e. the Wendigo, and that they have been delayed not defeated; Gargoyle gloats that Talbot and the army have no idea what they're really drilling for: a powerful red gemstone [in fact an Infinity Stone] at the heart of a meteorite that buried itself in the ground in prehistoric times. It is the decay of the gamma-irradiated meteorite that has changed the molecular composition of the shale gas for which the army believe the operation is fracking. 

Back at the cabin, Jen helps Bruce remember that he was contacted by Rick Jones because the fracking operation was emitting gamma radiation, but that information Rick had got from a source at the base proved to be a trap set by General Ross. 

Black Widow and Pepper Potts have been investigating the drilling operation because Starsky has taken over AIM after the events of Iron Man 3, and because they are sure he has connections to former FSB & Russian Mafia scientist Yuri Topolov AKA The Gargoyle. 

Persuading Bruce to stay in the cabin [this is one of 'those' conversations - here between Pepper and Bruce - about the Hulk identity problem] and wait for Tony to pick him up, Jen, Natasha and Pepper go to the base. Pepper pretends to pitch new Stark-tech to Talbot to distract him so that Natasha can steal computer files from Starsky, while Jen visits with Rick. 

Through Rick, Jen gets the opportunity to speak with Betty, who shares her findings - Whenever Banner's around there's a spike in gamma readings, but this spike was absent from readings immediately prior to the explosion: the CCTV footage across the base has a gamma reading burned next to the timecode.

They watch the recording of what happened that night, with the Wendigo being brought into Starsky's lab, regaining consciousness and then going on the rampage near the drill head. The Wendigo is eventually taken down by gunfire but an amount of the gas has vented into the room and the damage has caused an electrical fire. General Ross is caught in the resultant blast and the footage is blank for a time; when the pictures come into focus again they catch a glimpse of a large figure leaving the scene. It wasn't the Hulk and the Wendigo's body is still there so what is it...?

Bruce is in touch with his friends at the base through Natasha's earpiece, and tells them to get out of there before Talbot gets wise. Natasha triggers an alarm though when she accesses military files and discovers that Talbot has set an ex-army buddy onto Bruce's trail: Frank Castle, AKA The Punisher.  
She reads his file and discovers that the Punisher is a vigilante who employs murder, kidnapping, extortion, coercion, threats of violence, and torture in his war on crime. Driven by the deaths of his wife and two children, who were killed by the mob during a shootout in New York City's Central Park, the Punisher wages a one-man war on the mob and all criminals in general by using all manner of weaponry. It seems that whilst the Punisher is wanted by the Police and FBI, Talbot is willing to have him track down the Hulk on no more a pretext than Banner being wanted for the murder of General Ross and evading justice. 

With the alarms sounding at the base, Natasha has to get off the line, but Bruce is relieved to see that Tony Stark has arrived at the cabin. Bruce asked for a low key getaway so as not to attract attention, but naturally enough, Stark turns up in a topless sportscar, with a screech of tyres and Always on the Run (by Lenny Kravitz feat. Slash) blasting out of the stereo. They're soon speeding away, as Bruce tries to re-establish contact with Natasha to find out what's going on at the base. 
The Red Hulk arrives! He attacks the protesters and calls Talbot out. Jen is critically injured saving Rick, who had tried to talk to him thinking him to be Bruce.  The Red Hulk's theme is Sleep Now in the Fire (Rage Against the Machine)

Pepper dons her Rescue armour but has to concentrate on getting Jen to safety, while Natasha tries to lead the Red Hulk away. Talbot of course, believes the Red Hulk is still Banner. 
Pepper assesses that Jen will need a transfusion and sooner than they can free her from the rubble, so Tony and Bruce turn round and speed towards the base.  

They're waylaid, though when they're attacked by the Punisher in his battle van, and Bruce loses his temper with predictable results, including tearing off the battle vans roof and effectively using it to skateboard along whilst hanging on to the back of Stark's car. Tony is forced to don his Iron Man armour to capture the Punisher alive and use him as bait to lure the Hulk away to calm down...

...which leaves Pepper with no choice but to synthesize blood based on a sample from Bruce... 

...a decision that helps Jen free herself from the rubble - when she becomes the She Hulk! 

Natasha escapes the wrath of the Red Hulk by the skin of her teeth when he finds what he came for - Igor Starsky - and then leaves. 

With the Red Hulk on the loose, causing carnage on the news, the team regroup at a mountain hideout/lab that Tony had set up for Bruce to work in to cure his condition. The Punisher accepts that Banner did not kill Ross, but is no team player and tells them he'll leave as soon as they've shared their intell on the Red Hulk. 

Bruce and Tony debate the use of a "gamma reversal" method; something Bruce now feels is more essential to test on himself so that he can know it's safe to try on Jen. [Here we get a 2nd conversation that takes in some of the "Big Questions"].

She's not so keen to change back, as she still has her own personality and mind when she's the She-Hulk, and can control her transformations, and Tony questions "killing" the Hulk when they have a Red Hulk out there to catch. 

The experimental gamma reversal is not successful - Bruce transforms into a new iteration of the Hulk, grey in appearance, and monstrous, but nowhere near as large as the 'savage' green Hulk. He does however retain his intelligence and memories. 

The grey Hulk flees, cursing his lot and telling his friends he's too much of a danger to them. Punisher goes after him, but promises he's only interested in justice, so will not kill him.

Pepper and Widow perform post-match analysis on the Red Hulk attack and spot the military style tactics, erupting out of the crowd outside to create panic, driving protesters along one flank of the base to weaken defences on the other flank to allow him to break in at the weak point, then attacking the CCTV control room, setting off the sprinkler system and the security lockdown to keep reinforcements out, burying any Hulkbuster weapons, and then heading for the drill site. 

At first it's only thought he wanted to 'finish the job' and destroy the drill, but when they intercept military radio transmissions, they realize he's kidnapped Starsky. They also realize that the Grey Hulk took one of Pepper's "Rescue" Gauntlets that contained scans from the base and info on Starsky...

Red Hulk finds his way - via smashing through a cliff-face - to Gargoyle's lab, where he returns Starsky to his master, having interrogated Starsky and learnt of the red gemstone whose power created him. Gargoyle knows the Red Hulk's secret, that he is really General Ross... 

...and tells him that he also wants to destroy the Hulk and claims to be a victim of the Hulk's - neglecting to mention that he suffered his transformation when the FSB tried to create their own Hulk. 

The Red Hulk agrees to keep the army busy for the fortnight it will take for the new Vibranium drillhead to be forged, and to hunt down Banner into the bargain,while Starsky and Gargoyle recommence the drilling, and an uneasy alliance is forged with the aim of recovering the red gemstone. 

The two weeks start to pass, with a montage showing us the Grey Hulk going 'underground' i.e. becoming a besuited underworld dealer in information and secrets and working with the Punisher to bring criminal gangs in line; he's really working on gang connections with the Russian mafia, figuring out Starsky's connection to Gargoyle.
Our montage is to the sound of Sign o' the Times by Prince, and the scenes of the Grey Hulk - who's becoming known by the pseudonym of "Joe Fixit" - are intercut with Tony and Natasha driving around trying to find him, speaking to contacts, having no luck, and Pepper monitoring Jen's health as she starts to train to take on the Red Hulk alone. 
Red Hulk has been calling Banner out, and is growing increasingly frustrated with his lack of success, so he resorts to threatening civilians to draw him out of hiding - he attacks the hydro-electrical dam on the military base's doorstep, starting to crack the concrete foundations. But instead of Banner, it's Jen Walters and Pepper Potts who arrive to take him on; Jen is to be the blunt instrument while Pepper attempts to use her Rescue suit to absorb the Red Hulk's fiery gamma bursts. The raw power of The Stooges' No Fun soundtracks this fight with the Red Hulk.
Thanks to the Punisher, Natasha and Tony are able to catch up with "Joe Fixit" at the same time, and while he wants to just info dump the intell on Gargoyle and have them present his information to Talbot to prevent the imminent return to drilling, it's only when he realizes that Jen is in danger because she's fighting his fight that he agrees to re-enter the fray. 
When the Grey Hulk turns up at the dam in the nick of time - Pepper's "Rescue" armour has overloaded and failed to drain off the gamma radiation as hoped, and Jen is injured, Red drops his pursuit of Jen and Pepper to chase Bruce back to the military base, whilst avoiding the protesters. The Grey Hulk's appearance in battle, appearing out of the crowd of protesters is heralded with Street Fighting Man by The Rolling Stones.

Tony and Natasha fill Jen and Pepper in, and they work on smoking Gargoyle out of his hidey hole, while Bruce takes on the Red Hulk. 
The Grey Hulk takes the fight to the drill site, determined to stop Starsky reaching the meteor, but as he starts to absorb the Red Hulk's fiery blasts of gamma, he starts to become larger, angrier, and greener... The reappearance of the Green Hulk sees our soundtrack switch to 20th Century Boy by T.Rex as the fight starts to go his way.
Red Hulk thinks he's won - he tells Bruce that when he becomes the "mindless" Green Hulk again, he'll forget what he came here to do, and the drilling will reach its' target. 
The Red Hulk figured out straight away that Gargoyle was playing him and just went along to gain the knowledge of the gem stone, so when it comes to final penetration he betrays Gargoyle, wounding him and allowing Talbot to capture him, while Starsky escapes [but only, as we see in a mid-credits scene later, to find that his AIM group have been incorporated into HYDRA by Baron von Strucker]. 
But the Red Hulk is wrong; thanks to the gamma reduction process and his time as the Grey Hulk, there's much more of Banner in the Green Hulk now, and as the drill reaches the right depth to reach the gas, instead of stopping it, the Green Hulk allows it to go full pelt, cracking the asteroid and revealing the red gemstone. Red Hulk reaches for it, but Green Hulk finally beats him down and then hurls the Red gemstone into space. 

Red Hulk can't believe he's been beaten, and the Green Hulk tells him "Hulk knows what Banner knows... No stone, no gas - no gas, no weapons." Red Hulk, his energy finally sapped, turns back into General Ross, and is arrested by Talbot. 

The newly intelligent Green Hulk tells his friends "Hulk and Banner might never... see eye to eye, but we've come to an arrangement." 
Now the Green Hulk can, as Tony Stark told Bruce Banner in The Avengers, "strut". He bounds away to the sounds of Led Zeppelin's Rock 'n' Roll.

Our post-credits scenes are: (1) Black Panther decides that misuse of Vibranium has gone on too long and the time may come when he has to travel to America in person (2) Starsky finds that AIM are no more, and Baron von Strucker and HYDRA take possession of his research, with von Strucker asking "...and where is Ross now?" and (3) The red gem hurtles into space, and is caught - by Thanos.

Or something like that, anyway!  

Coming Soon... The Green Death

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