SPOILER NOTE: This is a review of a character from the 2012 film “The Avengers”. It will contain spoilers. I recommend avoiding this review until you’ve seen the film.
“It’s good to meet you, Dr. Banner. Your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled. And I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.”
-Tony Stark, The Avengers
A Complex Brute
The Incredible Hulk is a complex creature. Born in 1962 from the pen of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, he’s always been a monster released by anger and stress – but it’s not as simple as that.
Bruce Banner’s dad was abusive, the comics said, and the Hulk was a physical manifestation of the rage that had become Banner’s way of coping with reality.
Several times, the two have even been separated, but their need for one another is overwhelming and they’re always reunited.
But the core of the character is always the same; as seen in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner is a divided, risky, consumed man.
A Divided Man
Hulk was always intended to be a reference to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Stan Lee intended him to be something adolescent boys could relate to as their bodies changed and spiraled out of their control. But he turned into something we can all identify with.
See, Bruce Banner is so inseparable from the Hulk because, quite simply, he IS the Hulk. When he tries to remove the monster, he fails; when he tries to restrain his anger, he fails. By the time Agent Romanoff meets him to recruit him for the Avengers, Banner has given up. The Hulk is a part of him.
A very dangerous part of him.
We Only Hulk Out on the Ones We Love
All right. We can agree that the Hulk is actively dangerous, right? He starts out unbelievably strong and gets stronger the madder he gets. In The Avengers, he punches a space monster the size of a nuclear submarine and knocks it backwards.
But unfortunately, his danger isn’t always focused on the bad guys. He puts his friends and family in danger time and time again. In the opening scene of his standalone film, he puts his fiancee in the hospital. In The Avengers, even the most powerful demigod in Asgard can’t stop him from putting everyone aboard the Helicarrier at risk.
But he’s not just actively dangerous. Even when he’s the mild-mannered scientist, he’s still passively dangerous. He’s a fugitive, so anyone who helps him is a criminal. He’s on the edge of turning into the Hulk, so anyone nearby when he’s mad will face his wrath.
He’s not a safe guy to be around. You wouldn’t like him when he’s hungry.
A Poisoned Soul
Banner’s condition isn’t just dangerous to those around him. Living with GAMMA poisoning, as Mr. Blue says in The Incredible Hulk, is not safe. So unsafe that risking the combined might of the US Military would be preferable. When Stan Lee’s character drinks a soda with a drop of his blood inside, he falls over almost instantly.
And it gets even worse. The more Banner gives in, the harder it is to stop him. And when Emil Blonsky gives in to Banner’s poisoning, he becomes an abomination.
Worst of all, though, is the aftermath. The shame of endangering those close to you, the weakness that Banner always shows after he returns to normal, and the alienation of being ostracized from society are the best you can hope for; at worst, you kill others and cause untold destruction before you die.
“Well then, son, you’ve got a Condition.”
But if we really understood the danger of what lurks inside us, we’d run and hide, too. We’d be even more insistent that we “don’t want to control it. [We] want to get rid of it.”
See, Banner’s poison is Gamma radiation. Ours is much more subversive.
Our sin is a part of us. It’s part of us by choice – like Banner chose the procedure, so we chose to sin. It’s part of us by nature – Banner’s very cells were green, and ours too are tainted by the sin we cling to. And it’s part of us continually – over and over, we choose to sin, giving in to our rage monster and putting others at risk.
Our sin poisons our lives, too. Romans 7:15 is about a man who wants to get rid of his sin, but can’t; “I do not understand my own actions,” he laments. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” The poison runs deep, dividing us into different people, hurting those around us, and leaving shame and destruction in its wake.
And like Banner, we’re completely helpless against it. Our ongoing struggle will always be – how do we have a normal life, with this poison running through our veins?
A Way Out
As helpful as Betty Ross, the Avengers, and S.H.I.E.L.D. can be, they’re just comforters and helpers. Bruce Banner is in trouble, and he doesn’t have a way out. Not even death, as he reveals in The Avengers.
But we have a way out. We’re being pursued – not to destroy us or to capture us, but to restore us and free us of the poison. Christ is chasing us down – in Luke 19:10, He tells us that His mission is to “Seek and Save the lost;” and in Romans 5:7-8, we’re told that “while we were still sinners” – poisoned, hopeless – “Christ died for us.” He laid everything down for us on the cross.
All we can do is hope in Him. Until then, we’re always angry.
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