A couple weeks ago Paramount launched a massive campaign for Mission: Impossible – Fallout centered around Tom Cruise’s willingness and ability to do his own stunt work. One of the key sequences featured in the campaign was his HALO jump, something that was used on the IMAX poster, was the subject of a number of featurettes and more.
Watching Cruise and the rest of the cast and crew endlessly talk about how he engaged in several jumps to get all the shots necessary for the film – efforts he was joined in by the requisite technical crew – got me thinking about other notable “jumping out of a perfectly good airplane” moments on film. Specifically, I started thinking about how that device has been one used a number of times in various entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
That’s a niche subset, of course, as plenty of other action/adventure movies have similar scenes. But Marvel Studios loves having its characters engage in a little skydiving, so here are four such moments from the first 10 years of the MCU.
Iron Man 2
Tony Stark doesn’t do subtle and that includes making an entrance at the revived Stark Expo. So when he wants to get everyone’s attention he jumps out the back of a cargo plane and flies down, dodging (mostly) the fireworks being set off below until he finally makes the super hero landing on stage amid a line of dancing girls in Iron Man outfits.
The scene is notable for a couple reasons. First, it shows how brash Stark has become in the years since outing himself as the hero. Second, the trailer shows Pepper Potts dramatically kissing the Iron Man helmet before throwing it out the back, sending Tony out to retrieve it. That’s not how it plays out in the film, though, as he just jumps with helmet on after a bit of flirtation with Pepper.
Captain America: Winter Soldier
By the time of The Winter Soldier, Cap has already established himself as a hero in the modern age and found a purpose through working with SHIELD. Joining a strike team that includes Black Widow to rescue a ship that’s been taken hostage by terrorists at sea, Cap of course leads from the front, diving – sans parachute – into the ocean to stealthily board the ship and prepare the way for the rest of the team.
There is, of course, the dialogue between two other team members about whether or not he was wearing a parachute when he jumped that establishes how tough Cap is. But it’s his exchange with Widow before jumping that really stands out for me as it helps establish *who* the character is. Talking about his love life, or lack thereof, is everyday workplace banter and it shows that Natasha is what might be called his “work wife.” The exchange displays how even extraordinary people sometimes have ordinary conversations and lives that have to be fit in and round their adventures.
The Incredible Hulk
With Abomination rampaging through Harlem, Bruce Banner has finally convinced the military that’s long been hunting and trying to control him that he can be useful. So they fly him toward the chaos. Still in human form, he intentionally falls out of the craft, assuming the adrenaline spike from doing so will trigger the transformation into the Hulk, something that doesn’t go quite as planned, but it all turns out alright in the end.
One of the main themes with the Hulk is that the change into the creature is often outside of Banner’s control. In the movie he’s spent years trying to keep it from happening and regretting when it does. Now he *wants* to change and can’t, something that will come up in later movies. It also sets the stage for Banner’s line in The Avengers about having tried to kill himself, only to have “the other guy” emerge and survive.
Over the course of the movie we see time and again what kind of man, king and hero T’Challa is. Right at the outset it’s established he’s not only conquered his fear but he’s done so in part thanks to his belief in the technology and skills of those around him. That’s why when he’s about to raid a convey of human traffickers he doesn’t hesitate to be spit out the bottom of the plane he’s in, falling (again without parachute) toward the ground still able to disperse other weapons and ultimately land where he needed to be.
What’s great about this is that, as I said, he’s completely confident in the way he’s leaving the aircraft, showing no fear and no concern about his fate. That winds up being in stark contrast to how he freezes when he comes face to face with his ex-girlfriend, who’s been undercover as a victim of the traffickers and who isn’t as grateful as he expected for the rescue.
Before there was a shared cinematic universe. Before there was Edward Norton, much less Mark Ruffalo. Before he was part of a team. Before all that there were…Hulk Dogs. And they were awesome.
This might seem like a massive troll coming a few months after the release of Avengers: Infinity War, but it’s not. I come not to simply take a position opposite that of conventional wisdom but to earnestly and unironically praise 2003’s Hulk as directed by Ang Lee.
No, the movie does not have a good reputation, having failed to a large extent to counter the negative reaction to a disastrous Super Bowl commercial that offered the first look at a CGI Hulk, reportedly before visual effects work was complete. That it was rebooted just five years later with a new actor as part of the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a testament to how Universal Studios wanted to unremember the divisive 2003 film
I am telling you, though, that the movie is worth a fresh look. It’s not exactly tied directly into the MCU as it exists today, but if you squint you can make certain elements of it work as the backstory that’s alluded to in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, but it’s also alright if you don’t want to put in that much effort. Even standing on its own the movie has a lot of positives working in its favor.
The Visual Style
Even as this is the least controversial position you can possibly take on the movie, saying it out loud will still get you run out of Comic-Con on a (light) rail. Lee’s decision to incorporate comic book-like panel structures to some of the scenes in the film turned a lot of people off in 2003. It was too confusing for many and didn’t win it any new fans.
Darnit, though, if the movie doesn’t have a wholly unique and captivating vibe when that conceit is employed, though. It’s shocking to me that so many subsequent movies have been praised for “really looking like a comic book” when this one *literally* looked like a comic book. Watch this scene and see how you can follow the conversation characters are having with each other because of the panel structure. You’re able to see everyone who’s talking without contrived cutaways or off-screen dialogue
If there’s a problem with this idea it’s that it’s not executed often enough. Good stretches of the movie go by without it being used, so when it does come back – usually during action sequences – it can be a bit jarring. It certainly is memorable, though, and Lee deserves a lot of credit for experimenting with the look and feel of the super hero genre before it succumbed to producer-inflicted uniformity.
Finally, I don’t mind the bright green version of Hulk used here. I think most of the blowback to this look for the character came more from that just three years earlier Cyclops, in X-Men, had mocked the idea of “bright yellow spandex” costumes. The black leather costumes there, the subdued colors of Spider-Man’s outfit…we were still coming out of the 90s and the dark, gritty vibe comics had adopted for over a decade. The conventional wisdom at the time held that comic book movies couldn’t look too much like comic books with their vibrancy. It would be another five to 10 years before The MCU changed that.
The Hulk as Petulant Child
One of the problems with the Hulk as a character is that his motivations are often ill-defined if they exist at all. In the comics he’s gone from the lumbering Hyde-like incarnation to a semi-literate ape to a Vegas casino bouncer to an interplanetary gladiator and more. Hulk’s retention of Banner’s intelligence has ebbed and flowed from one character to the other, but it’s been hard to paint him as Captain America-like hero because he never seems to have a driving ethos aside from “rage” or “anger.”
The version created by James Schamus, who wrote the film’s screenplay, positions him as Frankenstein’s monster, freshly born from the lab and confused about his identity and place in the world. He is lashing out because he doesn’t know the consequences of his power and has no one there to explain things to him.
In this way, Hulk here is not necessarily the pure-Id he’s sometimes painted to be. He is not acting out because he is raw power unleashed, free from conscience and norm. He’s a toddler with the power of Hercules at his disposal. The one tether he retains to his Banner persona is the trauma inflicted by the actions of his father, trauma he doesn’t have the means to express in a healthier manner. A 1-year-old does not cry when he can’t reach the cookie jar because he’s an entitled jerk but because he lacks the language to communicate more effectively. The 28-year-old who screams because his soy chai latte isn’t hot enough…that’s the jerk.
Here’s where I’m going to defend the narrative purpose served by the much-maligned Hulk Dogs. Yes, they’re kind of goofy and certainly came out of nowhere. What they show, though, is the indifference with which Banner’s father sees his son. He was just another means to an end, an attitude represented by the fact that animals were his next attempt. View them as part of his overall character and his callous disregard for scientific protocols and human life and you see how they fit into the story.
Again, if there’s issue to be taken with this portrayal it’s that it doesn’t go far enough while also getting bogged down in the story of how Banner’s father used him as an unwitting test subject as a child. The stronger story there is how children who grow up after losing both parents might harbor resentment they are still dealing with later in life, resentment that when triggered can lead to lashing out and heightened feelings of anger.
The Hulk’s Evolving Powers
Building on that point above, one of the more interesting elements utilized by Schamus and Lee is the idea that Hulk grows not only stronger the angrier he gets but physically larger. That’s something that, again, has been inconsistently explored in the comics over the years but it makes as much sense as anything else about the character. If he goes from human to jade giant because he’s angry it stands to (suspension of disbelief-aided) reason that he would become even bigger the more he’s provoked.
Watch this clip from shortly after Banner’s first transformation into the creature. He’s grasping desperately at the device as if he’s unsure if he can handle it or not. Contrast that with scenes later in the film where Hulk handily grabs a missile from mid-air and flings tanks left and right. Also note how Hulk’s initial leap from the rooftop isn’t very strong or very far, while later he’s seemingly covering miles at a time, practically flying through the air.
An All-Time DGAF Nick Nolte Performance
Nolte’s performance ranks as one of the great “I don’t even know what movie I’m in, I’m just going for it” turns in cinematic history. Your tolerance and taste for this will certainly vary, but for my money when he mocks his son’s whining while they’re both strapped in by Gen. Ross…it’s just fantastic, while also being a reminder that Bruce is dealing with a father who saw him as just another variable in his experiments, not a human being who needed love and caring.
OK, There Are Issues
Eric Bana just can’t summon enough personality for us to really care when Banner is on screen. He’s giving Episode II Hayden Christensen a run for his money in the “Most Bland Performance Of The Early 2000s” here. Also, How can you give Jennifer Connelly that little to do? More broadly, why does Hollywood keep giving talented actresses so little to do in super hero movies as a whole? I’m looking at you Zack Snyder, and your constant wasting of Amy Adams.
Those performances are contrasted against Sam Shepherd, who’s able to do more with his role as Gen. Ross than he should be able to. And Josh Lucas as Glenn Talbot is so mustache-twirling broad in his performance you’d think he was selling it to the cheap seats, blowing past caricature to be…not bad.
The future incarnations of Hulk, both from Norton and Ruffalo, had the advantage of not needing to cover the origin details. Again, if you want to make the end of Hulk, where Banner goes off to live in South America, fit with the opening of The Incredible Hulk where he’s keeping a low profile working in a bottling plant, you can. And if you want to make the end of that movie, where he’s gone off to get zen about his powers, fit with where we find Banner at the beginning of The Avengers, you can. You don’t need to, but you can. Both, though, were able to portray a weary Banner who had experience with the monster inside, something Bana couldn’t.
Hulk as (Fill in the Blank)
As I said above, Hulk has never been an easy character with one *definitive* interpretation that’s held fast over the last 50 years. What the version envisioned by Ang Lee and James Schamus offer here is one who represents the dangers of unexpressed emotions built up over a lifetime. Put aside the science and military elements of the story and you have someone struggling to simply come to terms with what he’s feeling and process that in a healthy way.
Those have, for me, always been the most interesting Hulk stories. When he was introduced in the 60s he was the lumbering brute representing the darkness that simmered under the surface of polite society. That version has come back over the years a few times with various twists.
Perhaps that’s why Ruffalo’s Hulk in The Avengers was so intriguing. At one point he talks about how if Nick Fury’s plan is to kill him it’s not going to work. “I got low,” he says, and tried to kill himself, only to have “the other guy’ spit the bullet right back out. Then, during the final battle, he reveals his secret to maintaining control: “I’m always angry.” That idea of anger – expressed, repressed and under control – is setup in Hulk and Avengers, but almost completely abandoned in Incredible, where the secret to not Hulking out is (checks notes) not letting your heart rate rise too high.
There are certainly issues with the movie, as there are with most. Sure, you can laugh at the Hulk Dogs if you want. But appreciate how Lee and Schamus weren’t making a super hero movie but one that held a mirror up to the dark places found in the human psyche with Hulk as metaphor and allegory and you have a much different film, one that deserves at least a second look.