Now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has officially become the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse, we’ve seen several past variants of popular heroes begin to make their surprising return to the big screen – from Patrick Stewart’s Professor X to the three Spider-Bros to Hugh Jackman’s Ragin’ Canadian, Wolverine. But there’s at least one vintage Marvel movie hero who does not getting a repeat appearance: Eric Bana’s Hulk.
The Australian actor played Bruce Banner and his green-skinned rage monster for the first and only time in Ang Lee’s discord Hulk film, which was released in theaters almost twenty years ago on June 17, 2003.
Talking to Yahoo Entertainment alongside Mia Wasikowska for their new family movie, Bluebackthe 54-year-old Australian actor makes it clear that he has no plans to return to the MCU.
“I think my body of work since then answers that question,” says Bana when asked if he would reprise the role if Marvel invited him to join their multi-stage multiversal shenanigans. He also did not revisit the film ahead of its 20th anniversary. “I haven’t seen it in a long time,” he admits.
Bana has confessed to having mixed feelings about his short time as the Hulk in the past, describing his experience playing the character as “frustrating”, and expressing disappointment at having spent so much of the shoot was separate from the rest of the cast. “It always felt like I was working on a little movie,” he says now, referring to the fact that he was rarely present at the Hulk’s extended sequences in full rampage mode. “I was kind of in a room with another actor just doing normal things. It never felt like a huge movie until I sat down and saw him.”
Revisited twenty years later, what’s fascinating about Lee’s film is that the Oscar-winning director – that of his global wuxia hit, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — made an intensely dramatic story about hereditary trauma dressed in (worn) superhero clothes. The crux of the film is the more than toxic relationship between Bruce and his father, David Banner (played by Nick Nolte), who passed on his own mutated DNA to his son – genes that help create the Hulk when the younger Banner becomes hit by a dose of gamma radiation.
“I really enjoyed working with Nick on the father-son stuff,” Bana recalled. “It was such a different movie than anything that came out back then. That whole thing [Marvel] the world hadn’t exploded yet.”
Hulk hit screens on the heels of two other non-Marvel Studios Marvel films: Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil and Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United, both of whom also play fast and loose with comic book canon. But Lee’s movie remains one of the most extreme departures from what was on the page, and the response from fans and critics alike was decidedly mixed at the time. It didn’t help that the visual effects needed to bring the Hulk to life weren’t quite where they should have been two decades ago.
“I think we did some motion capture stuff, but they realized it didn’t really help them at the time given the technology,” says Bana. “It was so raw back then, because it was so early for all that stuff. So I didn’t really have much to do in terms of playing the big guy.”
Bana also has a relatively minor role in it Blueback, but he makes a Hulk-sized impact in the life of the film’s protagonist, marine biologist Abby Jackson. Based on Australian author Tim Winton’s beloved 1997 novel, Blueback‘s story charts her coming of age from a young girl (Ariel Donoghue) who goes on regular dive trips with her mother (Radha Mitchell), to a passionate teenager (Ilsa Fogg) who leads her first rebellion against local developers and fishermen trying to exploit the sea, to an adult (Wasikowska) deciding how best to protect and care for the ocean and her increasingly sick mother.
Bana plays another diver, Macka, who befriends Abby in her younger years and helps nurture her love of marine life in all its forms. Though he and Wasikowska don’t share any scenes Blueback, they share a love of Winton’s novel and previous ties to the film’s director, Robert Connelly. “The book is a very important piece of work here in Australia,” says the actress. “And we both have individual friendships with Robert, and we’d always heard from each other about him for years.”
Wasikowska filmed all of her scenes as the adult Abby before the younger actresses and Bana gathered to shoot the scenes depicting her early years. As Macka, the actor plays an eccentric diver who fosters the young girl’s love for the world beneath the waves. “He’s almost the crazy uncle,” Bana says of his alter ego. “I really loved the way he was written and how mischievous and mysterious Macka was. There’s something about him that young Abby is really drawn to, and he becomes an important part of her life.”
Funnily enough, Macka’s nickname in the movie is “Mad” Macka – a reference to Australia’s most famous action hero, Mad Max Rockatansky, the post-apocalyptic road warrior played by Mel Gibson. Born in 1968, Bana saw director George Miller’s inauguration in 1979 crazy max picture as a child and credited it with making him want to be an actor. (He was reportedly in the running to reprise the role in Miller’s 2016 revival, Mad Max: Fury Roadbut the part went to Tom Hardy instead.) But he insists Mad Max didn’t influence his portrayal of “Mad” Macka.
“crazy max is my favorite movie of all time, and it has had a huge influence on me,” he says with a chuckle. As a young car enthusiast as a boy, you can imagine the impact crazy max had on me.”
Meanwhile, both Bana and Wasikowska hope so Bluebackenvironmental message impresses young viewers. “One of the things experts say is that increasing the biodiversity in your area is the best way to contribute to protecting the Earth from climate change,” the actress notes. “It’s the little things like that that really make a big difference. The best chance we have [for the planet] are individuals who change their behavior in small ways.”
Like her co-star, Wasikowska also celebrates a personally significant film anniversary this year. Ten years ago, she co-starred with Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston Only loved ones who are still alive, Jim Jarmusch’s quintessentially unique spin on a traditional genre film – in this case, a vampire story. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2013 and followed a team of immortal blood-sucking creatures who contemplate the end of their existence. It’s an experience that the actress still considers one of her favorites.
“I really loved Jim,” she says now. “He’s so unique. I’ve never worked with anyone like him. He was very protective of his script: he didn’t want agents to read them, and I think that’s because they’re kind of a skeleton. If you turn around on set, he likes to take little bits of whatever you bring. I remember there was a drum kit on set one morning and I was bashing it. He said, ‘Let’s start there with you.’ He has his own specific and authentic vision.”
Blueback hits theaters March 3; Hulk is available for rent or purchase from most VOD services