Film News

Looking Back At Mark Ruffalo’s Last Big Thing + Looking Forward to His Rumored Storyline in Avengers: Age of Ultron

By the time The Avengers: Age of Ultron rolls around next summer, we will have gone 3 full years without seeing Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, not counting his brief cameo in Iron Man 3‘s post-credits scene.  This will have marked a surprising display of restraint on Marvel Studios part since after Ruffalo’s Hulk stole the show during the final battle sequence of The Avengers calls for him to get a solo film or somehow worked into a co-starring role in Iron Man 3 were at a fever pitch.  Instead, for the time being Hulk is being kept isolated to The Avengers films, hoping that absence will help the heart grow fonder.  Or maybe that’s seriously over-thinking it, and we’ll never ever get tired of seeing Hulk smash the way he did in Avengers.

Adjust your expectations accordingly.  Nothing quite as cool as this happens in Iron Man 3.
Adjust your expectations accordingly. Nothing quite as cool as this could possibly happen in Age of Ultron, right?

Either way, with Age of Ultron reportedly now at the halfway point of its filming schedule the rumor mill has been churning, spouting out some fascinating insight as to what we might expect from the Hulk.  Before we get to that, though, let’s pause a moment to look back at how Ruffalo got here.

In the time since The Avengers, Ruffalo has mostly returned to his dramatic acting roots, starring as a sex addict in Thanks for Sharing (2013), earning rave reviews alongside Keira Knightley on the festival circuit for the upcoming Once-esque Begin Again (2014), and serving as the anchor of the sprawling, all-star cast of HBO’s likely future award-winning TV movie The Normal Heart.  He’s also a part of Foxcatcher (2014), the Channing Tatum/Steve Carell drama about real life Olympic Gold Medalist Mark Schultz which instantly sparked early Oscar buzz upon its recent Cannes Film Festival debut.  Really, the most big budget thing he’s done since Avengers is Now You See Me, last year’s surprise hit about modern day renegade magicians.

In general, the indie circuit is where Ruffalo has spent his entire career, cutting his teeth as a bit player in cheap horror films like Mirror, Mirror 2 and 3 and The Dentist in the early ’90s before showing up in films you’ve likely never heard of, such as Safe Men (1998, from the writer later responsible for Meet the Parents, Along Came Polly, and Zoolander) and The Last Big Thing (1998).

We were recently made aware of The Last Big Thing via an email from VanGuard Cinema (who are not paying us to write about this; just sent us an “in case you’re interested” heads-up):

Dan Zukovic’s THE LAST BIG THING, called the “best unknown American film of the 1990’s in the film book “Defining Moments in Movies” (Editor: Chris Fujiwara), was recently released on DVD and Netflix by Vanguard  Cinema, and is currently debuting on Cable Video On Demand, including Fandor. Featuring an important early role by 2011 Best Supporting Actor Oscar Nominee Mark Ruffalo (“The Avengers”, “Shutter Island”, “The Kids Are Alright”), THE LAST BIG THING had a US theatrical release in 1998, and gained a cult following over several years of screenings on the Showtime Networks.

Cool…I guess.  It definitely reminds me of the mid-90s, and calls to mind the sensibilities of John Waters somehow married to Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991).  But what is it actually about?

“From a bland tract house on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Simon Geist (with occasional help from his platonic girlfriend Darla) wages war against all of modern American popular culture. Geist starts up a magazine called The Next Big Thing” which he uses to confront and insult upcoming actors, comics, models and rock bands. As Geist’s mysterious Underground Agenda escalates, will he become the last big thing” or be co-opted by the very forces he is railing against?”

Actually, now it sounds a little better.  However, it seems abundantly clear that this is one of those situations where an actor has become a star later in his career, and now some of his earlier films are being sold based upon the novelty of seeing that guy you know from what that one big thing (Avengers) in this other thing he’s barely in from nearly 20 years ago.

Not that you would have predicted such a fate for Ruffalo, who finally broke through with his role in You Can Count on Me (2000) and worked steadily thereafter in awards-fare dramas (Zodiac, Reservation Road) with an occasional rom-com (13 Going on 30, Just Like Heaven, Rumor Has It) along with a couple of box office bombs (All the King’s Men, The Brother’s Bloom).  However, he didn’t really show up in a big hit until Shutter Island and Date Night, both in 2010, neither of which feature him as the star.

Ruffalo Hulk Mo-Cap

Now, thanks to The Avengers, he’s starred in one of the biggest films of all time, and we want to know what he’ll be up to in Age of Ultron.  He offered the vaguest of hints in an interview with TotalFilm, declaring, ““[My role’s] even bigger than last time, and it’s more complex and it has more layers and a bit more arc […] I’m really tripping on the technology of this motion-capture stuff… now I just completely embrace it and see it as this other exciting place we can go as performers.”

However, LatinoReview, which has a strong track record with this kind of stuff, claimed to have the low-down on what will comprise the first 15-20 minutes of Age of Ultron, and it contains a surprising new development for Hulk (as well as Thor!).  Stop reading this very second if you don’t want any part of Age of Ultron spoiled, although this leaked information is subject to change due Scarlett Johansson’s pregnancy forcing rewrites on the film:

  • Age of Ultron picks up immediately after the post-credit scene from ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and will see The Avengers take on Baron Von Strucker’s Hydra cell and his “twins,” Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.  Von Strucker will use Chitauri weaponry against them, and though a corpse he has of a Leviathan from the Battle of New York will be harmless the Scarlet Witch will hex Hulk into thinking it is still alive, somehow resulting in him attacking his fellow Avengers.

avengers-age-of-ultron-hulk-concept-art

  • After The Avengers inevitably win they will return to Avengers Tower to party, at which they, including James Rhodes/Iron Patriot, each take turns trying to lift Thor’s hammer Mjolnir.  The only one who even manages to nudge the hammer is Captain America, a nod to the comics where Cap, Superman (in a special cross-over issue), and Beta Rey Bill are among the very few other than Thor to be able to lift Mjolnir.
  • At the party, we discover Bruce Banner and Black Widow have developed a crush on one another, but Banner is afraid to pursue it for fear of “hulking out” on her.  Elsewhere, Thor will seen to be not in a celebratory mood, still mourning the end of his relationship with Jane Foster, who will have left him for Chis O’Dowd’s character from Thor: The Dark World.  The real world explanation behind this is that even though she signed a multi-picture contract Natalie Portman has been rumored for several years to want out of her deal, particularly after the director she championed for Dark World was more or less fired and eventually replaced by Alan Taylor.  So, Age of Ultron might be writing her out and setting Thor up for a union for Jaimie Alexander’s Sif in Thor 3, or we can remember we’re still only talking about the first act of the film and there’s no telling what might await Thor the rest of the film, perhaps winning Jane back by the end or at least resolving to do so.

This does kind of sound like something they’d totally do with Black Widow, who has now flirted with the likes of Iron Man and Captain America in their respective films and clearly had some kind of relationship with Hawkeye in the past.  She is the one shown to have some sympathy for Banner in The Avengers, specifically the gaze they share in the seconds before he completes his transformation into The Hulk.  Due to Banner’s split personality between himself and The Hulk this would make him into an Angel/Angelus-like figure for Joss Whedon to play around with as he did on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Plus, if the movie starts with those two flirting Whedon’s past would indicate we should expect that the pair is being set up for some heart-break.

I have a harder time completely buying the part about Thor, or even that Whedon would essentially re-use the “people can’t pickup Mjolnir” joke Kenneth Brannagh already utilized hilariously in the first Thor.  That being said, the thought of Iron Man trying and failing to pick up Mjolnir might be too funny an image to pass up.  However, with The Dark World‘s resolution being so specific to Thor leaving Asgard to be with Jane it’s a bit hard to believe they would simply break those two up off-camera in-between films, but then again the first Thor made it clear it would be super difficult if not impossible for Asgardians to return to Earth and then Whedon waved that way with one line in Avengers.  

What do you think?  Let us know in the comments section.

Avengers: Age of Ultron begins its conquest of North American theaters on May 1, 2015.  You can look for The Last Big Thing on CanIStreamIt, which reports that it can be streamed via SnagFilms as long as you don’t mid brief commerical breaks.

Sources: TotalFilm, LatinoReview (via ScienceFiction)

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