Thursday, April 23, 2015

More Betty Thoughts

I talked about this last summer, but with Age of Ultron right around the corner, the Hulk has been on my mind. Today I was checking out all of the deleted scenes from The Incredible Hulk, and if you have access to them (or find them online, which is easy enough), I recommend watching them. They turn the film into a much more satisfying movie. They're all scored and edited and mixed, too, so if you have good edit software and know how to use it, you could easily add them into the movie and create a special edition.

If it really matters, there are spoilers in this post.

Though not on the bottom for me (hello, Iron Man 2), The Incredible Hulk is one of the least satisfying movies in the MCU. I could never really pinpoint why that's so, but after watching all of the deleted scenes, it's simple: it lacks an emotional core. The sad thing is, the film once had an emotional core, and the filmmakers seem to have decided to cut it all out in favor of a lesser movie. I've always liked The Incredible Hulk, but I've always acknowledged it as a movie that doesn't quite work and doesn't feel complete. Turns out there was a lot there that deepened not only the characters, but Bruce Banner's entire dilemma.

The filmmakers have committed that old, unpardonable sin of jettisoning character development and emotional resonance in favor of getting to the action. I can easily see someone deciding to cut "all that boring talking" in favor of the smashing, not realizing that the smashing has no resonance if it's not in the service of an actual story. I don't give a damn if it adds a whopping 45 minutes to the film, it was absolutely the wrong call.

The heart of the Bruce Banner/Betty Ross relationship exists in the deleted scenes, giving the movie's themes more room to grow and develop.

(Also, William Hurt has some scenes that explain why General Ross is so obsessed with capturing the Hulk; now I understand why Hurt would agree to appear in a superhero movie as the heavy; turns out his introspective scenes hit the cutting room floor.)

I've gone on before about how important the Bruce/Betty stuff is to me, and why it resonates with me. I never really thought before today--even though it's pretty obvious--that Bruce is really mentally disabled. Hey, so am I. It's not just the outbursts of uncontrollable anger I can relate to, it's also the desire for control and how fleeting that control can sometimes feel. There are incredible moments in the deleted scenes that show how hard Bruce struggles to control, and how odd it can be to just feel neurotypical sometimes. During a scene where he has dinner with Betty and her new lover, Leonard Sampson (played by Ty Burrell, whose entire performance was basically jettisoned), Bruce finds himself laughing during an anecdote and then suddenly breaks into a crying jag because it's the first time he's felt genuine happiness in five years. I've been right there. I know what it's like to resign yourself to never feeling joy again and then suddenly realizing you have and it's too much to feel at once. That was a beautiful moment.

I can relate to all of the reasons why Bruce fled from Betty and how hard it is to approach her now, with five years of guilt and distance between them. He feels constantly guilty about having hurt her in the first lab accident that created the Hulk--a scene which is alluded to in flashbacks, particularly in the alternate opening where Bruce is driven to suicide (he references it in The Avengers). In the movie, there's a scene where Bruce and Betty almost make love in a motel room, but the excitement is too much and he pulls back because the danger of turning into the Hulk is too great, and he's already living in fear of hurting her again. The movie then cuts to a rather lame impotence joke.

There's a deleted scene there, though, which is absolutely necessary to Bruce's journey: Betty brushes her hair back and shows him the scar she still bears from that lab accident, the scar he gave her when, as the Hulk, he injured her. She actually makes him look at it so that she can absolve him of that guilt, telling him that the pain goes away, but not knowing what happened to him was far worse. She forgives him of the thing he could never forgive himself for.

Liv Tyler is a wonderful counter to Edward Norton. Norton plays Bruce as always guarded, always afraid, always on edge. As someone with panic disorder and agoraphobia, I can relate. Being in a lot of situations is very scary for me, and my eyes are often darting around, looking for exits, looking for danger, as though I'm afraid that by not being on alert, I'm somehow inviting the danger in. By contrast, Tyler's Betty is soft, giving, and generous. Deeply generous. She speaks softly in that gorgeous voice and lets Bruce know he's safe. That's the thing that really touches me about the character and Tyler's portrayal: if she's ever nervous, it's not because of Bruce. She's not afraid to touch him, to speak to him. She knows how to handle him without handling him, if you know what I mean. She's questioning without being confrontational. She's gentle, but with the deleted scenes, you can see how underneath it is a strength and sensitivity. She can calm the Hulk.

Again, that's so important to me, as someone who doesn't often consider himself worthy of being loved like other people. And to see the warmth between them, even after a trauma they were unable to confront together, like maybe they should have, is truly touching.

What's also great is that Betty really gets her own ending in the deleted scenes. She has an arc. She confronts her father about how he's played a significant role in altering Bruce's life forever, and she also confronts Leonard at the end of the film, realizing that he called her father out of fear. Betty, giver that she is, understands Leonard's fear, accepts it, and forgives him... but doesn't come home to him, instead deciding she needs to move on and find herself. She can't just be the nurturer. Now that she knows Bruce is alive, now that she has closure on the trauma, it's time for her to find who she is without it.

It's a real shame that none of this survived into the final cut. This was very nearly a movie about people.

I've talked before about how I want to see Betty (preferably in the person of Liv Tyler) come back into the MCU at some point, but I'd honestly just be happy to see her role in Bruce's past at least acknowledged. I like how The Avengers gave us a Bruce who had made some peace with his disability, but who also learned--through his friendship with Tony--that it was okay to embrace it, to feel joy and confidence, to give himself some damn credit. That the Hulk didn't necessarily have to be a curse. That he could learn to live with it, try to manage it. That's tremendous growth.

I can see so many of the things I struggle with reflected in Bruce and the Hulk, albeit in an obviously exaggerated, science fiction way. And Betty's role in making that growth possible is significant. So, just some kind of acknowledgement would mean a lot.


Roger Owen Green said...

Frog smash stupid Hulk movie.

This narrative made me extraordinarily sad - I'm tired, yeah, that's it - about how the story was ruined in editing.

Roger Owen Green said...

Oh, are the deleted scenes in the DVD, if you know? I've not seen the movie (or, for that matter, the first Avengers movie), but you make it compelling.

SamuraiFrog said...

Annoyingly, there are three different editions with varying sets of deleted scenes. The Blu-Ray has all 43 minutes of deleted scenes on it. The regular edition DVD only has 13 minutes, and none of the scenes have Betty.

In a pinch, though, someone has the deleted scenes in two batches on YouTube, and the alternate opening is pretty easy to find there.