The Hulk is among the most iconic and important of Marvel Superheroes. Since his introduction in the comics in 1962, the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creation has been adapted to animation, television, and film. The character’s popularity and importance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was not diminished by the role being recast in the middle of the series when Mark Ruffalo took over the reins of the green hero from Ed Norton. But just a few years before the MCU launched, it was a role played by Eric Bana.
The Australian actor played the titular character in 2003’s “Hulk.” The film was directed by Ang Lee and released at a time when no one could have imagined a linked Marvel Universe of the size we have nearly twenty years later. It was a relatively high grossing film that year and retains a fairly respectable critical reputation (the film currently holds a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes.)
Bana appeared recently as a guest on the podcast “WTF with Marc Maron” and spoke briefly of his experience playing the strongest one there is and being passed over by Marvel when the role was recast. “The universe as you know it didn’t exist back then. You certainly didn’t go into a film like that thinking you were going to do more than one. That just wasn’t in play,” the actor said. “The expectations were not the way they are now. I approached it as a one-off.”
The comment comes after a few iconic actors who have portrayed superfolk in the pre-MCU days are either confirmed or rumored to be reprising their roles now that alternate realities seem to be trending in superhero films. Michael Keaton is returning to play Batman in the upcoming “The Flash.” And in the MCU, Alfred Molino is confirmed to be making an appearance as Doc Oc in the MCU’s upcoming Spiderman film, while there are rumors of Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield dawning the red and blue tights again.
Bana recently addressed these questions as a guest on “Jake’s Takes.” When asked whether he would ever see himself returning to the role he was not asked to return to in 2008 when Ed Norton was cast as the Hulk in the MCU, Bana said:
“When I went and did that film, that was kind of like pre-Marvel Universe. That universe didn’t even really exist, so it always felt like a one-time film for me. That world of you go off and do a movie, and there are going to be sequels, that framework didn’t even exist back then. I guess the short answer is no. I never felt like that was something that I was going to reprise or do again. After all this time, I can’t see that happening.”
Maron asked the actor, who will be starring in the upcoming film, “The Dry,” whether he ever spoke to Norton or Ruffalo. “There’s not a lot of Hulk entwining here,” the actor said. Maron suggested that someday they could host a panel together called, “The Three Hulks.”
In the meantime, Ruffalo is set to play the Hulk in the MCU’s upcoming Disney+ series “What If…?” and “She-Hulk.”