Friday, April 27, 2012

Why I Secretly Sort of Want to See "The Avengers," Or What the Hell Is Mark Ruffalo Doing in This Movie?

As a general rule, I don't do superhero movies. Not anymore.

As a kid, I read my big brother Jeff's X-Men and Fantastic Four comics, mostly because I wanted to be as cool as I thought he was, and it gave us a common interest, two more things to talk about. Usually I didn't actually know what I was talking about, but I did think a black and blonde superheroine (X-Men's Storm) was pretty cool, and the "death" of good girl Jean Grey and her apparent rebirth as bad girl Dark Phoenix was as good as anything Luke and Laura were doing on General Hospital.

In the '80s, I saw the Superman films but preferred reruns of the '50s TV series. Even better: repeats of the '60s Batman series. I went to the cinema for all four Batman movies in the '90s -- and loved exactly one-half of them (the Tim Burton-directed half). After that, I sort of lost interest. That means I missed Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man, the first Superman reboot, Fantastic Four, The Incredibles, Hulk (part of which I once did see on mute in my gym in Buenos Aires) and The Incredible Hulk, X-Men and all of its evil spawn, as well as B-listers like Daredevil, The Green Lantern, The Green Hornet and Catwoman.

I did make it to see The Dark Knight in the theater but only because I was visiting my friend Dave in New York City, and he insisted. I didn't love the movie as much as everyone else did, but at least I got to cross an Oscar film off of my must-see list during the summer. Since Heath Ledger is not around to reprise his Oscar-winning role as the Joker, I have no interest in seeing the next Batman film, or the Spider-Man reboot with Andrew Garfield as the web slinger, or the second Superman reboot (though I must admit that Amy Adams as Lois Lane might pique my curiosity just enough to check it out).

So why in God's name is The Avengers getting such a rise out of me? Although I love Robert Downey Jr. and enjoy looking at Chris Evans (Cellular is one of my all-time guilty cinematic pleasures) and Liam Hemsworth (blame it on my weakness for hot Australian men), I have yet to see either of Downey's Iron Man films, Evans as Captain America or Hemsworth as Thor in their respective 2011 movies.

But I don't think I can pass up the opportunity to see Mark Ruffalo as both Bruce Banner (a big-screen role previously played, but hardly definitively, by Eric Bana and Edward Norton) and the Hulk (whose two previous screen appearances was courtesy of CGI).

Few actors in Hollywood have had as curious a career as Mark Ruffalo. I've loved him ever since I first saw him in You Can Count on Me, couldn't take my eyes off of him in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and was thrilled when he finally earned his first Oscar nomination last year for The Kids Are All Right. He plays the man-child so well, and since I can't seem to get enough of them in real life, it would make sense that an actor who embodies them so perfectly on celluloid would hook me, too. I'm not so sure if the sexuality of lipstick lesbians is as fluid as Queer As Folk, Grey's Anatomy and The Kids Are All Right would have us believe, but I totally understand why Ruffalo would make Julianne Moore bi-curious. If you're going to cheat on Annette Bening, he'd better be really worth it.

"That doesn't even look like him," Lori declared as we stood looking at Ruffalo as Bruce Banner on the Avengers poster in the cinema in Bangkok's Central World, where the film opened this week, well ahead of its May 4 U.S. premiere. She was right, but who else would even know that? It's not like the general movie-going populace is used to seeing Ruffalo on magazine covers and reading about him in the tabloids. Many people probably don't even know his name, only that he's "that guy in that other movie," one in which he probably wasn't playing the lead. He hardly ever plays the lead.

Though he's every bit as skilled and handsome as the Brad Pitts and Ryan Goslings of Hollywood, Ruffalo has had most of his success in supporting roles or playing the second-billed romantic interest to female rom-com stars like Reese Witherspoon (in Just Like Heaven) and Jennifer Garner (in 17 Going on 30). Even when he gets a shot at a franchise, he has to share it with a bunch of other actors.

I don't know what The Avengers will ultimately do for Ruffalo's career -- maybe nothing, maybe everything. If it turns out to be the latter, I want to be able to say that I was there when a long-gestating box-office star was finally born.
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