Over the last few days I have seen a lot of people online express confusion about the two different Hulk outs in The Avengers. Members of my own family have told me that they thought these scenes, taken together, made no sense. I briefly despaired but then thought the best thing I could do would be to help explain it without being judgmental. I'm taking baby steps here.
Spoilers follow, obviously.
The disconnect for people seems to be in that Bruce Banner Hulks out twice in the film with very different outcomes. The first time he turns into 'The Other Guy' it's on the SHIELD Helicarrier, and he's a rampaging monster who is trying to kill his own teammates. The second time he changes he's in New York City fighting the Chitauri and he's so in control that he even takes commands from Captain America. The film never has anyone really stand up and explain the difference, but it's all there in the movie.
The key is to understand that the circumstances of the two changes are drastically different. The first time Banner - and the rest of the Avengers - has been brought to the boiling point by Loki's staff. Everybody is ready to fight and tempers are short. When an explosion demolishes the lab and sends Banner and Black Widow tumbling into the lower decks, our heroic scientist is already at the end of his rope. Banner, who has been mysteriously holding it together for over a year, has lost control due to magic and injury. That means the Hulk that emerges is an uncontrolled force, a blindly smashing beast that is lashing out at any and everything. It's the version of the Hulk we've already seen - a rage monster.
But the circumstances of the second Hulk out are totally different. Banner, fully in control, explains his secret method of dealing with the Hulk - he's always angry. Film Crit Hulk talked about this in his excellent New Yorker piece today, where he said:
FOR YEARS, BANNER BATTLED HIS OWN MIND AND MERELY TURNED OUT THAT FEAR OF HIS OWN ANGER WAS A TRAP. REALLY, HE HAD TO UNDERSTAND IT. TO RECOGNIZE IT AND ACCEPT IT. AND THAT’S PRECISELY WHAT BROUGHT GENUINE CONTROL.
This is the key. Banner is no longer trying to repress his rage. He accepts it and uses it, channels it. That means when he needs it - like when the Chitauri are demolishing New York City - it's there for him to direct in the right way. Anger doesn't have to be formless and without target. It can be used wisely, even constructively. It's what powers social revolutions and what leads people to fight injustice. Anger, Johnny Rotten once said, is an energy.
But it can be a dangerous energy, one that is easy to misuse and which can become uncontrollable. That's what happened in the first Hulk out.
So it's simple, and it's all in the movie. And it's a great direction for the cinematic Hulk.