The Incredible Hulk

How (Not) to Write Satisfying Action Scenes

How Not to Write Satisfying Action ScenesPart 2 of The Do’s and Don’ts of Storytelling According to Marvel

Imagine this. You sit down to write the biggest action scenes in your entire story. They’re gonna be epic. Giants will collide. Empires will topple. The conflict will be definitively decided once and for all–and readers will be glued to the page.

This is, no doubt, exactly what the folks at Marvel Studios intended for the action scenes in the second movie in their cinematic universe: The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton. (Yeah, Edward Norton.)

Remember that one?

Frankly, it’s pretty easy to forget. There are couple relatively subjective reasons for this:

1. This was the second Hulk movie to come out in less than five years. (Three different Spider-Man franchises is one thing, but does anyone really want more than one Hulk? Nuh-huh.)

2. The Marvel cinematic universe was still in its infancy, so a lot of people didn’t yet realize Incredible Hulk tied into the phenomenally successful Iron Man (which we discussed in last week’s installment). In fact, more people than not thought this version was somehow a sequel to Ang Lee’s underwhelming Hulk.

3. In a lot of ways, this movie feels like it’s from a different universe altogether (and not in a good way as with, say, Guardians of the Galaxy).

4. Edward Norton vs. Mark Ruffalo. Who you gonna remember?

Edward Norton Mark Ruffalo Hulk

The Incredible Hulk (2008), Marvel Studios; The Avengers (2012), Marvel Studios.

As you may recall, this post is the second in a series about the writing lessons we can learn from the excellent (and sometimes not-so-excellent) storytelling techniques used in the Marvel movies. I’ll admit upfront The Incredible Hulk was the only movie in the series I didn’t re-watch during my recent re-visitation of all the Marvel movies. I could maybe justify $4 to rent it it, but I just couldn’t quite stomach the two hours of my life it would require to watch it again.

Suffice it that this is easily my least favorite movie in the entire series–not because I hate it, but simply because I have difficulty summoning any kind of emotional reaction to it, period.

Why is that? Glad you asked, because that’s exactly what we’re going to examine–and learn from–in today’s post.

Why Your Action Scenes Might Be Failing

Honestly, my most vivid memory of The Incredible Hulk is how boring the action scenes were. That final battle between Hulk and the Abomination? Ugh. Kill me now. Or, wait, better yet, kill each other. Right. Now.

Naturally, it’s a disastrous thing when an action movie fails because its action scenes are so dull and unengaging. Incredible Hulk‘s action scenes didn’t fail because they weren’t well-done, well-choreographed, well-CG’d, or didn’t include enough smashing.


The Incredible Hulk (2008), Marvel Studios

Nope, they failed for a much simpler and more universal reason: they failed on a plot level. This is a pitfall any writer–regardless of your genre or the nature of your action scenes–must be wary of.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, the secret to getting readers involved in your story’s action scenes isn’t the action itself. Rather, the single most important ingredient is giving them a reason to a care about, first, the characters, and, second, the outcome of the battle.

Incredible Hulk failed as a movie because it failed to do this on two different levels. Take a look.

Action Scene Secret #1: Your Protagonist Must Be Present

Seems like a no-brainer. But it’s not. I’ve read more than few lamentable stories in which the protagonist went completely AWOL for some of the story’s most important action scenes, right up to and including the Climax itself. When you pull your protagonist from your story, you’ve just removed the readers chief reason for caring about what happens.

So why is Incredible Hulk guilty of this? After all, Bruce Banner is onscreen for 90% of  this movie and 100% of the action scenes. Isn’t he?

Actually, no.

Bruce Banner–our mild-mannered, conflicted, (semi-)interesting human protagonist–is only present in this film about half the time. The rest of the time we get… the Hulk. In other words, we get a green computer-generated cartoon character who has one emotion (smash!) and very little in the way of verbal skills.

Hulk Abomination Lego Battle

For all intents and purposes, the Hulk is not Bruce Banner. What this means, of course, is that when Bruce hulks out in the action scenes, the one person we’re supposed to care about most disappears from the story. (Note how much better the Hulk character works in action scenes in the Avengers movies because we still have so many other characters we care about onscreen with him.)

Hulk Thor Smash

The Avengers (2012), Marvel Studios.

Lesson Learned:

Keep your protagonist front and center during the action scenes. He should be the one whose decisions and actions move the plot. Just as importantly, he should be the one making the choices that will cause the consequences he has to face and live with later on.

Action Scene Secret #2: The Conflict Must Be Personal to Both Protagonist and Antagonist

A story’s external conflict should be an extension of its internal conflict. On an interpersonal level, this means the relationship between your protagonist and the antagonist needs to be about more than just two strangers slugging it out. Whether or not the characters start out knowing each other before the story, the conflict needs to become extremely personal by the time the Climax rolls around.

Again, The Incredible Hulk gets a big fat red FAIL on this one.

Now, granted, Bruce Banner’s conflict with General William Ross is very personal. Ross wants to protect his daughter from her ex-boyfriend Bruce, and Bruce wants to escape Ross’s less-than-righteous plans for turning him into a super soldier. There’s a history here. There’s a relationship here.

The problem is this: just as the Hulk is, essentially, an impersonal avatar of Bruce Banner, so too the Abomination is an egregiously impersonal extension of Ross’s will. Royal Marine Emil Blonsky is perhaps the most vapid of all the many one-off antagonists in the series. He shows up halfway into the movie, possesses zero personal interest in Banner, turns into the Abomination (another single-note cartoon character), goes crazy, the end.

Incredible Hulk Emil Blonksy

The Incredible Hulk (2008), Marvel Studios

The final battle between the Hulk and the Abomination is the single most boring battle in the Marvel universe for the simple reason that the audience has about as little connection to either character as the characters have to each other.

(Contrast this to the Captain America movies Winter Soldier and Civil War, in which both audience and protagonist have a tremendous personal investment in the outcome of the conflict with the antagonists–former friends Bucky Barnes and Tony Stark, respectively.)

Bucky Barnes Winter Soldier Iron Man Tony Stark Capain America Steve Rogers Civil War Final Battle

Captain America: Civil War (2016), Marvel Studios.

Lesson Learned:

Don’t tack on physical clashes between protagonist and antagonist as mere eye candy. Build the external conflict out of the relationships between characters, so the stakes are high and the consequences vast.

The irony of actions scenes is that, when they’re at their best, they’re far more about the emotion than the action. Concentrate on building your action scenes out of the tight weave of your characters’ motives and goals and the overall conflict arising between them. Accomplish that, and your readers will never be bored by your action scenes.

Stay tuned: Next week, we’ll take a look at how Iron Man II successfully used its supporting cast in a surprising way to deepen and reinforce its protagonist’s inner journey.

Previous Posts in This Series:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What are the personal stakes in your story’s action scenes? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Another thing they got wrong was turning general Ross into Abomination. General Ross would become Red Hulk. Of course he would appose Hulk, but the conflict would br on a national level. If they used the proper Abomination, the conflict would be as personal as it can get.

  2. Henrietta says

    To me all scenes are action scenes. I’m different than you. I’m very emotional and judge it by my breath and my stomach. If it’s taking on a life of it’s own and I’m holding my breath and my stomach is tight I know it’s engaging. I feel it physically in my body. Not to say I am any kind of expert just as I am learning that’s what seems to work.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is really smart on two levels.

      1) You’re totally right that, in essence, all active scenes are action scenes. I was hoping that would come across in this post, even though I didn’t address it directly. All of the principles I talk about here apply whether the characters are doing mortal combat or just talking across a boardroom table.

      2) Listening to your body, as an author, is an incredibly powerful technique. Whenever you get a visceral response to what you’re writing, you know you’re on the right track.

  3. Mark Ruffalo was, in my opinion, very good. You should do how to write action scenes, and I wonder if there is a chance that, if I make my superhero stories into a series, I wonder what bad guys she might face. And who the main bad guy might be. Any ideas?

  4. I completely agree, Katie, especially when you say that action scenes should be an extension of interpersonal relationships. For an example that is close to mind right now (I just finished re-reading the series), Katniss Everdeen. In the climax of each of the three Hunger Games books, her decisions are motivated directly by her personal relationships with another character, whether that character is an actual person in the story, or an idea.

    For example, in the climax of “The Hunger Games,” she pulls out the berries to show the Capitol that she is more than “just a piece in the games.” She has been struggling with this notion throughout the book, even in the first chapter when she knew that she was more, but couldn’t act for fear.

    In the climax of “Catching Fire,” she is ready to shoot Finnick Odair, but instead shoots at the forcefield when Finnick tells her “remember who the real enemy is.” Naturally, that would be President Snow, who forced the districts to have a manufactured rivalry, oppressed them, and forced their children to fight to the death. When she blows out the forcefield, she imagines that the arrow is being sent straight into the heart of her enemy…Snow.

    Finally, in Mockingjay, she is poised to kill Snow once and for all. She is going to avenge Prim, and free Panem of Snow. She realizes at the last second, before killing her enemy, that he is not the only enemy. Coin wants to sachet in and take Snow’s place, keeping Panem in a state of tyrannical rule. Katniss realizes that this–tyranny–is the true enemy, the one she’s been fighting ever since her father died when she was 11. So, knowing that no one will let Snow live, she kills Coin, who was poised to take power.

    In each of these three climaxes, Suzanne Collins makes the reader wait with bated breath to find out what is going to happen, and we CARE what Katniss does because she’s spent the entire book fighting against the force she’s facing in the climax. She’s spent thousands of words building Katniss’s relationships with the forces and characters that Katniss fights against in the climax, ensuring that we can’t leave our seat.

    With the Hulk, the biggest emotion I can muster is a yawn.

    This is why I watch movies from the DC universe, even though I prefer Marvel comics. 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good examples! The Hunger Games is also a really good example of *how* to keep the conflict personal, even when the main mega-antagonist isn’t personally on the scene in the battles.

  5. Hmm. I never thought of the Hulk that way — he’s normally a great character, and one of the best Marvel has. But you’re right, he can embody the problem of an action scene being separated from emotions.

    (The Hulk’s less of a problem in an ongoing series, where we can follow his relationship with Bruce– plus those Hulks usually can talk and emote a bit besides smashing. And the Avengers movies featured Joss Whedon bending over backwards to find the best Hulk-suitable moments. On the other hand, think of the Bill Bixby series: a whole hour of that Banner getting involved with people on the road, and twice an episode the Hulk drops in and tosses around whatever bullies had leaned on him. Fun, but disjointed.)

    I’m imagining the old “we’ll settle this with single combat” scenario– and the huge difference between letting a hero and villain we’ve been following all story come to blows, versus them both waving in a “champion” we’ve barely seen to do the fighting. And there’s little difference between a fight with undermotivated characters and one that hands off the action to strangers.

    No doubt about it. Mindless Hulks are my new favorite object lesson for disconnected characters who “let the action fix the story.” Well done.

    • (Come to think of it, by regular dramatic rules a Hulk story only picks up *after* the Hulk turns back to Bruce and he has to cope with what he’s done… and the only way Hulking Out works as a story climax is by focusing on what decision Bruce made that *risks* changing again. Anything else really is making the story more schitzophrenic than the character.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ah, I love this analogy! The Hulk as Bruce Banner’s “champion.” Actually, there’s a lot of interesting moral and personal stuff there for Banner’s inner conflict if the writers ever realized this.

  6. I never like this Hulk either. Edward Norton didn’t give the role the same depth of feeling as Mark Ruffalo. And you’re right, the Abomination didn’t really fit.
    Thanks for the great post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ruffalo has always been one of my favorite actors. I think he’s absolutely fabulous in the role, but, to be fair, his Hulk got a much better script and characterization from Joss Whedon than Norton’s did. I haven’t seen the deleted scenes from Incredible Hulk, but rumor has it they do quite a bit to flesh out the character.

  7. I’m still working on my MC characteristic moment, in this first scene, she gets in trouble because she gets upset after being badly treated by a noble lady and when she reads this lady’s hands she tells the truth, apart from that the consequences for her this also has unexpected consequences to her family and Sinti group. I’m still trying to build this to show how she tries to be honest even when everybody tells her to do it differently. I don’t know if this is the best angle to make her likable, but it’s being honest is the characteristic that sets her apart in the story at least.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Honesty is an incredibly resonant trait. Even when it’s not, strictly speaking, likable, it’s usually a great antidote for another potentially unlikable traits. (I actually talk about that in this post: Is Honesty the Most Important Trait in a Likable Character?.) What you describe here put me a bit in mind Jane Eyre. She was honest to a fault, even to her own detriment, and even though she is accused of being deceitful.

      • Thanks for your answer. I always liked Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennet as heroines. Probably for this reason, together with Esmeralda (the honest heroine of The Hunchback of Notre Dame), they remained in my unconscious long enough to inspire my heroine.

  8. Ops, this comment if from your previous post, the one about iron-man

  9. I still remember the Hulk from the TV series with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. There, you did care about the characters. The action scenes were limited by budget and by technology, but that just made character development more important. If they would have done that for the movie, it would have been better.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree. I think the plot choices for this one were misguided from the start, since they introduced a new character in a story that was far from the most character-driven plot they could have used. Perhaps some of that was the result of not wanting to step on Ang Lee’s version of the origin story in Hulk a few years earlier.

  10. To the director’s credit, it can be really hard to make a good Hulk movie. It’s hard to find balance between the depressing drama with Bruce Banner’s relationship to The Hulk and fun, and you need to give both of them plenty of screen time, both in and out of action, to capture that.

    Here’s my solution for if they make another Hulk movie. Bring in She-Hulk. The Sensational She-Hulk is Bruce Banner’s Lawyer cousin, Jennifer Walters. There are three key differences between the two.
    1. She-Hulk has full control of her powers, so she can transform between human and hulk form any time she wants.
    2. She-Hulk retains her full intelligence and most of her personality when she’s in Hulk form.
    3. Jennifer loves being a superhero.
    She also has the distinction of being the last major Superhero that Stan Lee personally created for Marvel, even if he only really wrote the first issue of her debut series.
    That doesn’t mean there isn’t any emotional downside to being a Hulk, but Jennifer can really balance out a Hulk movie by making it fun, and in doing so, help Bruce find a sense of fun in being a Hulk instead of being depressed all the time. How do you find an opponent who could stand up to two hulks? Bring in The Leader, a Hulk villain who’s brain is infected with Gamma Radiation, making him super smart, and he tends to create superpowered minions of his own. Either that, or like one guy previously mentioned, General Ross eventually becomes the Red Hulk and becomes a problem himself.

    The Incredible Hulks. Boom, you’ve got a potentially great Hulk movie.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sounds like you should write the Marvel producers. 😉 Although I’m not sure where they’d go with the Leader at this point, having clumsily introduced him in this movie.

  11. In my second superhero novel, Samantha tries to convince StarGirl that she’s not good enough and can’t do anything to protect her city or the people she loves when she’s already gained confidence and learned to trust her instincts, but StarGirl says that she might have to fight Samantha.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I love it when friends have to fight each other over principles–as long as the motivation is watertight.

  12. Well, they’re not necessarily as close as the relationship between StarGirl and Vance, per say, but StarGirl might have to fight Samantha so that things don’t get worse.

  13. Call me old fashioned but give me Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno any day! The only Hulk films of recent years I like was when he was with the Avengers. He has more of a purpose in those films in my humble opinion. My question is Does the protagonist have to be in the scene physically? In my story, my protagonist has been dead for nearly three months. His love interest from earlier in the story is confronted by her chief bully. When that bully makes a comment about the protagonist, the love interest responds in a very physical way prompting an action scene. Could I say the protagonist was there in spirit?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It depends on the story. There’s an exception to every rule. But, generally speaking, the story either ends or gets sapped of a lot of its momentum without its protagonist. However, a couple things to help pull this off would be:

      1. Set up up the love interest as a catalyst character, with her own POV, from the very beginning.

      2. Frame the book in same way, either by starting with the love interest character or perhaps with a flash-forward prologue (to be used with caution), so that the beginning bookends the unexpected ending by bringing it full circle.

  14. Katie… this is all very nice to have a fan-fest of the various US fantasy comic movies, but isn’t this a blog about the written word?

    We’re not making movies or even writing comic books. In our writing the image is in the reader’s mind – he doesn’t even have the sound effects of a radio drama (do you still get those in the States?).

    Surely using examples from kids’ superhero movies is like comparing junk food with haute cuisine. Yes they’re well written (or not, as the case may be) for their intended market, but they’re not novels. They’re for people who don’t want to be bothered with using their imagination. They have their place… we all like to be lazy occasionally.

    It also doesn’t help those not familiar with these movies and comics. To a UK reader, especially one over a certain age, ‘The Avengers’ is something very different to the US comic and the recent film. In the UK ‘The Avengers’ is a well loved classic long running TV drama series. It’s still shown on the satellite and cable channels.

    As for action scenes in our books; the drama should be in the tension of the writing. The image should be conjured up in the reader’s mind’s eye by well chosen words. It’s very different from shoving a picture in front of them with a loud soundtrack. It needs subtlety of language to create a mood, then descriptive prose, and well crafted dialogue to shatter that mood. It needs to be surprising, and sometimes even a little disturbing. Any less, and we’re cheating our paying punters.

    We need to remember that our audience are readers, not moviegoers.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      True, but storytelling principles apply across storytelling media. The storytelling principles found in movies are ones that novelists can also learn from.

      • Also, more people have seen the movies than any book you might use.

        Personally, I like Edward Norton more than Ruffalo. And I liked Emil Blonsky, too. The problem I saw was Hulk was boring and Abomination was untethered. I can enjoy the movie until the last fight scene. I get that Norton is hard to work with and Ruffalo is easy, but Norton gave Banner a gravitas, mixing a lot fear into his portrayal, where Ruffalo can’t hit those depths. He’s entertaining, but IMO, not Banner.

        The fight would have been more interesting if something had happened that cause both of them to change from human to monster, where Blonsky has the physical edge over Banner, but Banner has the brains. Seesawing between Banner to Hulk and Blonsky to Abomination (with shocks from the change) would have made it much more interesting.

        Blonsky’s connection was with Hulk (wanting to be the strongest one there is), while Ross’s connection was with Banner.

  15. I absolutely adore Edward Norton, but I can’t fathom putting him in a role like this. He’s a fine, intelligent, and nuanced actor, and he’s completely wasted when his character effectively disappears for the most important parts of the movie. I haven’t seen it, and won’t, though I really never watch the Marvel movies. I have trouble processing lots of fast movement and noises, so what is exciting to other people is just sort of confusing to me. (And that’s about as subjective as it gets! This comment is useless to anyone who writes action scenes except as a caution that if their betas are like me, the writer should completely disregard their comments on the action.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Well, to be fair I thought exactly the same thing when I first heard Mark Ruffalo was going to take over the role. :p

      • I agree, K.M. Ruffalo was AWESOME at the role, and I loved the scene where Loki was tossed around like a ragdoll. The climax with Edward Norton scared me.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          The green-eyed thing at the end? I always liked that bit.

          • You mean when Bruce learns to control the Hulk? I’m talking about the scene when he crashes and ends up glowing and the growling as well as the fight scenes between him and Abomination.

      • I actually haven’t seen any of Mark Ruffalo’s movies, but I understand he is a really well-regarded actor. It’s more that I think Edward Norton has an intellectual look (even bulked up in the picture below) that just doesn’t make sense to me in an action role. I would rather see him playing a physicist or an economist or something. 🙂

  16. Honestly, I think the Hulk with Ed Norton is one of–if not the–best Marvel movies that has been made. Maybe it’s because I like Ed Norton as an actor (and dislike Ruffalo) or maybe it’s because the first Hulk movie was so so so bad. That being said, taking off my fanboy goggles, perhaps the flaw could be that this is more of an Ed Norton movie than it is a Hulk movie. It will be interesting to see if they make another stand alone Hulk movie…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Although I think my critique of the film is pretty objective, I’ll be honest and say that I’m undoubtedly a bit prejudiced myself because I’ve never been a big Norton fan.

  17. Andrewiswriting says

    As blind chance and fateful coincidence would have it, I randomly re-watched this with my kids yesterday morning. You and I are poles apart when it comes to Age of Ultron but on this movie I can only nod and say yup yup yup.

    Ruffalo’s Hulk had infinitely more expression and emotional range, and when I saw The Avengers I was glad that someone had finally gotten the Hulk right.

    The Incredible Hulk is flat flat flat.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Although I definitely think Ruffalo himself is better in the role, a lot of the credit for the “better” Hulk in Avengers goes to Joss Whedon, for giving the green guy himself more range.

  18. I agree, K.M. I liked the Ruffalo version. If there’s a second Incredible Hulk movie, they should totally have Ruffalo in it.

  19. I like the way you ask readers to describe their own work because I think it forces us to think carefully, i.e., take another look, at the issues you raise.

    The protagonist’s goal is to find her son; the antagonist’s goal is to kill pedophiles. The problem? The son turns out to be a pedophile.

    So, my protagonist has a number of interactions with the antagonist, but she doesn’t know he’s the antagonist… only the reader does. The reader thinks she has two antagonists, one of whom, at a Pinch Point before the Mid-Point, has a change of heart and turns out to be a friend.

    At the Mid-Point, among other things, she discovers who her real antagonist is and what his goal is, and in the final confrontation, she kills him to protect her son, although she didn’t intend to kill him.

    She has a few less important (plot-wise) face-to-faces with the antagonist, although they do move the story forward, but they’re more important for her character arc and a major theme in the novel, tentatively called A MILLION CLOSED EYES.

    • Forgot to mention that the Antagonist who is apparent to the Protagonist is part of a conspiracy of women who kill pedophiles, and plans to kill the pedophile stepfather who kidnapped Happy’s son, and if she’s successful, Happy would lose what might be the only link to information about the whereabouts of her son.

      Mentioning this because I know it’s important to have conflicting goals even with an Antagonist who later has a change of heart.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This actually raises the opportunity for another point, which is: an antagonistic character *can* be the one placing obstacles in front of the protagonist without the protagonist actually knowing who’s creating those obstacles. This is very common in mysteries and thrillers.

  20. Yay I finally made it to this post.

    Sadly this movie was a flop, the Hulk being my childhood fav and all. It’s good to point out the reasons behind it as well for learning purposes. Which to me, begs the question, is the character creation at fault? Obviously he hulks out when things go awry going back and forth between Banner and the green giant. Does that take away from our ability to connect with the protagonist? Based upon what you just said, I’d say yes. Just speculating here. Maybe if it was written differently it could have more impact.

    The other reasons were pretty valid and caught my attention. Isn’t that cool? I think writers read, study and learn than most other people! Sadly everything doesn’t stick. But the things that do have an impact. Here’s what stuck from this post:

    1. Character creation that can inadvertently affect the readers ability to care about the protagonist.

    2. Making the conflict personal to both Protag and the Antag. (This one probably stuck with me the most)

    3. A story’s external conflict should be an extension of its internal conflict.

    4. The secret to getting reader involved in action scenes isn’t the action itself. Rather, the single most important ingredient is giving them a reason to a care about, first, the characters, and, second, the outcome of the battle.

    *Caring about the characters and the outcome of the battle. This is a great one. You mention this in the setup of the 1st Act. Introducing character first and his desires before diving into the conflict so that we care about them. It rings true when the major conflict comes rolling around and the climax of the story. WHAT AN EYE OPENER. Essentially, if we don’t do a good job in the setup it’s a plot without wheels. That means there’s no story! Dang. I just had a light bulb moment.

    5. “The irony of actions scenes is that, when they’re at their best, they’re far more about the emotion than the action. ”

    *YES. I love it. This just makes perfect sense. The only reason people are duking it out in the first place is because the tide of emotion is high and they’re fighting for what they believe to be true. EXCELLENT. Ever see two calm dude duking it out without any personal interest? Probably not! We know this and it sounds silly even to consider, but when we go to write it it’s not very realistic. There seems to be a disconnect somewhere along the line.

    Thanks again Kate

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Is the very nature of Bruce Banner/the Hulk problematic? I’d say yes, *but* as others have pointed in the comments, other iterations of the character–in the comics and the TV show–have done a better job of working around the character’s limitations. There are limitations to almost every character and idea; it’s the author’s job to find a way around them so the story still works and connects with readers.

      • Cool. I’m still not getting reply notifications for some reason. The problem might be on my end.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Thanks! I was actually going to email and ask you about that. I did something I thought might have fixed it, but obviously no go. Next step is to email support.

          • Thanks for checking. When I click to subscribe to post it tells me that it couldn’t be activated, and that my subscription may have expired. I have no idea what that means. Normally it works though. It might have something to do with WordPress.

  21. Thunderbrd says

    Seriously, we’re underestimating some things about the plotwork in this movie. And we’re doing so because it lacked in its delivery. Some added dialogue or supporting characters could’ve helped to bring the conflict purpose to the forefront better.

    For Emil Blonsky, the conflict was extremely personal with the Hulk. He was shown to be incredibly arrogant and envious that someone should be given access to so much power and deeply offended that such a blessed individual should want nothing more than to be rid of the curse of this great gift. He took this as personally offensive and wanted desperately to become the one to prove himself more powerful still, because in his mind, as a warrior to the core, HE would be able to fully appreciated it.

    When he conflicted with the Hulk, in every scene he did so, it was his intention to show himself the greater warrior. He’d never experienced power like what he did when injected with the imperfect reworking of the Captain America super soldier serum and it made him feel he could take on anything, so when the Hulk defeated him as if he were a minor nuissance or obstacle in the park, he took his extremely damaging defeat very personally.

    When he finally found he was given the opportunity to blend the SS serum power he’d been given with the gamma blood powers of the Hulk, his only thought thereafter was to validate himself as the Alpha and supreme by defeating the Hulk in battle, so he was causing great havoc just to call the Hulk out so he could prove himself the superior warrior.

    For Banner, the Hulk had been his internal enemy, a danger to all he loved. In the final scenes, he finally realizes that the Hulk may be a tool he can use to defend those he cares about in a more empowered manner than he could ever have achieved on his own. The beauty of this duality between he and the Abomination is that it takes defeating the Abomination to learn that there is a truth in the way the mad Emil Blonsky sees the power of the Hulk, that it can be harnessed and used for benefit rather than just left to rampage and destroy out of any control whatsoever. At the end of the movie we see he’s learned this lesson because he stops trying to rid himself of the beast and starts trying to learn how to harness and control it. Thankfully he has done so to an extent by the time the Avengers begins.

    What is personal for the Hulk in this fight against the Abomination is that the Abomination is WILLFULLY causing the very kind of destruction that Banner wished to rid himself of the Hulk to avoid. And worse is the knowledge that Emil is capable of doing so because Banner tried to cure himself, in the process making it possible for his blood to be infused into another.

    In the fact that the Hulk is capable of focusing his anger enough to conflict specifically with the Abomination rather than being nothing more than a random berserk force of destruction, we see Banner being in control of the beast in a way he has perhaps never been, therefore it very much IS Banner within the Hulk that we see conflicting with the Abomination.

    You make great points about those weaknesses you mention because what the story fails to deliver is the realization of these factors to the audience clearly enough.

    I’ve always felt the failing of that final conflict was that you end up being left with the sense that neither opponent should be capable of beating the other ever. The damage they inflict can be easily healed within the speed of time that damage can be further inflicted. They were too powerful to effectively combat each other to a conclusion and its dubious that the Abomination would’ve died by the means inflicted. There was really nothing very clever about the way the conflict was concluded, except the insinuation that Banner’s deeper strategic thought overcame the slight physical edge the Abomination had, thus reinforcing the Hulk’s pretty well constant theme of Mind over Matter.

  22. It’s been a while since I watched the Incredible Hulk, so my memory is a little hazy. But I can back you up and say that it was shockingly boring.
    One thing I do remember, though: the only thing that pulled this movie into the Marvel universe was the after-credit scene(Stark goes to a near-drunk General Ross and says that they were ‘putting a team together’). Now, you could try to say the same thing about Iron Man, when Nick Fury comes to Stark to tell him about the Avengers Initiative, but if you look back, the entire superhero aspect of Iron Man is about Stark trying to invent things to help people, not destroy them. Not to mention that Phil Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. were involved, particularly in the climax. This is able to segue right into Iron man 2, where S.H.I.E.L.D. becomes more involved(remember, all of the initial movies were intended to lead up to The Avengers). S.H.I.E.L.D. was even involved in Captain America: The First Avenger(Howard Stark throughout, and then Nick Fury at the end), and Thor(Phil and other agents throughout). But with The Incredible Hulk, there is absolutely no segue, outside of a minute-long after-credit scene, for The Avengers.
    Thanks for the articles! These are so helpful to me as a young author!

  23. In #2 you said that the conflict must be personal to both the protagonist and antagonist. But would it also apply to villains? Because a villain is a little different from antagonists, but would this personal conflict be needed for both too?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      A villain is an antagonist, but an antagonist isn’t always going to be a villain. That said, yes, the most interesting conflicts are always ones that are as personal as possible to both contestants.

  24. One interesting thing I noticed in this movie’s first two major action sequences is that the POV actually shifts from Banner to the antagonists. We’re following Bruce, emotionally invested in him as a character, as he’s running through Brazil to escape his assailants… Then, once he turns into the Hulk, we view the action from the POV of his assailant! As though we’ve suddenly entered a monster movie where Hulk is the villain. It’s so backwards!

    *Although a similar technique works relatively well in Batman Begins*

  25. This is so helpful! I honestly have never thought about action scenes in this way, and it brings my writing of them into a totally new light. Thanks for this post! 😃

  26. MelissaBishop says

    My husband and I recently gave up 2 hours of our lives to re-watch, The Incredible Hulk as part of revisiting the Marvel series. The best parts of the movie were when Blonsky and Bruce were the hunter and hunted. When they turned into their alter egos everything slowed down and got too boring. Gratuitous violence for the sack of ‘action’ bores. The Tet-e-tet of the hunt is so much more exciting.

  27. Very good info here! Thank you! One thing to note is Sony owns The Hulk so it will never really match up to the Marvel story Line. I also contribute that to the demise of the movie. The action is awful for these very reasons as well.

  28. I have one small critique for this article.

    If you look at a proper positive character arc – the Incredible Hulk is absolutely needed for Bruce/the Hulk.

    It establishes Bruce’s wound – he’s ashamed of the damage the Hulk does.
    It establishes Bruce’s lie – he can’t allow the Hulk to exist, so he will do anything to destroy it.
    And it establishes the truth he must accept – he must accept the Hulk and him exist together for a reason.

    There’s a deleted scene with Edward Norton where he is talking to Betty because of the damage he caused – search for it on YouTube – which shows us Bruce’s shame.

    Also, the trials he goes through to destroy the Hulk in this movie is astounding.

    And finally, even after the ‘treatment’, he is willing to become Hulk again to save Betty – integrating the two personalities.

    Through out the movies – you see that if he allows the shame to override him, bad things happen to Bruce/Hulk, but when he embraces the Hulk, they can do anything.

    The only problem I had with Bruce/The Hulk’s story, is being told he integrated through therapy,

    After the second pinch-point, where the Hulk wouldn’t show up after Thanos beat the crap out of him, Bruce should have been angry that the Hulk didn’t help and half the universe was snapped out of existence.

    That would have been an amazing therapy session, where the Hulk and Bruce arguing in front of a psychologist, who is gripping his chair arms as if his life depended on it. After the integration happens, Professor Hulk says, if you want danger pay contact the Avengers.

    This finally comes to the truth, only Professor Hulk could snap people back into existence, because he was the only one who could handle the infinity stones and not die, other than Thanos.

  29. Jessica Salmonson says

    Don’t get me started on hulks dad I personally found him annoying as hell. But ya, Banner need more screen time. I did like the visual effects and it does well as a quick-popcorn-I’m-really-bored-it’s-late-at-night-flick. The ending after the credits where banner is in the rain forest was great (did you see that part?)

  30. Hi KM. I REALLY love this series of yours. I gave me an idea for a series I might like to try in a different genre (80s movies 🙂 on my own blog. What I wanted to ask you is what is what source you use for the movie images that allow you to post them on your own website? Or is it a matter that since you are commenting ABOUT those movies it is “allowable?”


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m not a lawyer, but it’s my understanding that you can use a view images as part of what is called “fair usage.”


  1. […] a bonus from K.M. Weiland of Helping Writers Become Authors podcast and website, How (Not) to Write Satisfying Action Scenes is the latest post in her blog. If you haven’t listed to her podcast yet, I highly recommend […]

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