James Clayton Column: why Clint Eastwood should be the next Hulk

Clint Eastwood should be The Incredible Hulk. You might dismiss the idea at first, but as James reasons, it soon begins to make sense...

Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino

If Marvel Comics are looking to relaunch The Incredible Hulk franchise for film, I’d urge them to cast Clint Eastwood as the big green one. It may not seem sensible to base a series reboot around a 78-year-old man who’s more eager to concentrate on directing rather than acting again, but look to Eastwood’s latest masterpiece Gran Torino and you’ll see that Eastwood is perfect for the part.

He snarls, he grimaces and he burns with incandescent rage as Korean War vet Walt Kowalski. In the scenes where he’s called upon to display revulsion (best exemplified in the moment where his son and daughter-in-law try to send him off to a retirement community) Eastwood makes Robert de Niro’s Travis Bickle look lethargic in his disgust.The way he contorts his craggy face in anger is an incredible sight to behold. I defy anyone to think of an actor besides the ubiquitous Christian Bale who could summon up the required rage for Hulk transformations (even if recordings of on-set tantrums show Bale’s berserker capability, quite frankly he’s commandeering too many franchises).

Having failed to kick-start a franchise with both the Ang Lee’s 2003 effort Hulk (with Eric Bana playing Bruce Banner) and Louis Letterier’s The Incredible Hulk (with Ed Norton in the title role), giving Eastwood a run at the comic legend could prove fruitful. The screen legend could not only portray the strain of the eponymous hero but would also no doubt make an excellent choice of director, delivering a bold film that powerfully conveys the rugged individualism of an alienated masculine hero who serves an American society that’s nevertheless indifferent to him.

Even if such ideas are far-fetched fantasy, it would be good to see Eastwood dip his directorial toes in some sort of action, ‘comic book’-type material. I think it’s fair to say that he’s been going long enough and been involved in so many outstanding works that exultation to the Pantheon of Cinema Gods is well deserved. When you look upon Eastwood’s infamous features, you know that the squinting blue eyes regarding you are not the eyes of a mere man – those are the attributes of a deity.

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Superhuman in his continued stamina, his filmmaking and his physical performance then, it’s a pleasure to see all aspects apparently undiminished in Gran Torino. And the film isn’t just enjoyable as a potent and thought-provoking story but also great fun as Clint concocts a movie with great comedy and scenes of cathartic violence and conflict that put a fair few so-called ‘action’ movies from recent times to shame. With this kind of awareness and such ability at skilfully balancing brains and brawn, something in the region of The Incredible Hulk or Superman would, I’d say, really benefit from Eastwood’s involvement.

A vast amount of the action satisfaction in Gran Torino comes from Clint’s character Walt. He’s a tough-talking, no bullshit, old-school American loner: the “Clint the Squint” character archetype that Eastwood made his name with. Going beyond the basic all-round excellence of the flick, for film geeks Gran Torino is an awesome proposition as we get to see the return of a Harry Callahan or The-Man-With-No-Name figure, albeit one who’s in their old age. Kowalski is a feelgood nostalgic throwback to the leading protagonists of Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and early ‘70s tough cop flicks. As Walt whips out the comebacks and roughs up the no-good hoodlums and no-hopers on his block, it’s like watching Dirty Harry, except Detroit is standing in for San Francisco and our man wields not a .44 Magnum but a naked index finger.

In Gran Torino, that finger sums up Eastwood’s everlasting incontrovertible eminence and authoritative power. All it takes for him to totally trump the antagonistic young toughs is a point of his hand in a mock-pistol gesture. Walt not only wields the imaginary weapons and walks the walk, but he talks the talk as well. He confronts the collected hoods and wannabe gangsters of Detroit with a tremendous arsenal of insults and derogatory racist terms and fires them out with exhilarating aplomb.

Eastwood has the same ability as the likes of Vincent Price, Orson Welles and Sammy L. Jackson to make the most mundane dialogue sound intense and exciting. For instance, “Get off my lawn!” now ranks alongside “well do ya, punk?” as a classic pop-culture threat, purely because it came from the sneering mouth of the man himself. The thugs of the neighbourhood all wither at the sound of Walt’s words despite being more numerous and under half his age. All it takes is that pistol action and an assurance along the lines of “I blow a hole in your face and then I go in the house, and I sleep like a baby. You can count on that. We used to stack fucks like you five feet high in Korea… use you for sandbags.” Yeah, punk: you better get off that man’s lawn.

Kowalski doesn’t get it all his own way though. He loses an ad-hoc spitting competition to the Hmong grandmother who lives next door but we’ll let him off. Leading male action stars aren’t defined by their ability to discharge impressive amounts of phlegm but by their distinctive unflappable dominance. Though he’s flawed (he’s racist, stubborn, stuck in the past, etc.) and only finds peace by accepting the influence of the Hmong community and the Catholic padre who surround him, you can’t fail but warm to Walt and revere him as a true movie hero.

Is it the character or is it Eastwood? I’d say it’s Clint the Squint: if it was another actor, Kowalski would probably just be an angry old man with issues. If we can learn anything then from Gran Torino – beyond the basic values of breaking down cultural boundaries – it’s that Eastwood is still the absolute alpha-male in the movies. Should anyone wish to challenge the living legend, I’d urge them to consider this Kowalski quote: “Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn’t have fucked with? That’s me.” Step back from that man’s lawn and bow down to the venerable one. Respect is due, punk…

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James’ previous column can be found here.