SPOILERS AHOY, durr. For The Avengers. Okay? Okay.
One of my favorite things in “The Avengers” was the relationship between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. Starting with the first time they meet, when Tony greets Bruce’s technobabble with “Finally, someone who speaks English!” and up through the Hulk roaring at Tony to not be dead, their friendship is incredibly touching.
Here’s how Mark Ruffalo (who plays Banner) puts it:
“Tony’s the successful version of him,” Ruffalo said. “He’s like a renegade scientist too, who used his own ideas on himself, but got everything that Banner hoped he would get. So yeah, I think he sees Stark as the successful version of himself, or what could be possible for him. Stark helps him come to the conclusion that maybe … having this enormous amount of energy and power can be used for something positive for once.”
What I think makes it extra-awesome is that Tony really admires Bruce, too. So, while Bruce sees Tony as a successful version of himself, as someone who has embraced his disability (relying on the arc reactor) and turned it into an advantage, Tony clearly sees something special in Bruce, something admirable — and that’s a new experience for Bruce.
What does Tony see? I think Tony sees someone who has a powerful, almost uncontrollable, internal drive and is able to keep it in check. Tony’s struggle with alcoholism has been slowly gaining intensity, and we saw what happens when he lets himself off the chain in Iron Man 2. I think Tony sees Bruce as someone who knows how to hold himself back. Tony’s constant needling of Bruce serves a dual purpose — on one hand, he’s testing boundaries, seeing what he can get away with, but on the other hand, he’s showing Bruce that he trusts him. Everyone else treats Bruce with kid gloves, and it clearly gets to him on some level. He’s ashamed of “The Other Guy” — to the point that he once tried to kill himself.
Intriguingly, it’s Tony who gets Bruce to really embrace his dark side — and that embracing is what lets him control it.
But there’s one more dimension that I really love about their relationship: Tony is the only member of the Avengers who really believes in Bruce. He’s the only one who expects Bruce to show up for the final battle, and Bruce has to know it. It makes the moment when Hulk leaps to save Tony from plummeting to his death even more touching.
I read a fantastic piece on Tumblr, which I now of course cannot find, that worked through this, and loved it. Tony gets Bruce on a fundamental level. Not just the having to hold oneself back thing, but also the ending a purpose thing. Tony’s been at his lowest of low points. He knows how that feels. When he offers to show Bruce around the Stark Industries R&D department, he isn’t just offering to share his toys, he’s giving Bruce something to do with himself after the events of the film. He’s giving Bruce purpose. The moment at the end of the film when they get into Tony’s car and drive off together is incredibly sweet.
I don’t really ship them together romantically at all, I think because their canon platonic friendship is so subtle and so heartfelt. They are two deeply damaged men who understand each other and can support each other. I am really, really hoping that Bruce will be in Iron Man 3, because I’m pretty damn sure that will be the film where Tony’s boozing comes to a head. Tony’s going to need a friend, and I think Bruce would be the perfect person for that role. Bruce knows about learning to control yourself and how hard that can be. Bruce also — and I think this may be the more important piece — knows how to forgive himself after he loses control.
Regardless, I am incredibly, incredibly happy that The Avengers gave us the awesomest science bros friendship ever. Yayyyyyyyyyyy!