"The Avengers" was a smash hit at U.S. theaters this weekend, bringing in a record $207.4 million during its first three days. But one of its stars — actor Mark Ruffalo, who plays the Incredible Hulk — has his sights set on smashing more than just box-office records. In an interview with City & State, Ruffalo compares his role in "The Avengers" to his real-life fight against hydraulic fracturing, aka "fracking."

"Superheroes have always been the guys that fight for the common good," he tells the New York-based news outlet. "They always fought for the little guy. That's what this fight is about. If the gas industry was just honest about what they do and how they do it, they wouldn't have such a nightmare on their hands."

Ruffalo lives in Callicoon, N.Y., where he has become an outspoken critic of fracking, a drilling technique that pumps pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to release hidden pockets of natural gas. While fracking has sparked a domestic energy boom in parts of the U.S. — including New York, located above the gas-rich Marcellus Shale — it has also been blamed for a variety of environmental problems. Ruffalo and other fracking critics say it contaminates local groundwater, emits dangerous air pollution and can even trigger minor earthquakes.

In the interview published Monday, Ruffalo tells City & State he wasn't initially opposed to fracking, and says he even welcomed it at first, believing the technology would "bring this vibrant new economy to upstate New York." But after researching its downsides and visiting the fracking hub of Dimock, Pa., he says he began to worry about how it could affect public and environmental health.

"[I]t became clear to me that these people were under siege in their life, and the American dream was betrayed," he says of his experience in Dimock. "You had these Americans who obviously had a problem, and everybody turned their backs on them."

Beyond simply drawing parallels between superheroes and environmentalists, City & State's Jon Lentz also asks Ruffalo how hydraulic fracturing compares with the gamma-ray contamination that famously turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk:

CS: You play the Incredible Hulk, who was created by a freak accident during a bomb test. Does that kind of cautionary tale relate to hydrofracking and its repercussions? MR: There's a long line of scientific experiments gone bad in history and in storytelling, and it's something we go back to all the time. It's all over the comic books. It's in our consciousness and our subconscious as a culture. We personify it in our mythologies as superheroes and we live next to it in our lives, such as Fukushima and what's happening at Dimock. ... These are the new norm, and they're incredibly dangerous, incredibly toxic, and they're accelerating global warming at an unprecedented rate. And that's what we're going to be stuck with. Just like the superhero disasters.

As David Weigel points out in Slate, however, there are some notable differences. The original Marvel Comics story created the Hulk via a weapons test gone awry, while the new movie explains it as part of a Super Solider experiment. "Neither of these experiments were as well-intentioned as that of the frackers," Weigel argues.

Check out the full interview here. And see the trailer for "The Avengers" below (the Hulk doesn't appear until the end of it, about the 1:50 point):

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Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.

The Hulk gets angry at hydraulic fracturing
Much like his role as the Hulk in the new 'Avengers' movie, actor Mark Ruffalo says his battle against fracking is about 'fighting for the common good.'