Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Angrier Hulk Movie Gets, the Stronger Hulk Movie Gets

This morning was a Hollywood morning. We trundled off to Sunset Boulevard, parked behind the Arclight, had breakfast at the Groundwork Coffee store (where several folks who would not have been out of place in REPO MAN were plugging away on their laptops), browsed a bit in Amoeba Records, and then ambled over to the Cinerama Dome to watch THE INCREDIBLE HULK on the appropriately Hulk-sized screen

The Hulk has had one of the strangest commercial histories of any Marvel superhero. His debut in his own title was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's follow up to the first modern Marvel superhero comic, the Fantastic Four; and his first series was an apparent fiasco. It lasted only six issues, and changed story approaches almost every issue. (At one point, Bruce Banner's teenage pal Rick Jones could control a zombie-like Hulk as if the Hulk were a robot). Yet rather than scuttling the concept, Lee kept him around in the former monster anthology comic TALES TO ASTONISH, and stuck him in other comics like THE AVENGERS (where he became an Avenger in issue one, and quit in issue two), SPIDER-MAN, and the FF. By the late sixties, Hulk had graduated to his own title again; and about ten years later, he'd become a household word due to the success of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV series.

That same stick-to-itiveness has marked the Jade Giant's adventures on the silver screen.
The 2003 HULK film by Ang Lee made a bit of money, but was overall disappointing critically and commercially. Some say it was because it was too arty when it should have been more smashy; but I think it was because it went in a dozen different directions at once and never settled into a straightforward narrative. (For instance, what was the Hulk's origin in the film? Was it the amphibian blood, the gamma bomb, his genes, or some combination?)

Notwithstanding, the fledgling Marvel Studios has followed up its smash hit IRON MAN film with a d0-over version of the Hulk that ignores the previous effort, and strikes out on its own.
[Mild spoiler warnings] This version, co-written by star Edward Norton (who gets no on-screen writing credit -- the result of a dispute that Marvel submitted to WGA) and directed by TRANSPORTER director Louis Leterrier, takes the essence of the Bixby/Ferrigno Hulk and then mixes in elements from the comics that the TV series nixed -- in particular, the dynamic between the fugitive Bruce Banner; General Ross, whose project resulted in Banner becoming the Hulk, and who has dedicated his life to capturing Banner; and Ross's daughter Betty, who loves the Hulk. (The movie origin -- wisely recapped quickly in the opening credits -- omits the above-ground gamma bomb test that gave Banner his powers in the comic book, basically because the U.S. doesn't do those tests anymore. And Ross's motive is no longer to catch the Hulk to contain his destructiveness; his goal is more sinister.)

Also imported into the story are Hulk adversary Emil Blonsky/Abomination (in the cold-war era, a spy who used Banner's equipment to turn himself into another gamma-ray monstrosity; here, a commando who, like many of the characters in the movie, is power-hungry), and such Marvel Universe background staples as SHIELD and the Super-Soldier Serum (which sets up a future Marvel

The result of this mix is a stronger movie than the Ang Lee version, mainly because of the more straightforward narrative and the more plentiful action scenes, not to mention the acting chops of folks like Norton, Tim Roth as Blonsky, William Hurt as General Ross, and Liv Tylor as Betty (when she's assertive rather than dewy-eyed).

But it's not as good as IRON MAN or the better parts of the SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN trilogies. One problem is the ill-fit between the scenes with Norton and Tyler, which explore the emotional impact of Banner's problems and his essential nature as a hero (which nature filters through to the Hulk, and makes him something better than a mindless rampaging monster from the Id); and the action sequences, which while fun to watch ultimately devolve into who can beat on whom better.

I'm not sure how the movie could have been improved; the limitations may be inherent in the Hulk's character, which may be why the formula for the Hulk's comic series has been changed so many times in the character's history.

Is the Hulk a smash? We'll see. What's the future for the movie series? Well, if there is any consistent rule in the Hulk stories, it's that the Hulk only keeps getting stronger.

1 comment:

patrick said...

this new Incredible Hulk is a lot more fun than the first one with Eric Bana; plus Ed Norton is in his element, doing the "split personality" role