The Movie Buffer

Thursday, June 19, 2008

From Print to Screen: The Incredible Hulk

Since The Incredible Hulk was released last week it’s not exactly timely writing yet another review of a film that’s had so much coverage. Also, pitting this new Hulk versus the old Hulk(only five years older) has also played out in every major film outlet imaginable. So, I’m going to look at the actual comic character to find out why it’s been such a long road to get a palatable version of him on the big screen.

Origin: Bruce Banner, a physicist working on a Gamma bomb, is accidentally exposed to the blast when he tries to pull someone from the test range into the protective bunker (or push them into a ditch, depending on which comic era you’re looking at). The Gamma radiation transforms Banner into the Hulk and the Jekyll and Hyde story begins.

Problems with origin: Nothing really, except we wouldn't really feel as bad as we should when a weapons designer is hurt by his own invention. The way that the new films characterize Banner as being such a nice guy (or unaware of the true nature of his experiments), we should feel terrible that he’s being used and he gets hurt. Both films really lay it on thick with this point.

Personality: Banner is a quiet, humble man, but after the accident, he becomes emotionally withdrawn and to some extent paranoid (about his affliction and what may happen to people he cares about). The books really deal with two main personality conflicts: emotional isolation and anger management.

Problems with Personality: Characterizing emotional detachment and paranoia are hard things to do. So, I bet both directors tried their damnedest to get one or the other on film. Ang Lee’s version tries to tackle the former as much as possible, straining the isolation aspect of the story. But sweaty fan boys want more action and less touchy-feely stuff. Louis Leterrier touches on this, but in a way that makes Banner look more like a rebellious teen rather than an emotionally racked adult. Furthermore, the Leterrier version is more about managing the rage and focusing it. Neither film really captures both aspects of Banner but the Leterrier approach makes for a much more exciting summer movie.

Conflict resolution: Hulk Smash!

Problems with Conflict resolution: Since Ang Lee’s film was about isolation and emotional detachment, the fight scenes were shorter and uninteresting, the relationships that Banner had between his father and Betty were wooden and forced, and there was little or no time devoted to the sheer magnitude of the Hulk’s rage. Leterrier took the film in the exact opposite direction. None of the relationships really mattered ( Is it just me or is looking at Liv Tyler in this movie like staring at the sun for a couple of hours? She was so very pale in this film!) and there was constant movement and things happening. We really see the raw power of the Hulk and it is pretty good.

Denouement: Banner decides to try to use the Hulk’s power to solve the problem, usually with plenty of collateral damage.

Problems with the Denouement: There should not have been any problem getting this point across on the big screen but both films left me wondering where it went. Ang Lee’s picture ended up with Banner using the Hulk’s power to escape a trap which is okay but not very Hulk like. Also, Nick Nolte’s character was incoherent and possible the worst tacked-on villain of all time. The US armed forces are nearly transparent in this film even though they are one of Banner’s arch nemeses. Leterrier’s Hulk almost exclusively uses his powers to beat up on the US army. Banner spends years of his life evading the army’s keen eye. And with Abomination, Hulk really goes all out in beating him into a writhing heap.

I find that the more I look at the new film it kind of reminds me that the older one really tried hard to pull away from the comics to explore banner as a person and tried to be something more about humanity rather than cartoon violence. The new film on the other hand was a pleasure to watch because it’s nothing but a pure popcorn movie with thrills and chills but unfortunately, nothing more. If you’re a hulk fan you’ll probably get angered by this film but if you have no such predilection, you’ll appreciate this up-tempo film.


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