Wednesday, 18 June 2008
The Inadequate Hulk
Seemingly everyone hates Ang Lee's 2003 film Hulk. Except me. I love it. Lee's Hulk died way off at the box office; according to wiki the now-showing sequel only came to be because of Hulk 2003's impressive merchandise taking. A lesson: divorced from head heavy abandonment issues, a muscular green man toy is still a muscular green man toy.
When viewing Louis Leterrier and Ed Norton's The Incredible Hulk it is initially quite hard to get an angle on how much it is intended to follow Lee's film. In this pre-Avenger's overarching Marvel film continuity are we recognising Lee's film as canon or jettisoning it entirely? There's a conspicuous absence of a '2' in the title, and no cast returns. Events both tally and diverge with the first film offering. It's all a bit either, or. Especially telling though, is the lack of a bells and whistles 'Gamma Bomb!' DVD reissue of the 2003 Hulk flick.
The Incredible Hulk lacks anything but the most fleeting nod to a specific tale of origins; not necessarily a poor move, "here's why!" machinations foul up many a superhero flick. Norton's Banner is south of the border (as per Lee's ending) and struggling to keep a tight leash on his prowling id monster. In terms of screen progenitor, larger still looms the shadow of the Bill Bixby TV series - we get refrains of the miserable 70s piano tinkle theme, visual references to budget transformations, and past cast cameos. 80s children rejoice! We're jabbing at your nostalgia gland! I'd much rather they didn't bother. There's little to distinguish this sort of jabbing "remember this!" hostility from the sub-thought likes of Family Guy, itself an endless parade of wouldn't-it-be-funny-if noodling on 80s pop-screen. I could also do without having (Hulk co-creator) Stan Lee crowbarred into every Marvel imprint movie. Iron Man admittedly traded humorously on Lee's shysty bullshitter image by positioning him as a Hugh Heffner Lothario. Here, he drinks a soda-pop then drops it. Wow.
Anyway! The Incredible Hulk eventually starts to dribble the whiffy air of a reboot, Hollywood's new euphemism for raking over economic failures and pretending nothing happened. Bad Dad General Ross and the military are made parents to Banner's condition, Hulk is now the botched result of secret super soldier experiments. Come the conclusion the fraught psychological misery of Lee's film is abandoned in favour of controlling the beast as a super-identity. This then is the new starting point. Hulk not as rampaging beast, but as fractured alter ego. Cue heroic sequels, or operating as a team player on the team-up Avengers movie. Imagine Matthew McConaughey's Captain America ordering a lucid mid-transformation Norton's Banner into action!
Lee's Hulk is chronically unloved by many for only dolling out a meagre serving of action. There are about three sequences of conflict, two of which take place in near pitch black. The Incredible Hulk seeks to redress this by serving up sub-Bourne urban sprawl foot chases almost immediately. Norton resolutely lacks any kind physicality other than uncomfortable nerd and the slum sprints around a Brazilian favela follow accordingly.
There's some teases of lethality on Hulk's part early on (Hulk seemingly kills a trio of would-be bully rapists), but it's quickly forgotten. Norton aboard (no doubt hectoring and bullying the direction his way) The Incredible Hulk had a promise of being an extremely literal extrapolation of a core Fight Club idea: a created subconscious personality runs riot, whilst the original identity furiously mops up. Call it typecasting. Instead we get Hulk antagonised by a sports metal variant Hulk, played by Tim Roth. Shity threat renders aside, Roth, as it turns out, is the film's one true shining light.
Roth plays Emil Blonsky, a Russian born Royal Marine on loan to shady US special forces. Blonsky's pushing forty, but still loves a good scrap. After a woeful first encounter with Hulk, he volunteers to have Gamma McGuffins injected directly into his spine, eventually creating the exo-skeleton anti-Hulk: Abomination. Roth's best moments as Blonsky arrive just prior to this transformation, having had a World War II era super vaccination he's swift of foot and able to leap around like Spider-Man. Confronting Hulk, there's a brief exchange between the two - Blonsky ducking and weaving like a black-ops Jackie Chan. There's a convincing interplay between physical stunt effects and looming CG puppets. You also get a little fizz of a psychological monster battling a physical one. For a punchline Hulk kicks the outmaneuvered Blonsky into a tree, pulping his bones.
Other than that there's a scene vaguely reminiscent of one in Jeff Loeb and Tim Sale's Hulk: Grey. A childlike Hulk, with Banner love interest Betty Ross in tow, sets up shop in a cave during a thunderstorm. Enraged by the obnoxious weather Hulk picks up a boulder and hurls it at the sky, screaming long and hard at the heavens to meet his challenge.