Created: June 11, 2008, 12:00 am
Written by Ryan Speck
In anticipation of The Incredible Hulk I've looked back at my favorite comic-related film, Ang Lee's Hulk.
Vastly underrated and oft-maligned, Hulk is still, despite the fun of Iron Man, the best-made comic-related film to date. Unlike every other film based on some comic hero, it totally lacks the kitschy gloss of a "comic" movie, Ang Lee instead being content to film this movie to look like any other film, aside from "comic" style shot transitions. That's one particularly annoying feature of your average superhero film: it lacks any dramatic resonance and feels like hollow, flashy eye-candy. Even with the Iron Man-lke balance of humor in the equation, it still feels somewhat hollow of an experience.
Hopefully this isn't a trait that will transfer to The Incredible Hulk, unfortunately a reimagining that throws out the baby with the proverbial bathwater, though in this case I don't think there was a problem with said water.
What we have instead is an audience unprepared for a more intellectual take on a character that is, in essence, not a super hero. Expecting to see "The Incredible Hulk" TV series or some new iteration of Spider-Man, audiences were disappointed. To which I say "Waah. Too fucking bad." If we were to chide every movie that made audiences feel stupid because they don't get it, then film history would be very dull indeed. But apparently mediocrity was desired and this movie failed the masses by being the most cerebral comic-related film to date, a boast that should be made by every movie that comes down the pike instead of being a stigma.
This Hulk, instead of your typically retarded and inexplicable comic tale, tries to translate the character into something more logically feasible. Bruce Banner is the son of a scientific dabbler, a scientist in search of a supersoldier formula who, in his desire to discover the formula to immortality, opted to experiment on himself. He creates a concoction from the genetic material of primitive creatures with regenerative capabilities like the starfish and the jellyfish and injects himself, tampering with his own genetics. This leads to his child being born with inherent genetic mutations predisposing him to a violent temper and a body that reacts to his frustration and rage, which he keeps locked away as almost a defense mechanism. After being dosed with microscopic medical nanites and hit with a lethal dosed of radiation in lab accident, the alterations in his genetics are accentuated and completely awakened, turning his growing frustration and rage into a physical transformation. It's dense stuff, but for a simplistic rip-off of the stories of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll it damned well ought to be. If you can't improve on the source material, then you probably shouldn't do it at all.
For fans left wanting of some bomb blast or lab accident just turning the man into the monster, you should probably limit yourself entirely to the more intellectually-malnourished realm of comics, where simplistic, illogical and implausible explantions are the coin of the realm. Or just get fucked. One of the two.
As films go, it's an excellent mix of dramatic weight, pathos, and action. This is more or less a science-fiction Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, where our hero becomes an uncontrollable monster and learns how to control the beast to harness its power. It also has the added benefit of a tightly-written and intelligent script that doesn't burden itself with the need to fit in a supervillain to fight in addition to the origin story. That Bruce's father is in his way a nod to The Absorbing Man and there is a final fight with him is more of an aside and tying up the tale than it is a supervillain battle. It's a necessity to bring closure to his father's machinations and to show that he is required to do something that the Army can't, proving that he might be needed as much as he is feared.
The acting par for this movie is set higher than likely any other comic film, it's only closest competitor being in the new Batman cast and in the improv-ing genius of the Iron Man players, though there is a more humorous mix. Instead, we're treated to an emotional resonance through the leads that will be hard to produce with Edward Norton and Liv Tyler, though I trust Norton to do his best and do it well. And though Louis Leterrier is an excellent director and the "sequel" will no doubt feature top-notch action, it's doubtful that it will carry any of the three-dimensionality of Ang Lee's movie.
I have no real sympathy for those that didn't like this film and no respect for people who prefer bullshit like the Spider-Man movies, every film of which was a pile of unbelievable shit.
For the thinking man or non-loser fanboys, this film will likely remain a point of pride.