‘The Incredible Hulk’ lacks depth

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By Sam Watermeier
<swatermeier@hilite.org>

The whole point of making “The Incredible Hulk” was to take a daring film (Ang Lee’s “Hulk”) and make it significantly less daring. However, do we really need more safe, crowd-pleasing movies these days? There is such a surplus of them that “The Incredible Hulk” is not even attention-grabbing or appealing. Oddly enough, it is not nearly as enjoyable as it promises to be either.

“The Incredible Hulk” speeds through the origin story of scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) becoming the green monster known as the Hulk and goes straight into chase thriller/action movie mode. Banner spends the majority of the film with his one and only love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), running from her father General Ross (William Hurt) and a super soldier Blonsky (Tim Roth) who are trying to capture Hulk for use as a weapon. Lee’s film has more depth in every aspect: the characters, the plot and even the action.

Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is a deeper, more interesting character in the original film. First, his problems are more complex. His sources for becoming the Hulk are repressed anger over his mother’s death and resentment toward his father for the reckless behavior that killed her. In the new film, Banner hulks out simply every time his heart rate increases above normal. Since this is a much easier problem to control, it does not have urgency, and we do not fret about Banner. Not only does Banner have dangerous psychological problems in the original, but he’s torn between solving them and relinquishing his powers as the Hulk.

In Lee’s film, Banner enjoys being Hulk, which contrasts with his reputation for being private and emotionally distant. There is no contrast between Banner and Hulk in the new film. He is weak and self-loathing as a normal person and shameful about being Hulk as well. He simply wants to find a cure whereas Bana’s Banner desires the release of anger he feels as Hulk. The fact that Bana’s Banner wants to hold on to his power even though it is dangerous to others makes him seem selfish. This moral ambiguity challenges the audience, daring us to stick by him whereas “The Incredible Hulk” makes Banner too easily likable with his tendency to be apologetic about his aberration. This is not the only aspect of “The Incredible Hulk” that plays it too safe however.

The action scenes in Ang Lee’s “Hulk” are richer, more playful and daring than the conventional action scenes in “The Incredible Hulk.” The original film’s action scenes are not only exciting, but beautiful to look at. They have crisp, unforgettable images of Hulk sprinting across the desert, jumping from mountain to mountain and soaring through the air. This is the iconic desert imagery that Hulk is most associated with in the comic books. As a big fan of the Hulk comics, I felt nostalgic watching these scenes and was sucked into the world I knew as a child. These scenes also provide comic relief from the brooding moments in the beginning. For example, Hulk bites off the end of a missile and spits it back at a helicopter, making it explode. Blending quirky scenes like this with heavy drama may seem strange, but this technique is much more enjoyable than blending shallow drama with even more shallow action, like the new film does. Like producer Gale Anne Hurd said, the original film is unconventional and fresh because it is an “epic spectacle with an indie sensibility.” During action scenes in Ang Lee’s “Hulk,” the fun, bizarre action sometimes stops in order to show us a flashback of a disturbing event in Banner’s life, reminding us that the film is not all fun and games, and it is not going to play by the rules of comic book movies. “The Incredible Hulk” plays by the rules too much. The action scenes have the quality of a video game in that the filmmakers treat the action in them as more important than the characters. The filmmakers do not care if we are concerned about the lives of the characters. They simply want us to be awed by the explosions and destruction. All of these complaints really come down to shallowness.

The shallowness of this movie is easy to detect. Think about it: “Hulk” is concerned with Banner’s mind (repression, resentment) whereas “The Incredible Hulk” is concerned with his body (heart rate, appearance after turning into Hulk). Also, the producers of the film even admit that “The Incredible Hulk” focuses more on action where the original focuses on characters and emotions. “The Incredible Hulk” is the perfect representation of Hollywood: safe, crowd-pleasing, big, dumb and afraid of change. It does not try to be experimental because experiments sometimes fail. Ang Lee’s “Hulk” does not have that negative attitude. However, like all monsters, it is severely misunderstood.

“The Incredible Hulk”
Grade: F
“Hulk” (2003 version)
Grade: A-

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