Flashback! To “The Incredible Hulk…!”

Well, I saw it!

Man, that was kinda schizoid though, right?

I’d love to read Ed Norton’s unaltered script, because after seeing this, there are some things I just need to know, that I’m sure he covered.  Like, why in the heck is the Hulk so angry?  Huh?  I mean what’s the reason for it.  In Ang Lee’s movie, we got to see that Banner is just repressing all kinds of rage, and so an angry Hulk made sense there…but even that Hulk wasn’t as angry as this Hulk.

Why so angry?

I’m just assuming it was Norton’s script that introduced the stray elements that hinted at a larger backstory.  Bruce and Betty dropping a shitload of acid in their undergraduate days…uh…WHAT?  I mean, very interesting I’m sure, nice detail, but…WHAT?  See, there’s something in that, obviously.  There has to be.  There can’t not be.

Because, Bruce Banner as played by Ed Norton just doesn’t seem like a very angry guy!  And he doesn’t seem like a milksop either.  He doesn’t seem angry or anti-angry, he just seems like a regular joe.

So, how do you get the Hulk, out of that?

You do have to get it from somewhere. After all, we get the Abomination from somewhere, don’t we?  We get the Leader from somewhere, too.  So why doesn’t the Hulk come from somewhere?

In many ways it’s a fascinating movie.  So much is missing, so much has been replaced.  Just compare the King Kong-esque scene with Betty and the Hulk in the cave, to the end of the movie with its sentimental posturing.  Think about Lou Ferrigno’s voice growling “Leave me alone” — unexpected, and a little jarring perhaps, but good!  Good for Lou.  But now think about that awful “Hulk smash!” bit, I mean…how does he even know he’s called the Hulk?

Some gaps are glaring.  What was Betty’s “primer”?  How could Bruce have been so foolish as to belt himself with gamma rays in the first place?  Why would he?  What were Bruce and Betty up to, in that lab?  When Betty says that she thinks “it knew me”, and Bruce cuts her off — there’s something there, but like everything else, we don’t get to see it.

The “Lonely Man” stuff, the travelogue…it’s interesting, don’t you think?  Banner in torn pants hunched against a tree in a market:  it’s almost like somebody read the comics, or something, it’s like a Barry Windsor-Smith picture.  And I don’t even know what the fahvela opening was all about, all I could think while watching it was “how can some crappy fight between CGI monsters compare to this?”  And yet each of these scenes is oddly treated — except for the fahvela, they’re all truncated, while the opening scene goes gloriously on and on.  And this is the second time I’ve wished I’d seen a movie in the theatre when I thought I might be able to wait to see it on DVD…the first was Iron Man, for the crazy rocketeering sequences, and the second was this, for the scenery.  Oh, the fights ended up being okay!  But there’s just one problem.

Who the hell is Bruce Banner?

This is just this close to the Hulk of my youth, the Wein/Trimpe ballcap-wearing Banner, and there are signs of it all over.  But, something’s still missing!

I wonder what it is.

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15 responses to “Flashback! To “The Incredible Hulk…!”

  1. I think they made some necessary concessions in light of Ang Lee’s film being so recent and this one being a quasi-sequel/reboot, but overall, it exceeded my (admittedly tempered) expectations.

    I found the mystery of “who” Banner is intriguing; his regular Joe-ness is a testament to his ability to ultimately want to control the Hulk and not become the Abomination or the Leader. Unlike most of these movies, the emotional center actually worked for me, and inferred as much about Banner as Blonsky’s underlying badassness and Stern’s obsessiveness.

    PS: He knows he’s the Hulk because that’s what the media starts to call him.

  2. Yeah, I’m guessing he knew he was called the Hulk because of that little bit in the car where Banner is discussing what it feels like and mentions that he is aware of some of it. I don’t read it as a split personality; it seems more like a split physicality for a singular personality. Much more interesting.

    As for where it comes from, well it reminds me of the pre-psychotherapy Hulk. Here’s Banner, average-yet-decent guy who people just keep messing with. He’s constantly on the run and stressed out from that. He’s too meek to put up much of a fight, though he wants to. On top of that, he knows that if he does fight back against anyone who messes with him, or like in the bottling factory he wants to intervene when he sees someone else being put upon, he can’t because of the transformation and the flight from stability (even such as it is) that he knows will be the result. Unfortunately, since he has no release except the Hulk, that pretty much means he has no release at all–compounding the stress, anger and feelings of helplessness.

    So the way it reminds me of early Hulk I guess is this: remember how the Hulk was always asking “why humans try to hurt Hulk?” He really didn’t know. All he knew is that people were going after him for what he took to be no reason and he was pissed. So he fought back. You’ll notice that in his film depiction, despite the fact that everyone talked about how out of control he was, he was actually pretty singularly focused on his assailants.

    But seriously, how many times does he need to rip a vehicle in two and beat things with it?

  3. Guy: it exceeded my expectations by far, as soon as I was treated to the Brazil photography. Parts of this movie are beautifully-photographed, scenes that I’m still thinking about…some of them even have Bruce Banner in them. And Liv Tyler was also far better than I imagined she’d be, William Hurt made sense as a character, also the way they used Blonsky and Sterns was actually kind of great. I even like that Jack McGee names the Hulk. But, I don’t see Banner at any level having a reason to take the name by saying it — no one calls him that to his face, do they? — and in fact I feel like hearing “Hulk Smash” in a live-action movie is, well, let’s just say a dumb idea anyway.

    Dan: I agree, playing up the idea that the Hulk is Banner — especially since he rejects the idea! — makes for a more interesting cinematization. This was present in Ang Lee’s movie, of course — it would have to be present in any Hulk movie — but it wasn’t so well pinpointed for the audience, and I appreciated that this version accentuated that element. But then nothing comes of it, and in a movie aimed at anyone other than comics fans, something really should. You can certainly fill in the blanks, as you’ve done here: because of the Hulk, Banner has to practice an unhealthy level of restraint. Okay, fine, but to believe that I’ve got to see what it costs him, and know why, in much greater detail. Four sentences could have diverted me from psychological causes to biological ones, but they’re not there, and anyway it’s just cleaner to have psychological/historical roots of behaviour instead of biological ones, I think. There are justification problems, too, like I said — what were Betty and Bruce doing, what went wrong, and for God’s sake just how souped-up was that gamma-ray emitter? I think we’re past the time when just having a guy sit in a dentist’s chair and get an X-ray, no matter how many flashing “Overload” lights there are, is sufficient to explain the scale of this accident. Ang Lee’s version skirts a lot of physical issues by not following either the TV show origin or the comic-book one — because of the way he plays it, at least we never have to ask where all the energy’s coming from…

    And it is a lot of energy. In the TV show, we get, at best, a mildly pissed-off Banner, his change scaled pretty well to the amount of ZAP he got. In the comic, the Hulk is not only fuelled by an iconically massive ZAP, but he starts out smart enough that we get to understand through his dialogue that he’s the antithesis of Banner, and (added bonus) he can choose his own name. Nitpicking, on my part? Sure: but it could’ve added up if we only knew what the hell went on in that lab — or with Bruce and Betty in their college days — so as it is, there’s an oomph missing here, that could’ve tied a lot of things together. You’ll notice in the end, it’s the classic embattled-hero-finds-inner-strength-to-beat-superior-foe thing…but it’s only sketched for us in the briefest of strokes, it’s really just action-movie-pantomime. Especially since against this Abomination, our Hulk shouldn’t even have a chance. And indeed he doesn’t…but then they pull out that King Kong stuff again, however I found myself not quite buying it the way I probably should’ve.

    I guess I’m saying: I needed bigger reasons! And I think at some level of this movie’s development those reasons were there, but then they got script-doctored under the carpet.

    Ha, but then that tearing-up-the-vehicles thing — ha! Yeah, that stood out, after a while.

  4. Well I definitely agree with you on the missing pieces. Sometimes it’s hard as a long time reader who already knows those things to notice their omission from a film. The opening sequence referred obliquely to things that would have been better if simply stated. We’re to presume that the Hulk at some point caused serious injury to Betty and (I suppose) to others, but for the rest of the film he’s completely gentle with her, and she’s not even slightly afraid of him. Also, Rick Jones was mentioned in the opening as one of Banner’s “associates,” but appeared nowhere. Also also, part of what makes the initiating accident so golly-gosh-darned tragic is that it happened because Banner was trying to save someone from blowing up–that establishes that he’s the kind of guy who, wherever possible, will intervene to help people in danger, which he can’t do anymore because it might cause him to change (which would apparently be bad, except that this film version doesn’t cause any incidental mortality even though they all think he will for some reason).

    And he went all the way to New York without visiting cousin Jennifer? What would his mother say?

  5. In the comics, a random soldier gave the Hulk his name, he didn;t pick it himself.

    I saw the movie in the theatre (enjoyed it quite a bit), so I don’t remember details, but: Ross & soldiers called the Hulk “Hulk.” Banner heard them (or came up with the name himself), and some dim part of the Hulk’s consciousness picked up on it. Do I get a No-Prize?

  6. Mike, you know only Fake Stan’s empowered to give out blogospheric No-Prizes!

    The weird thing is…I want one…

    As to people getting killed by the Hulk, I laughed when Ross said “where’s the gunship?” Really, Ross, you’re deploying all this crap on a university campus? I’d have your stars for that, myself. Talk about accepting collateral damage! And yet the only one who gets nailed is Blonsky, and it’s his own fault, and he doesn’t die.

    On the name: in the comics, yeah, it was a random soldier, and then the name got taken up by his buddies…but the Hulk adopted it too, and he didn’t really have to. In the movie, I can’t remember if Banner sees the news report where young Jack gives him a name, but he does hear it and knows what it is when he’s being carted away in the helicopter. And I suppose you could say “well, he just calls himself that, then”, but there’s still no real reason for it. Strictly speaking, it’s only a climactic moment for us comicky folks — if you went in cold you’d probably think “well, what’s that all about?” The payoff we get from that isn’t available to people who, say, only ever saw the TV show. And my point is, it would’ve been easy to provide some texture to it, but not as easy as it would’ve been to just leave it out. It’s a little bit like the scene where he transforms on the table and the steel starts to crumple — my friend Jack says, “oh, enough — where’s the mass coming from?” But they might as easily have opted not to show the table crumpling, and avoided that pesky question.

    I don’t know, it’s not so much that things didn’t work, it’s that they could’ve really worked.

    I guess.

  7. For me, the magic ingredient which Trimpe/Wein had and this movie didn’t, was the sense of tragedy for both Banner and the Hulk. It’s easy to make Banner tragic, but that makes it easy to villainise the Hulk. In those early comics, you got the feeling that it was just as bad for the Hulk sharing a body with Banner as the other way round.

  8. Clone, you speak my mind! Also, in some of those Wein/Trimpe Hulks — I am thinking particularly of the elegant Missing Link “work is good, Bruce” story — which I feel this movie made an effort at referencing — and why not, it’s one of the best Hulk stories ever — I also feel they referenced the Wein/Trimpe Zzzaxx story, but that’s not quite as resonant — the idea…you’re following me here, right?

    Ahem. In some of those Wein/Hulk stories, it did come across as though Banner somehow in some played-down way cared for the Hulk. After all, he was the only one who could ever understand him fully! That’s why I loved the travelogue stuff in this movie — Brazil was Appalachia to me, Chiapas was an uphill climb back to the past…the pictures are actually (as pictures always are) profound. The fahvela is a community, the university is an arena of tension, the street where the Hulk and Abomination meet is a bridge, the place where they conclude their battle is a temple

    God, if only they could do another soft-reboot on the next one, and have it be that Missing Link storyline…I mean Wein was on fire there, that is in many ways the ultimate “Lonely Man” story. When Bruce gets the geiger counter and waves it over “Linclon”…SHIVER!!

    Okay, hold on, Clone: let’s have our own mini-meme right here. I’m gonna name three of what I think are the most awesome Hulk stories ever, and then you come back to me with yours. Okay.

    1. Appalachia/Missing Link (tops of all time!)
    2. First Abomination (Lee/Kane)
    3. Hulk vs. Cobalt Man/In the Hidden Land

    Also, if you need a link to Kochalka’s “Hulk vs. The Rain”, please tell me, ’cause I’ve got that link to share. The man nails it absolutely.

  9. I’m not sure anything was missing. I found it surprisingly satisfying. Mostly that the characters were solidly established, and then acted consistently. That was a damn good Thunderbolt Ross, I thought. I liked action-addicted Blonsky, and creepy Sterns.

    Why so angry? I was happy to believe that when Bruce was in fear of his life, his sternly repressed fighting instinct would rise. And if not fighting, then what the Hulk would experience would be those gaudy yellow shards of perception from the origin montage.

    One missed opportunity – if they’d dared to. Bruce making love with Betty, breaking off to let his heartrate slow down. Have him fail, and transform … and here’s the Hulk, and here’s Betty in a flicker of yellow shards, near naked, and is that love or terror in her eyes? And god … he isn’t … she isn’t … they aren’t … And gradually it dawns on the monster that he’s safe and cared for, and they just sit together for however long, and sometime later Betty is still sitting there and it’s Bruce who’s sound asleep. Swap that for the cave scene, or make the cave scene scarier.

    As for awesome Hulk stories, well I’m going to be kicking myself for not thinking of some real tour de force, but — the Gremlin, and his pet triceratops named Droog. Every simply-conceived hero should have one enemy who’s just stark staring bonkers.

    You wanna know what’s awesome though? It’s J. Caleb Mozzocco’s Superheroes’ Presidential Endorsements. Ask not, just go.

  10. I kind of disagree with the question.

    I’m not a big fan of whys and wherefores in superhero comics to begin with, and I’d say that NO ANSWER is a perfectly good answer. It’s mostly some fairly flimsy science and logic underpinning our favorite heroes. Take the Flash, who’s moved from powers-from-hard-water, to powers-through-unexplained-science to an-alien-did-it to speed-force/God-did-it. None of these really make much sense, and I’m not seeing the narrative advantages of constantly REVISING the origin story and reminding us how little sense is makes. “He run fast. Just ’cause. HEY! Look over THERE! It’s an evil gorilla!”

    The Hulk movie was all “Just ’cause. HEY! Evil Gorilla!” Especially since with our current understanding of radiation an’ evolution it’s hard to come up with a Hulk-type origin that even kind of starts to make sense.

    ESPECIALLY with the Hulk there are question I don’t want answered. When you start tinkering around with WHY he’s so pissed, you lose his symbolic effectiveness. “He’s pissed ’cause his daddy was all mean (Awww! Sad Face!”) strikes me as a much less satisfying answer then “EVERYBODY, on some level, has an anger management problem. Even boring Joe Schmoe. We all need to watch out for our potential inner-Hulks.”

    ‘Fact, I wanted an even angrier Hulk, instead of the basically heroic critter we got. I understand the need to maintain audience sympathy, sure, but…

    OK, SPECIFICALLY, I would’ve liked one scene where the Hulk was gonna kill Betty, before he (Banner?) gets a little bit of control back. Just a couple seconds where she’s all out in front of the army, all “Bruce. Calm down.” And the Hulk’s all “I crush you like grape!” He’s still a monster, after all.

    (Favorite Hulk run ever: Bruce Jones and John Romita JR, which might help to explain my point.)

  11. I’m afraid I missed Bruce Jones and Peter David, and I haven’t read a Hulk seriously for an awful long time, so my list would be hopelessly inadequate. However, I did love the Jarella stories when I were a wee ‘un.

  12. Oh, I don’t know, Markandrew…I mean it doesn’t have to make sense, but they were making the movie anyway, right? And “Hulk’s mad ’cause Banner’s repressed” works well enough for me…

    On the Flash, though…the way I figure it is, that all the later tinkering added up to less than No Answer…

  13. My problem with the movie is that you had an entire movie where I never actually thought the Hulk got mad. I mean, he was my first ever favorite, and the idea of him is still up there, though I haven’t been able to read anything since about halfway through Bruce Jones’ misbegotten, half-smart stab at a horror comic. I got a lot invested in ol’ Jade-Jaws, and the movie I saw had an awful lot of a big green guy sighing.

    (I loved the car-into-boxing-glove bit. I also loved it on the GameCube when I first saw it like 4 years ago.)

    I mean, this is a solid B, I think. And a B that never tried to be an A. Whereas the Ang Lee was probably a C- (for most people) that was absolutely striving to be an A. (In my dreams, I get to produce that picture, with Ang Lee directing, only I won’t let him start working until there’s actually a script.)

    (Side note: the biggest problem with comic book movies is the desperate insistence on the part of the makers to tell the origin story. Granted that in most cases it’s the best story, it still should be skipped over whenever possible, and only discovered later, by accident.)

    Yeah, anyway, a reasonably solid B. And at best the fourth-best superhero comic book movie of the summer–this summer–beat up, down, and out by Dark Knight, Hellboy, and Iron Man.

    Hulk story that blowed me away? Hmm. I’m a jackass, but as a kid in 1985/6, reading John Byrne’s run, where Banner and the Hulk actually get physically separated, was phenomenal. I remember an Annual that was just a long fight with the Abomination, and this weird hard-bound thing with a couple text-only stories, and a pair of fights, one with a robot (Mongo?) built by the Mole Man, and one with this shambling space critter… I read and read and read those as a kid, along with the odd-sized origin issue + a couple stories proto-trades. This Moby-Dick issue from the Dr. Strange banishes the Hulk to wander dimensions. Man. I bet I still have that issue someplace in a box.

    I’ve had some recent reversals, buckwise, and so I never picked up the Defenders trades I’d been wanting, and another thing high on the waiting list is the Rampaging Hulk stuff, which for no reason I can fathom I find absolutely fascinating, though as yet unread.

    I tried to read World War Hulk, but it was too asinine even for me. Erik Larsen gets the hulk, and I bet Eric Powell would knock a grey Hulk absolutely out of the park. Tell you one thing–there wouldn’t be a wavy-haired Clay Quartermain. Tell you another: there would be a Rick Jones that would rip out your goddamned heart.

    Oh.

    I just solved it. Both movies essentially failed b/c there was no explicit Rick Jones. Without Rick Jones, the Hulk works about as well as Cap would had Bucky never existed.

    Done. Done. And done.

  14. It’s true, the Rick dimension is a part of the original design which is very solid — told it to my non-comics reading friend, and it interested him a lot more than the David Banner story.

    A B that never tries to be an A? I think you’re right, but I do believe somebody wanted it to be an A…the little traces of another movie inside it wanting to get out (!) might have been an A…but we’ll probably never know.

    Also, on origin stories: no doubt that’s the cost of doing business, in a superhero movie. But looking back on it, this movie really doesn’t give much to the newbie at all, letting familiarity with the TV show carry the weight of the origin, and as you say Banner doesn’t get mad…just “excited”. In the Wein issues, Banner had become pretty capable of handling his troubles without the Hulk, just so long as he didn’t run into any particularly terrifying circumstances — this Banner’s capable, too. But man, don’t you pity the person who doesn’t have the TV show as a pop-culture touchstone? Nobody even really says that the Hulk “gets mad”. Continuing to differ with Markandrew, I’m going to suggest that just having him “be” mad is a wasted opportunity for storytelling, and for maybe intriguing the audience member who’s passingly familiar, but not exactly conversant, with all things Hulk.

    I also rather dread the Avengers movie, and feel its set-ups are a painful distraction — although it’s always nice to see Robert Downey, Jr. play Tony Stark.

    I hope my twelve-year-old self can forgive me for that…

  15. No, you’re right: this movie didn’t dick around much with the origin. My thought was that was the essential crippling factor in the Ang Lee effort.

    I saw the Hulk movie so early that I hadn’t heard of the Avengers setup, so I left before the credits were done. Ah well.

    One thing I didn’t mention: Norton was a very credible Banner. The annoying things about Norton (his…Nortonness…) dovetail quite nicely with the annoying things about Bruce Banner*, which is a great setup for his basic competence, as you note. Grudging respect is exactly what Banner as a comic character should elicit more than just about anybody else in the pantheon.**

    *Remember in the origin, he’s this pipesmoking martinet, an uptight prig nearly as loathsome as early Reed Richards!

    **Even more so than the other bigtime Bruce, if you think about it!

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