“The Incredible Hulk”: Fights the Good Fight

The Incredible Hulk

The Hulk in The Incredible Hulk is savage, wildly so. Roaring at thunder and launching a rock into the sky, he’s ready to take on the elements! But he knows just when to pull back, as does the director and screenwriter.

Humanity remains in the title character, that big green monster that would rather smash than talk things through. And like many comic book characters from years gone by there are lessons we can learn from our hero’s dilemmas. What in Bruce Banner, Hulk’s alter ego’s, plight can we learn from? What relates to us as people? It’s a far more difficult question to answer than you think. How many of us are so angry that we have emotional breakdowns? Not many.

But on a smaller scale how many of us scream at a car that just cut us off, or want to punch the person who just cut in front of us in line or how many of us become angry at things we see in the news – unable to do anything about what we’re watching? or how many of us witness out children unable to take the bullies picking on them anymore unleash a torrent of anger, sometimes with fists…these days too often with guns. When I was in middle school a girl brought a razor blade to school to fight another girl! How many fights are started over petty things like this? The Hulk has a lot it can teach us and our children.

It’s only when we witness the government, portrayed by William Hurt, taking the anger that each of us, including Bruce Banner, tries to overcome in our lives and focuses it into a killing machine do we witness the true morality tale at the heart of The Incredible Hulk. Anger can be good…to a point.

The backlash about superheroes taking over the cineplex is beginning to be heard, but the reason why they are so popular is because unlike the plethora of action movies that were hitting the megaplex a few years back, like the Gone in 60 Seconds and Cliffhangers of the past, you can relate to these super powered people.

It all begins with the casting. Ed Norton isn’t too buff. His looks aren’t too polished, as Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker wasn’t. His skill as a performer allows us to see the internal struggle which only heightens the external one. He’s a perfect everyman. The fact that he’s unwilling to compromise behind the scenes is unfortunate as film is a collaboration, but I understand artistic integrity, it just has to meet somewhere in the middle with entertainment.

And folks, this new incarnation of The Incredible Hulk is entertaining, from beginning to end. Louis Leterrier, the French director that brought emotional savagery to Jet Li’s magnificent film Unleashed, is the third reason why The Incredible Hulk works so well. He mixes moments of impassioned human struggle equivalent to the television series that I grew up on, with moments of great humor and moments of brute savagery. That sometimes makes you cringe it’s so relentless.

The other players are great, which includes a sneering Tim Roth and a beautiful Liv Tyler, whose able to calm the green giant with her milky white skin.

The special effects are wonderful. Looking into the Hulk’s face you see both animal and human fighting for control over the situation around him. The final fight between Hulk and the Abomination trumps the final fight between Iron Man and the other big metal guy hands down. And when Hulk bellows “Hulk smash!” it’s more than just a call to arms but an emotional outpouring so strong you want to stand up and cheer.

Thankfully the writer, Zak Penn, will also be putting pen to paper for Captain America and The Avengers movie (which has now been hinted at in both the Iron Man film and now The Incredible Hulk.) And if he continues to build on his screenplay skills as he has since the so-so X-Men: the Last Stand, there’s a lot to look forward to before 2011.

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6 Responses to ““The Incredible Hulk”: Fights the Good Fight”

  1. Josh Says:

    I saw this one a little differently than you did. To me, the whole thing was actually quite representative of the Hulk story, but not in a good way. It started off smart and human, but then suddenly, for no great reason, it got really big and stupid and loud and pointless.

    I loved the Brazil section of the movie. It had heart, compelling visuals, and one could feel the isolation, flight, and fear of self. But soon after this great first act, Banner suddenly gets the girl, and the raging, wild hulk is shown to be a morally responsible sucker for a soft touch (ie., nothing to be feared) and the whole thing turns into a series of increasingly meaningless, generic, goodie versus baddie fight scenes, ultimately culminating in big CGI monsters hitting each other in the face and slurring, ‘SMASH!’ You quite literally can’t get much dumber than that.

  2. Phillip Says:

    I’m not sure what Hulk you grew up on, because The Hulk was always a sucker for a soft touch. His anger and meanness was brought on by people who picked on him first – not leaving him alone. And he always knew who not to hit. His anger was always brought on by people who wouldn’t leave him alone, which is what happens in this movie. It’s the “good guys” that you always had to be more afraid of then Hulk.

    The anger and rage The Hulk feels is of a reactionary sort, so of course there’s nothing to be feared. He’s the good guy! He’ll only beat you down if you beat on him first. Which in its essence is pretty dumbed down. We’re dealing with a main character that speaks all of three words in the movie. It’s not Freudian and shouldn’t really be – I couldn’t tell you what the heck happened in the first film aside from the Hulk went into the desert where it looked quite beautiful. The story and theme should be kept simple. Control that anger so it doesn’t become catastrophic. There was enough heart and humanity in both Banner and The Hulk to allow me to continue caring even through out the fights. When they hit him with that sonic gun, I seriously felt for the big, dumb lug.

    The fight sequences were filmed with such skill and technical gravitas that the word generic just doesn’t fit. I might understand that reaction to say “Transformers” when you couldn’t tell who was punching whom. But there’s was a grace and fluidity to their battles, an up and down feeling as far as the intensity was concerned – story was being told even while they fought.

    Also, I’m glad they brought Betty into the mix early on, letting her share in his adventure rather than being another woman in peril or woman who didn’t understand why Banner kept running away from her. It avoided the things that could possibly become very cliche in super hero movies, very quickly. As we saw with Spider-Man 3.

  3. Josh Says:

    Many good points; I can’t argue against the technical aspects of the film, and I guess you’re right about the Hulk we all know being a softy. More of the show is coming back to me now that you mention it. I also want to clarify that when I said, “You can’t…” in my last line, I meant, “A movie can’t..”

    I think my objection to this movie (at least the last 3 quarters of it) stems from something more fundamental. I think I wanted it, and the Hulk himself, to be something else–something better.

    Perhaps it’s that, after some years, I find this current treatment of the werewolf metaphor just too safe, and therefore inadequate. Not too long ago I read the first installment of The Ultimates, written by Mark Millar, which has Banner existing with a sense of hopeless desperation, because when he turns, he doesn’t just throw cars at bad guys, he actually loses control.

    In Millar’s version, Banner transforms after Betty leaves him, and goes on a tear through Manhattan, killing 300 people and destroying much the city.

    That’s a more accurate depiction of uncontrollable rage and why it’s something to be feared, I think. It’s possible that having a baby makes one more acutely attuned to the dynamics of anger and consequence, and I want this modern myth to accurately reflect what I now know–that at 4AM, under the influence of 3 hours of loud screaming and many days of fatigue, anyone’s eyes might start to turn green, and it’s right at that moment that the Hulk story has meaning.

    At that moment, life and circumstance become the impalpable villains, and to lash out in anger is to become temporarily insane, to attack reality and embrace the impulse to stop the pain with blind, destructive force. When that happens, the day isn’t saved–in fact, that conclusion is absurd–instead, relationships are destroyed, babies are shaken to death, wives are beaten, and people are murdered.

    I think the idea of the Hulk should terrify us. Banner is an interesting and compelling character exactly because the consequences of his anger are so enormous. As long as the enemy is his anger, the premise interests me, but as soon as the villain is identified as another, and all that anger is responsibly and predictably channeled, the premise changes entirely. Rage is simply replaced by strength. What’s left is merely He-Man without a magic sword–a guy who needs a slap him to get his fight on, and a kiss to turn him back. It’s suddenly about Superman’s glasses, not a compelling and dangerous internal struggle.

    Imagine a werewolf that protects a village. Imagine Mr. Hyde doing dangerous, wartime charity work for Dr. Jekyll’s medical foundation. Those ideas just don’t resonate deeply with our experience, and therefore would lose the power to become compelling myths. The Hulk story has great potential, but I think it’s nearly impotent in its current, high-jumping, crime-fighting form–as fun as it might be on a popcorn level.

    So, instead of just saying what I don’t like, off the top of my head, here’s a Hulk story that I might find resonant or compelling:

    Banner wakes up somewhere, nude, freezing, and filled with dread. He finds his way back to his house to find his family’s and friends’ remains dashed all over the broken structure. It’s horrifying. MPs take him into custody for his own protection. He’s never a suspect. He’s released, traumatized, he moves across town, and he withdraws into himself and his work.

    On the project, he slowly increases his levels of gamma-whatever, working on some army premise that doesn’t have to be noble–another reason for him to not love his life–and months pass. He tries to forget everything, he lives in fear, he wonders why he was spared in the tragedy. He’s mentally damaged and people generally avoid him, but he is glad to be alive. During this time he meets Betty, a bad-boy-dating masochist who isn’t uncomfortable around him like most people, but who is also completely uninterested in his introspective, politely hollow character.

    He grows increasingly frustrated with the project and its bureaucracy, his failure to move on with women, etc., and he starts to stew on his miserable, impotent existence.

    A girl plays games with his heart and he finds himself waking up nude and confused again. He drags himself home (although absently in the direction of his first house before realizing it), where he learns that the girl’s entire street, and another (where her lover lived) were destroyed, with many dead. He doesn’t necessarily need flashbacks to know that he was involved. He attends all the funerals out of guilt.

    At work he dives into his research and discovers the problem. This is where he takes his first stand against it. He decides that it is his responsibility to stop the transformation – even though he doesn’t know what it looks like. He doesn’t know why it happens – it’s lightning quick.

    It is in the data that he must confront what he already knows but never wanted to admit–that anger is the trigger. He knows that he’s been actively repressing the memory of a conversation in which his wife announced to him (during the party at their house – so he would have to remain civil) that she was leaving him. He finally knows exactly what happened that night.

    Betty becomes his confidant because she’s in the best position (and the most willing) to break the rules and help him run counter-experiments on himself. In this light, she now sees him as a dangerous and thrilling disaster, and of course, she falls madly in love with him.

    I probably shouldn’t keep plotting out a whole new movie here (I’ve been really working hard at work, I must have needed the mental break), but you get the gist.

    Points of tension would exist between Banner’s desperate work to keep calm and make progress toward safety, and Betty’s self-destructive streak. He might eventually destroy the base in anger of not finding a cure fast enough (later realizing that he destroyed the cure he was very close to perfecting), while Betty, being the general’s daughter, might escape only because everyone made it a priority to sacrifice themselves to get her out.

    One could end the first movie there, with a second being the frustrated
    wandering of a presumed dead, well-intentioned scientist trying unsuccessfully to avoid being a walking disaster (remember those poignant moments in Trigun?) That movie would end with 1. tragedy and failure, or 2. self-mastery and a cure.

    I would go with a cure, and use the third story as the tragic reversal. Millar put the idea of the cure to excellent use. I don’t know if he said why Betty left him, but that’s exactly what I would write too, and it would be because the cured Banner was no longer the dangerous type to which she was attracted. Then, as in Millar, when Banner purposefully turns himself again, blind with longing for Betty, he truly becomes a villain worth writing (there are so few): in this case, a purposeful, pathetic, raging, dangerous maniac who cares only for deadening his own pain with blind, destructive noise.

    That’s a Hulk story worth telling.

  4. Josh Says:

    In my opinion….

  5. Phillip Kelly Says:

    It looks like you have a story in mind that’s not about the Hulk (body parts everywhere??…bad day at work, huh?) though concerns many of the things that the Hulk goes through…write it out! A modern day Jeckel and Hyde, which is actually what gave Stan Lee the inspiration for Hulk in the first place.

    The first film is always a little more tame in regards to story. They’ll certainly be making a sequel to this, and you can probably expect everything to either mature a little or get dumber. I have a feeling it will mature and get a little darker.

  6. Josh Says:

    Phil smash

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