The Incredible Hulk: Ang Lee who?


Note: FCC now moved to every Friday.

So it begins.

Joss Whedon and company are putting the final touches to The Avengers, the respective actors are all signing up to their respective superhero sequels, the core films are getting their releases through the tail-end of 2011 and now we are ready for the greatest film in the history of mankind. I am somewhat inclined to perhaps argue with myself whether or not, on the very basis of its concept, that The Avengers will be the greatest film in the history of mankind or whether it will just be the coolest thing ever. With that in mind, I decided to finish preparing for the filmstravaganza and instead rip into the final piece of the puzzle. The Incredible Hulk.

Ang Lee’s Hulk way back in 2003 was very much heavily ‘marmite’ in its critical reception. I remember seeing it when I was younger and thinking it was the worst thing ever, but then I grew up and watched it again. And again. And again. I think I get what Lee was trying to do: a psychological examination of the Hulk, the superhero Jekyll/Hyde. Unfortunately, Spider-Man dropped a bomb and I’m guessing he got talked down from above to somehow shoehorn action sequences in it. He had to action up a psychological thriller, somehow, and it’s probably why the film ended up suffering.

I love Hulk. I love the melodramatic Danny Elfman score, I love the Eric Bana performance, I love scenes where the Hulk becomes deliciously more humanized, I love the comic-book style flair that Ang Lee tried to attach to the film but most of all I love the Hulk. It’s a broad, adult film and manages to never shift focus from its themes, ideas and trespass into confusion. It’s a film with foundations of focus and the inner-dilemma of Bruce is always at the forefront. Scenes like fighting super dogs and other pointless action scenes somewhat get in the way, but it still feels that these are all necessary evils. Or are they? I feel like bursting out with this: the fuck does it mean to be human anyway?

The Incredible Hulk then feels somewhat of a twisting of the comic-book knife. Samuel Sterns turns up, Abomination turns up and Bruce is driven to find a cure. There’s traces of connective tissue to (bizarrely) Ang Lee’s film but otherwise this is devoid of any sort of continuity. I finished this film and was left wondering whether or not what I was about to do was completely fair. I prefer Ang Lee’s version, yet I can’t say that because they’re two very distinct films with one deep within Bruce’s trauma and childhood and Hulk. Incredible is instead confined to the A-grade action movie status that it proudly wears on its chest.

Captain America was a very heavily Action tale with deep seriousfaces about the lack of irony of a guy who wears an American flag for a costume and kills Nazis. Thor was a melancholy, Shakespearean exploration of a Norse God who has a giant hammer and is totes banished to planet Earth to realize some humanity. Iron Man 1/2 was the tale of a middle-aged bloke to find catharsis in his relationship with his long gone father, get his act together for you-know-what and privatize world peace. The Incredible Hulk is about a guy who turns green and throws things at things.

Is the word ‘shallow’ okay to apply here? I want to shout ‘Avengers Assemble!’ at the top of my lungs but then add ‘Excluding Hulk’ because he’s not grown up yet. There’s some light touches of humanity, of Bruce’s psyche mixing with the toxic Hulk’s but there’s no real inner-battle. Bruce wants this cure, badly, but by the end of the film it’s like “Oh, never mind about those themes and ideas and shit let’s just fuck shit up fuck! Control it bro!” which seems to be one of the stepping stones into The Avengers; being able to choose when to go green.

Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work for me. Ang Lee’s Hulk is simply a film that carries more depth and character, whereas The Incredible Hulk feels like a 12 year old’s wet dream. I understand we’re dealing with superheroes here and Thor (and, to a lesser extent, Captain American) felt more like a ‘Spider-Man‘ universal superhero film than Iron Man 1/2 ‘mid-life crisis’ film. It strayed away from the character studies and examinations and instead bombastically went straight into Shakespearean tragedy, politics and redemption. In fact:

  1. Iron Man
  2. Thor
  3. Captain America
  4. The Incredible Hulk
  5. Iron Man 2
Yeah, that sounds like me.
If instead Ang Lee’s Hulk had The Avengers juices running through it, then it’d be a whole other kitten-caboodle. I’d like to make one thing clear: I don’t hate anything that Marvel film that has ever produced. Fantastic Four, Spider-Man 3‘s third act and all sorts are all exempt from this but, for the most part, they have managed to create some of the finest superhero movies in the history of forever. I don’t hate Iron Man 2 nor do I hate The Incredible Hulk. Do I prefer Ang Lee’s version then, which I’ve been constantly saying that I do? Maybe I’ve been a bit of a folly-headed sucker-puncher actually…
The Incredible Hulk is a film about a green guy destroying things, Hulk is about a human being battling his inner dealings, childhood trauma and all manner of humanistic objects in order to somehow save the day. He doesn’t actually even save the day, instead just giving up and having to renew his life. The Incredible Hulk ends with Bruce about to save the day, to buddy-up with The Avengers, after a rampage of trying to cure himself. It’s weird because both films play on a selfish desire: confrontation with the self, except one plays it like a hardcore action movie and the other like a psychological examination.
I’m not sure on this one. I think The Incredible Hulk is a very enjoyable but shallow film, but Hulk is a very deep, interesting film but one that doesn’t pride itself in its entertainment but rather its secondary purpose of meditating on various human issues and themes. I like both, a lot, but I do have to…
Yeah I do.

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