Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Incredible Hulk

This is Our Tragic Love Story

I guess everyone has a little mean streak in us, and anger's something that we have to control lest we flare up and hurt people, physically or otherwise. In the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby fused atomic energy with that emotion, and gave us a very tragic, misunderstood hero in the form of a grey coloured Hulk. I still recall when I was young, reading a reprint on the origin of the angry monster, where a scientist in an act of selfless sacrifice, helped a young boy evacuate from a ground zero site, therefore exposing himself to deadly doses of radiation from an army bomb test. The rest as they say, is history, and a pop culture icon was born.

Other than the comic books, I was weaned on stories of the green Hulking monster who appeared during the last 5 to 10 minutes of a television series starring Bill Bixby as scientist David Bruce Banner, who journeys from town to town, encountering different folks as he tries to etch a living and find a cure for his violent condition, but almost always transforming into his alter-ego to right some wrongs. And as a young boy, we just waited and waited, until it was time for some action when Lou Ferrigno was allowed to flex his muscles in green body paint and a bad haircut, shoving people and objects around with aplomb, in slow motion and low grunts.

Lee Ang was a surprise decision when roped in to make a movie version of the Hulk. With the success of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man in 2002, the Marvel movie franchise was set abuzz overnight and every character which could possibly be made into a movie, was considered a gold mine. To the layman, having the Hulk in an all out action movie was a no-brainer, so I guess everyone was taken aback when Lee Ang was appointed to helm the movie. It did decently at the box office, but wasn't the smash everyone had been hoping for. For me, I liked his version of it because it didn't take the easy way out and neither did it choose to dumb down a lot of things. His version of Bruce Banner was cut as a more tragic character, and some time was spent in building up his backstory. Action wise it was adequate, though everyone was clamouring for more classic Hulk-like moments from the comic book panels. The panels were delivered, but only to irk some movie goers that they were unnecessary. So with the way it ended, questions to whether a sequel would be made, were dangling for some time, especially whether the director or lead actor Eric Bana would return.

As we now know, Louis Leterrier was appointed, with pedigree coming from the Transporter series, so he has some credentials in the making of pure action fests. Edward Norton stepped into the role of Bruce Banner, replacing Bana, and it looked more like the movie would seem like a reboot of sorts with no ties to the earlier Lee Ang version. With Norton having a hand at the screenplay, I guess everyone's curious as to how this story would match up against its predecessor. In one fell swoop of the opening credits, it wiped the slate clean. We have a new Bruce Banner in a new gamma-test gone awry, we have a new General Thunderbolt Ross played by William Hurt replacing Sam Elliot, and we also have a new Betty Ross, with Liv Tyler stepping into Jennifer Connelly's heeled shoes. The Hulk became an immediate by-product of a botched experiment, and we have the usual military coverups and simultaneous hunting of the green monster, which had eluded them for more than 5 months.

The crowded streets and cluttered housing on the streets of Rio De Janeiro provided some reminiscence of Jackie Chan's Police Story, where you could be sure of a chase scene zig-zagging the streets to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities presented for an exhilerating chase. And Leterrier doesn't try not to provide action junkies plenty of action-smashing moments as we root for Bruce Banner to hulk up, unfortunately of course, to satisfy our lust for some unadulterated action where everything in the way of the Hulk, gets smashed. However those expecting action from the get go will be disappointed, as there were only a small handful of action sequences, though of course they include the classic moments that comic fans had been baying for since 4 years ago. So I guess most will be left happy as we see some nifty moves by the Hulkster, which will leave a smile on your face, despite being used in limited doses. But I note though that the story cum action, looked a little bit like Superman II with the seeking of a cure and the deliberate loss of power to be with the lady love, and the duking out between super-beings on equal footing (here being gamma-powered), with a tinge of Cloverfield like moments too.

While there will be those who will gripe about the transformation mainly done in the dark and in shadows, it does prove to be effective in building some anticipation and heightened tension as to when he will finally appear in full glory. The mainly military attacks on the big guy again brought out some back to basics adversary with Thunderbolt Ross trying to capture the Hulk, and in fact I'd appreciate that this movie didn't divert too much away from this primary objective, although it might be more of the same from the first movie. But while the Hulk has an aura of invulnerability, somehow The Incredible Hulk provided me at least, an emotional pang when he gets hurt bad, as we remember that this is a guy who just plainly wants to be left alone. And the angrier the Hulk gets, the bigger and more powerful he becomes too.

And it's not all serious here too, with well meaning humour peppered in the right places, making numerous references to the television series and characters from the Marvel universe. You'd often wonder how his pants stay on before-during-and-after transformation, well, it gets addressed here with humour. Memorable lines such as "don't-make-me-angry-you-wouldn't-like-me-when-I'm-angry" gets punned away, even the late Bill Bixby got a cameo, together with Lou Ferrigno who reprises his security guard role, and Stan Lee who's possibly in the most unmemorable cameo apperance ever. The much touted Tony Stark appearance will bring whoops of joy from newly converted fans of Robert Downey Jr, while I suspect in line with the rumoured Avengers movie, the universe now seemed more streamlined again with the references to SHIELD, and stupid me thinking that Mr Fantastic would somewhat be featured in this too. A WWII super soldier project and serum was referenced and formed the basis for Tim Roth's Emil Blonsky turned Abomination, but Captain America? I'll leave that to you to find out.

But what I really liked about The Incredible Hulk is not the action sequences, nor the references mentioned made. It was the central love story between Bruce Banner and Betty Ross. In Lee Ang's version, we don't see much of the romance between Bana and Connelly because the story didn't really call for it, save for a rescue scene, and at a juncture where the Hulk was stopped in his tracks by his lady love. And that was precisely the winner for me. The Hulk, for all his power and unstoppable rage, could be brought under control by his lady love, and that was used to great effect here. Beneath the green invulnerability lies the heart of a mild-mannered man who yearns to be with the love of his life, but unfortunately cannot due to the curse that Fate had brought upon him. Both Norton and Tyler managed to bring out this chemistry of lovers torn apart, one who can only admire the other from afar, and the other finally never wanting to let go of someone who had disappered from her life for her own protection. And ths version of Betty does sport a bit of a temper and feisty too, and is not really your classic damsel in distress.

Granted that most supporting characters were rather one-dimensional, The Incredible Hulk somehow managed to straddle between its intense whack-all-destroy-all moments, and tender ones when the lovers are left alone to their own devices. As with the Marvel movies to date, the doors are left wide opened for follow ups and team-ups, and here there are no less than three avenues where the next story could develop further from, and sowed the seed for other movie franchises to be developed too. It drained a little bit from the cerebral department in order to amplify the romance, and let the action go into overdrive. Hulk Smash indeed, this time likely to make a huge dent at the summer box office, for fans and non-fans alike to be won over, just like how Iron Man did.

P.S. btw when a few bars from the theme of the television series was played, I know we have a winner here!


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