The Hulk is one of the first superheroes that I became aware of as a child; there was a Saturday morning cartoon about him that I remember watching at a very young age. I don't really remember anything specific about it, but I remember being horrified and fascinated by the character. I always found the Hulk scary, and I must have expressed this fear at some point because I remember one of my older siblings assuring me, "No, no; the Hulk is a good guy." This caused me some cognitive dissonance: the big green scary guy who goes around screaming and smashing things is a good guy? Whaaa?
Thus began my fascination with the Hulk, and I think part of my fascination (and perhaps my horror) stems from the fact that I can see myself in the Hulk and his alter-ego of Bruce Banner. Because I too have a fearsome temper, and when I lose it, I do feel like a completely different person. But as much as I would like to disown that otherness, as much as I would like to believe that I'm really not that kind of person, I have to recognize that, while it's certainly not the end-all and be-all of my identity, and hopefully a relative minor aspect of my personality, it is a part of who I am as a person. Fortunately, for me and the people around me, over the years I've learned to keep a pretty tight hold on it (mostly by avoiding situations that have the potential to upset me, which is perhaps not the healthiest way to go about it).
So I'm excited about this upcoming movie, but I'm also concerned about it. From what I have read about it, they are trying to sort of get away from the way that Ang Lee and colleagues adapted it in 2003, which is probably a good idea because that movie was rather disappointing, but I think that its being different from Hulk won't automatically make it good.
This raises the question: what exactly went wrong with Hulk? What made it so disappointing to me? This is a question I began contemplating back in 2006 after seeing Brokeback Mountain, an Ang Lee film that I could understand and enjoy for once (and, consequently, created a paradigm in which I could understand and enjoy Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). At the time I wondered, how could he go so right with Brokeback Mountain and so wrong with Hulk, when both deal with subject matter very close to my heart? So I went back to investigate Hulk's IMDb page, and I saw a user comment from someone who enjoyed the film, who theorized that most people's lukewarm feelings for it were due to its being more cerebral and artistic and philosophical than your typical action-oriented, blockbuster comic book adaptations. Whereas I think that I'm the type of person who appreciates a thoughtful, artistic, philosophical film, so I don't think that was what was getting in the way of my appreciation of it. So I went back and watched it again, and came up with the following conclusions as to why Hulk fell flat for me.
First, it's a superhero-origin movie, and I find most of those to be kind of weak because of their expository nature. Don't get me wrong; exposition is necessary, and it can be well done, but it sometimes gets a bit tedious, especially if you happen to be part of the audience that already knows the character's origin (although often in contemporary movie adaptations these origins are tweaked and updated a bit). I felt this way about Spider-man, X-Men, Daredevil, the 1978 Superman, and the Fantastic Four. Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed all of these movies (except for Superman, which I found too dull to watch in its entirety), but in the cases of those that have sequels, I enjoyed most of the sequels so much more (with the exception of X-Men 3, which sucked, and the Fantastic Four+Silver Surfer, which I haven't seen yet...nor have I seen Elektra, which I forgot about entirely--and why do they insist on spelling it with a "k"?!?!?!). One exception to this rule is Batman Begins, which was a particularly good origin movie. For one thing, it's called "Batman Begins," so you know going into it that it's going to be about his origin, and the exposition was handled very well in the form of flashbacks interspersed with present-time narrative. Also, in my case I didn't know much about Batman's origins, so it was a completely new story to me. This is one reason why I was--and still am--looking forward so much to The Dark Knight, because I tend to like the sequels better, and Batman Begins was really good in the first place, so the sequel should be really.
But getting back to Hulk; my main argument with it is the crazy editing. If you don't know what I mean you'll just have to see it for yourself; I can't describe it. The first time I saw the movie it was really annoying and distracting, and it wasn't until well into the movie--almost the end--that I realized the effect they were going for: they were trying to make it look like a comic book that had come to life. When I realized that, I thought it was actually kind of a cool concept, but I think they tried to do too much with it. After all, movies and comic books are two completely different media and they should be treated as such, and when the editing is distracting me as the viewer from the story, even though it looks really cool, that's not serving the story or the characters very well.
After the crazy editing, my main problem with it is that I just don't believe that Bruce Banner and the Hulk are the same person. I suppose in this day and age of constantly trying to improve on special effects there's no way to do the Hulk without the use of CGI, but I kind of wish that they had tried it at least part of the time. That said, I don't believe that it's totally the fault of the CGI that I'm unable to suspend disbelief; I think it's because, to the best of my knowledge, they never had Eric Bana in the motion-capture suit performing the CGI Hulk. Perhaps there were practical reasons for this, and one could argue that it shouldn't make a difference, but I think it does. I think you can tell when it stops being Eric Bana's performance. Most, if not all, of the motion capture stuff was actually performed by Ang Lee himself, and to be fair to him I think it's really cool that he took on such a prominent role and yet one in which no one would know it was him; most directors would either cast themselves as the lead or stay out of it completely. But I just think, since apparently the Hulk had to be CGI, they should have done more to connect him to Bruce Banner, and that would include having Eric Bana in the motion capture suit to the extent possible.
Speaking of Eric Bana, I wasn't sure how I felt about him as an actor until I saw him in a few other movies, but now I think he's a good actor. I didn't particularly like him in this movie, but now I don't think that's entirely his fault. I think he was trying to play Bruce Banner as stoic and unemotional, which makes sense, but his performance fell flat because he wasn't getting enough support from his supporting cast, particularly Jennifer Connelly and Nick Nolte. I don't feel that they provided enough of a contrast to the stoic character of Bruce Banner, so everyone just seemed vaguely non-committal and dispassionate and disengaged.
So as far as the upcoming The Incredible Hulk goes, I think that they could definitely improve on Hulk. On the other hand, it's supposed to be more action-oriented, which is not an inherently bad thing, but ... okay, here's my thing: action should be a complement to the story, the plot, the characters, etc.; it shouldn't exist for its own sake. So long as the action is motivated by the story, I won't have a problem with it, but speaking for myself, action is not one of the main reasons that I enjoy these movies.
I'm not too concerned about the casting; Ed Norton's good in pretty much everything, and so is William Hurt even though he has one of the most annoying acting styles in the world. Apart from that, I really don't have enough knowledge of the other characters to make a judgment or a comparison. I just really, really, really hope that they have Ed Norton performing the Hulk's actions even though it will necessarily be CGI. I'm concerned about that, because Eric Bana was credited only as Bruce Banner, not the Hulk, and Ed Norton is credited the same way. I know it's traditional to have two different actors playing Banner and the Hulk, but that precedent was set in the 1970s. Nowadays anyone can put on a motion capture suit and, through the magic of computers, be turned into anyone and anything, so there's little if any reason not to have one actor do both parts.
I very nearly posted this as private to come back and make it better later, but then I was seized with a horror that if I did that one of the major players would die tomorrow, which I know is silly and superstitious, completely irrational and embarrassingly childish, but still...I put in all the links I wanted to and I really have nothing more to say about it, so let it stand as is.