Talking Movies [HulkaMAYnia]: The Incredible Hulk

Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers, joining teams like the Defenders, and has gone through numerous changes over the years that have added extra depth to the green-skinned behemoth and made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters.

Released: 13 June 2008
Director: Louis Leterrier
Universal Pictures
$137.5 to 150 million
Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, and William Hurt

The Plot:
In a bid to recreate the super-soldier serum, Doctor Bruce Banner (Norton) exposed himself to gamma radiation and, whenever provoked or enraged, transforms into a green-skinned behemoth known as the “Hulk” (Lou Ferrigno). Desperate for a cure, and to avoid the attention of General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Hurt), Banner reluctantly rekindles his relationship with former flame Doctor Betty Ross (Tyler) and finds himself hounded by Emil Blonsky (Roth), a relentless soldier who exposes himself to the same process to match the Hulk’s physical abilities.

The Background:
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s green-skinned rage monster had a troublesome road to the big screen; although Hulk (Lee, 2003) featured its fair share of impressive visual effects shots and was relatively profitable, its poor critical performance quashed plans for a sequel. However, when Universal Pictures failed to produce a follow-up in time, the rights reverted to Marvel, who were currently riding high after the critical and commercial success of the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Iron Man (Favreau, 2008). Opting to reboot the property, Marvel hired director Louis Leterrier and writer Zak Penn, who both drew significant inspiration from their love of The Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982). Edward Norton was cast as Banner and also provided some work on the script, which caused some tension between him and Marvel when many of his additional scenes were cut and ultimately led to him leaving the role. Like Hulk, The Incredible Hulk brought the Hulk to life through visual effects specifically tweaked to portray him beyond the peak of human physical ability and the film even brought back Joe Harnell’s iconic and tragic “Lonely Man” theme from the TV show. The Incredible Hulk was not quite as profitable as Iron Man; it made a little more than its predecessor with a worldwide gross of nearly $265 million but was again met with mixed reviews. Although development of a solo sequel film stalled after disagreements with Universal Pictures, the character would be recast for subsequent appearances in the MCU, where he received something of a “mini arc” and many of the film’s loose ends were eventually addressed in later MCU productions.

The Review:
I came away from Hulk relatively satisfied; it was longer and far more cerebral than I was expecting but I always thought that it was a pretty impressive and enjoyable big-screen debut for the Jade Giant and I was disheartened to learn that we wouldn’t be getting a direct sequel. Still, hearing that the next film in the MCU would feature another crack at the Hulk was an encouraging sign that Marvel Studios were eager to both do the character justice and make him a prominent feature in their fledgling interconnected universe. Even better was the fact that The Incredible Hulk benefitted from a surge of fantastic casting in superhero films at the time; actors like Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman were really adding a lot of legitimacy and gravitas to the genre and I thought it was quite the coup to see Edward Norton cast in the lead role in The Incredible Hulk. Sadly, Marvel Studios seemed to lose faith in the project before the release day and spoiled Tony Stark’s (Downey Jr.) appearance the pre-credits scene in the last few trailers and, even now, The Incredible Hulk remains one of the lowest-grossing films in the MCU.

Banner is a desperate man on the run trying to cure his unique condition and avoid capture.

Like Hulk, The Incredible Hulk plays its opening titles over a montage that is both a clear homage to the 1970s TV show and a revised origin for the character as Banner exposes himself to gamma radiation in an attempt to recreate the super-soldier serum rather than as an experiment on the limits of the human body. As much as I enjoy Mark Ruffalo in the role, there’s no denying that Edward Norton is a different quality of actor; he makes for a great Banner, showcasing the same empathy, humanity, intelligence, and desperation that made Bill Bixby so great in the role, and is still probably the most accurate onscreen portrayal of the character in my mind. Actively hiding his identity and staying off the radar of both Ross and the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), Banner busies himself with a menial job while communicating with the mysterious “Mr. Blue” in an effort to synthesise a cure for his condition. Banner also wears a heart rate monitor to warn him when he’s getting too stressed and works with an Akido instructor (Rickson Gracie) to control his emotions and anger through breathing and meditation techniques. Having reached the limit of what he can accomplish with his mediocre resources, and after accidentally alerted Ross to his presence with a single drop of blood, Banner has no choice but to abandon his hard but largely peaceful life and return to the United States in an effort to find a cure.

Betty can’t help but be drawn to Bruce and helps him out of pure adoration and love.

This reunites him with Ross’s daughter and Banner’s former love, Betty, a renowned and capable scientist in her own right who, despite being in a relationship with psychiatrist Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell), has never forgotten her feelings for Bruce. Reunited after five years apart, she immediately insists on helping him in any way she can, which involves bringing him clothes after his Hulk-out, helping him gain access to Culver University, going with him on the run, and shielding him from her tyrannical father at every opportunity. Betty is, once again, an empathetic and supportive character who is both clearly besotted with Banner and exhibits a sympathetic protectiveness of his green-skinned counterpart; Tyler and Norton have a very real, tangible chemistry and it’s great seeing their characters interact as equals and attempting to act on their obvious attraction to each other. Crucially, Betty also holds key data that Mr. Blue (who turns out to be Doctor Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson)), needs to properly help synthesise a cure for his condition.

The Hulk is far more aggressive and wild than usual and more like a force of nature.

Though still largely a silent character, the Hulk continues to exhibit a great deal of personality to separate him from Banner. Far more aggressive and angrier than his 2003 counterpart, this is a Hulk who has had to deal with being constantly suppressed within Banner’s subconscious and finds himself relentlessly hounded by Ross, Blonsky, and the military. As he simply wants to be left alone but is quick to fly into a rage and even mumble a few words of protest when provoked, the Hulk appears to be much more feral than usual, though he does retains his child-like demeanour at times while also seeming much more akin to a wild animal. Crucially, the Hulk is fiercely protective of Betty, who’s the only person to show him any kindness, and notably shields her when Ross allows his selfish vendetta against him to threaten her safety, lending further credibility to Betty’s later belief that the Hulk has great potential as a force for good. Since the film doesn’t delve into Bruce’s childhood or emotional trauma, the Hulk is much more of a result of science gone wrong but there’s also the suggestion that he has the potential to be so much more; Banner, however, is more concerned with ridding himself of his ailment than learning to properly accept it as part of himself and his fear of the Hulk is almost as great as Ross’s hated of him.

Just as Ross is desperate to apprehend Banner, Blonsky is obsessed with fighting the Hulk.

Speaking of ol’ Thunderbolt, General Ross continues to be a stubborn and vindictive character; personally directing the missions to detain Banner, his motivations stem just as much from Banner’s first transformation landing Betty in the hospital as it does from his desire to contain the beast lest anyone discover the role Ross and the U.S. military played in his creation. Again a stern and uncompromising authority figure who prioritises his duty and career over his daughter, Ross begins the film estranged from Betty and their relationship is only further strained by the revelation that Ross is seeking to dissect the Hulk from Banner’s body in order to weaponise the creature. Ross’s ceaseless campaign against Banner sees him employ the services of Emil Blonsky, a former Royal Marines Commando who quickly develops an intense rivalry with the Hulk. Eschewing promotions that would take him away from the combat he craves so dearly, Blonsky obediently follows orders to the letter but, having witnessed the Hulk’s destructive power (and feeling the physical strain of a lifetime of combat), candidly requests more information on Banner and the Hulk and is only too eager to receive a version of the super-soldier serum in order to improve his own strength, speed, reflexes, and recuperative powers. However, when even this fails to make him a match for the Hulk, Blonsky seeks more extreme methods to battle the Green Goliath. Sterns is only too willing to further augment Blonsky’s body with mutated samples of Banner’s blood, which causes him to transform into a bestial form of his own to finally battle the Hulk on equal ground for the finale.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I touched on this earlier but, for a time, it wasn’t entirely impossible to view The Incredible Hulk as a follow-up to Hulk; the film opens in Brazil, very similar to where the 2003 film ended, and it’s easy enough to believe that Banner was granted permission to return to the U.S. to help with the super-soldier serum only to be further ostracised by Ross, and you could even explain away to recasting of Talbot from Josh Lucas to Adrian Pasdar and his revival can be explained away by the questionable canonicity of Marvel’s television shows. I always felt like there was just enough connective tissue to link the two without explicitly stating it but, ultimately, The Incredible Hulk also works extremely well as a reintroduction to the character. By evoking the familiar imagery of the TV show and leaning into the accepted tropes associated with the character, the film is much faster and more action-packed since it doesn’t waste time delving into the Hulk’s origin and instead kicks things off with Banner a desperate man on the run, something immediately familiar to fans of the early comics and the aforementioned TV show.

Banner comes to consider that the Hulk could be used as a force for good.

That’s not to say that The Incredible Hulk isn’t without its poignant moments; it may not be a methodical in-depth character study like the last film but there’s a great amount of time devoted to Bruce’s increasing desperation to rid himself of the Hulk. This has left him alone and exiled from his home and love, and constantly on edge and reluctant to trust anyone with too much of his blood or research lest he be discovered or his condition weaponised. Banner is outraged to discover that Sterns has synthetised large quantities of his blood for medicinal purposes and is disheartened to find that Sterns’ efforts have been unable to produce an actual cure. When he returns to the U.S., Banner is initially reluctant to reconnect with Betty but she insists upon offering her assistance out of a genuine affection for him; Betty is also the one who suggests that the Hulk is actually a force for good, something that kept him from dying from a gamma exposure, and plants the first seed in Banner’s head of trying to “aim” the beast and influence the Hulk’s actions rather than simply eradicate the Jade Giant. There’s also an interesting addition whereby Banner’s condition means he cannot allow himself to get sexually aroused since this risks provoking the Hulk’s emergence, replacing the allegory of the Hulk as an expression of his repressed childhood trauma with a metaphor for impotence.

The Hulk is a highly adaptable and aggressive fighter.

Like his 2003 counterpart, the Hulk is a purely digital creation; similar to the last film, the Hulk is initially obscured by darkness and very much painted as a mysterious and fearsome monster. This time, he’s got more of a grey/green hue, is noticeably much more ripped than his predecessor, and there’s loads of really intricate details in his model like bulging veins and muscles that make him a far more impressive digital creation. However, despite this, it can’t be denied that the special effects have aged somewhat. Although the Hulk’s digital model is visually far more impressive than his predecessor, the effects remain somewhat inconsistent in his quality; the Hulk appears very cartoonish when he emerges on the university campus but looks far more believable and fearsome when filmed at night and in the finale. Though he doesn’t continuously increase in mass as he gets madder and stronger, this Hulk is far more aggressive and much more diverse in his attack patterns. He performs his patented thunderclap manoeuvre and his ability to use his surroundings to his advantage, coupled with his ferocious rage, make him a terrifying force of nature. Indeed, the Hulk is smart enough to rip apart military vehicles and turn them into makeshift shields and weapons, very similar to The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (Radical Entertainment, 2005), which he uses to trash Ross’s heavy ordinance and sonic weapons. Although he wishes to be left alone, the Hulk’s threat only increases the more he is provoked and Blonsky certainly drives him to his limits with his persistence and taunts, earning him a near-fatal blow from the Green Goliath, who appears to rack up quite the body count through his many rampages.

Despite being a dark mirror of the Hulk, the Abomination makes for a thrilling final foe.

Thankfully, there are no gamma dogs this time around and the Hulk surprisingly appears in a number of populated areas, adding to the film’s level of destruction over its predecessor. While Blonsky’s enhanced abilities provide a taste of what we would later see from Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), his obsession with besting the Hulk leads to him forcing Sterns into transforming him into a version of the Abomination. This bony, hulking monster is quite the upgrade compared to the finale of the last film but is a noticeable departure from his traditional comic book appearance and does admittedly add to the MCU’s tendency to rely on dark mirrors of their heroes. Still, the brawl between the Hulk and the Abomination makes for a far more visually impressive finale, not least because you can actually see what’s going on this time around. Potentially because of his conviction or having been exposed to a more potent version of the super-soldier serum, Blonsky retains his personality and intellect when transformed but, drunk with the power afforded to him, the Abomination goes on a rampage through Harlem, attacking civilians and Ross’s troops alike to draw the Hulk out and forcing Ross to risk sending Banner into the hot zone to take Blonsky down. I can totally understand the argument that ending the film with two similar-looking CGI characters bashing each other senseless takes away from the human element of the narrative but it’s a Hulk film so what do you expect? The scene is also framed in a way to make the Hulk appear both heroic and monstrous; though he attacks the Abomination, he causes a great deal of damage in the process but his rage is effectively directed in a more productive way. Despite boasting bony protrusions, the Abomination is ultimately bested by the Hulk’s unquenchable rage but is saved from being choked to death by Betty’s intervention. Humbled by having to turn to the Hulk for help, Ross is far from impressed when Stark comes seeking to recruit the Hulk and the film ends with the ambiguous suggestion that Banner has learned to control his transformations.

The Summary:
Honestly, it annoys me that people overlook The Incredible Hulk; it doesn’t help that legal issues between Marvel Studios and Universal Pictures kept the film somewhat suppressed for a great deal of time and meant that all of the dangling plot threads and sequel bait would sadly never be developed or take a long time to be addressed in the wider MCU. The film’s homages to 1970s show and films like An American Werewolf in London (Landis, 1981) are a nice touch and the cast is absolutely fantastic; Norton, Tyler, Hurt, and Roth all bring a real humanity and intensity to their roles in their own ways and the Hulk is realised perfectly onscreen. Despite being much brisker and more action-orientated compared to the 2003 film, The Incredible Hulk still perfectly captures the desperation of the character as seen in the source material and the popular TV show, and even an admittedly lacklustre finale doesn’t spoil what I find to be an extremely enjoyable and under-rated entry in the MCU.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of The Incredible Hulk? Would you agree that it’s an under-rated entry in the MCU? What did you think to the cast and would you have liked to see Edward Norton reprise the role in the MCU? Were you a fan of the Hulk’s appearance and characterisation this time around and how did you interpret the film’s final shot? Would you have liked to see all of its loose ends addressed in a dedicated Hulk sequel or were you happy with how the MCU incorporated these elements later on? What Hulk story from the comics would you liked to see adapted one day? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies [HulkaMAYnia]: Hulk

Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers, joining teams like the Defenders, and has gone through numerous changes over the years that have added extra depth to the green-skinned behemoth and made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters.

Released: 20 June 2003
Director: Ang Lee
Universal Pictures
$137 million
Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, and Nick Nolte

The Plot:
After being bombarded with gamma radiation in a lab accident, Doctor Bruce Krenzler (Bana) finds himself transforming into a giant green-skinned creature known as the “Hulk” (Ang Lee) whenever stressed or emotionally provoked. Relentlessly pursued by General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Elliot), he is forced to face his traumatic childhood when his biological father, Doctor David Banner (Nolte), reveals Krenzler’s true identity as Bruce Banner and attempts to harvest his alter ego’s gamma-induced super healing.

The Background:
Created by Marvel Comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby after being inspired by the story of a hysterical mother exhibiting superhuman strength and classic movie monsters, the Hulk initially struggled a bit to find an audience with Marvel readers. After a series of backup features helped him regain a solo title, the Hulk shot to fame thanks to his popular television show. Although The Incredible Hulk was followed up by three made-for-TV movies, development of an all-new Hulk feature film can be traced back to the early nineties, when producers Avi Arad and Gale Anne Herd commissioned a script from writer Michael France for production with Universal Pictures. Jonathan Hensleigh was initially attached to the project, which entered pre-production in 1997 and would see the Hulk battle man/insect hybrids. David Hayter was then brought onboard to rewrite the script and include a number of Hulk’s more recognisable enemies before director Ang Lee joined the project and chose to focus more on Banner’s psychological issues. Unlike the TV show, the Hulk was a digital creation of Industrial Light & Magic, with Lee himself providing motion capture for the creature, something that Bana felt reduced his screen time. Although Hulk’s worldwide box office gross of just over $245 million was relatively profitable, it was met with mixed reviews; the less-than-stellar critical response quashed plans for a sequel and, when the rights reverted to Marvel, Marvel Studios instead opted to produce a complete reboot.

The Review:
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Hulk; I grew up watching The Incredible Hulk’s TV movies, the 1982 and 1996 cartoons and reading stories published in the seventies, and I remember being pretty excited to see his big-screen debut thanks to how heavily Universal Pictures promoted the film. Billboards, trailers, TV spots, and merchandise was everywhere for Hulk, which sold itself as this big, action-packed blockbuster in the making but was actually a far more cerebral and poignant story about nature, nurture, the sins of the father and the dangers of science.

David’s efforts to improve his physical limits alter his son’s DNA and get him locked up for thirty years.

Right off the bat, Hulk makes a few alterations to the Jade Giant’s origins; in this film, he owes a great deal of his existence to the research of Dr. David Banner. Much of this is recounted in the film’s opening credits, which play over a montage showing that David has spent most of his scientific career trying to improve the human body’s ability to regenerate. Although close to a breakthrough, he is denied clearance from a young Ross (Todd Tesen) and, like any good mad scientist, tests his formula on himself. Although he exhibits no noticeable effects, the same can’t be said for his son, Bruce (Michael and David Kronenberg). David’s excitement over this development soon turns to horror, however, and Ross’s continued aggression drives him to take desperate measures to try and find a way to reverse Bruce’s condition.

Having repressed his childhood trauma, Bruce is a boiling pot of conflicting emotions.

When we catch up with the now-adult Bruce, he has no idea of his true parentage or nature thanks to having witnessed his father kill his loving birth mother, Edith (Cara Buono), and spending his entire life repressing this memory. A genius scientist in his own right, Bruce finds himself unknowing working in the exact same field as his father, only Bruce favours gamma radiation in his experiments with “nanomads”. Bruce has recently broken up with his co-worker, Doctor Betty Ross (Connelly), after his tendency to be emotionally distant and closed off pushed her away (though they maintain a generally friendly relationship despite this) and, like his father, he has a tumultuous relationship with the military, especially Glenn Talbot (Lucas). Talbot sees the potential for Bruce’s work to be weaponised, which brings him into conflict with Bruce’s more pacifist motivations.

Transformed, freed, by the gamma radiation, the Hulk personifies Bruce’s repressed emotions.

Clearly a complex and tormented individual, Bruce nevertheless willingly sacrifices himself to shield their lab assistant, Harper (Kevin Rankin), from a burst of gamma radiation; initially attributing the improvements in his physical condition to the nanomads, Bruce is pushed to the edge following pressure from Ross and a visit from his birth father. When his emotions get the better of him, his rage literally explodes out of him, transforming him into a mindless, green-skinned beast of pure unbridled fury. The Hulk is characterised as being the unapologetic, mutated physical expression of Bruce’s repressed trauma and memories; although Bruce barely remembers his time as the Hulk, he is terrified by the appeal of the Hulk’s uninhibited anger and power, but the Hulk just seems grateful to be out in the world and free from the trappings of his puny human self. Despite being a largely silent character, the Hulk is given a great deal of characterisation through his facial expressions and body language; he has a child-like quality to him and is quick to fly into a rage when provoked or upon seeing Betty in danger.

Betty cannot help but be drawn to the emotionally unstable Bruce and cares deeply for his welfare.

Betty finds herself irrevocably drawn to Bruce; she feels an empathy and attraction to his intelligence, emotional instability, and his mysterious past that he adamantly refuses to discuss at every opportunity. While they both share a love for science, they also share a bond in their unresolved issues with their fathers; Ross has successfully managed to ostracise his daughter with his officious and militaristic demeanour and Betty is enraged when he pursues Bruce with a stubborn vendetta. Seeking to protect Bruce and standing by him through her father’s persecution, Betty is nevertheless both captivated and terrified by Bruce’s transformation into the Hulk; this compels her to turn to Ross for help but, when she sees how insane David is, she does everything she can to try and help Bruce piece together his fragmented memories and come to terms with his violent childhood.

David Banner makes for an absolutely reprehensible and deeply personal villain.

Initially appearing to be a devoted scientist and loving husband and father, thirty years in confinement have driven David to near insanity. The film goes to great lengths to explore the depravity of David’s motivations; the cold-hearted disdain he shows towards Bruce makes him positively reprehensible. David’s obsession with improving himself, gaining power, and avenging himself against Ross and the world makes him a hermit-like, bat-shit crazy mad scientist who cares nothing for his son and wants only to harvest his gamma cells. David’s mockery of Bruce in the finale, followed by his enraged outburst, are a perfect example of just how disgusting, twisted, and very personal he is as a villain since he purposely withholds information from Bruce regarding his birth mother. Having lived half of his life blaming his violent actions on others (specifically Ross), David is willing to manipulate, torment, and attack anyone with his gamma minions to attain his goals, to say nothing of exposing himself to Bruce’s blood and research in order to augment his physical form.

A stubborn military man, Ross launches a vindictive crusade to lock Bruce up.

General Ross is probably one of the most stubborn, pig-headed, and aggravating characters ever put to screen. A loyal patriot, Ross has spent his entire career putting his work before his family; hiding behind his uniform, Ross justifies his actions out of his genuine desire to protect Betty from Banner’s dangerous nature. To that end, he pursues Bruce without any evidence that he’s actually guilty of anything and is fully prepared to lock him up just for being his father’s son. When Ross witnesses Banner’s transformation, he sees the culmination of David’s obsession brought to startling life and throws everything he has at the Hulk to try and subdue him. Still, it’s obvious that he deeply cares for Betty but his method of protecting her is mainly to purposely and officiously keep key information from her and to rage at Bruce for doing nothing more than existing. Ultimately, Betty is able to convince Ross just enough to arrange for a face-to-face between the two Banners but, even then, Ross is fully prepared to electrocute them both to death if they show signs of being a threat.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Ang Lee’s decision to incorporate split screens, dissolves, and multiple camera angles into the same scene is definitely a unique one. While many of these make for some unique and entertaining shots, and they do make the film visually interesting compared to others, it can’t be denied that they are used way too often and become quite distracting at times. One thing that Hulk definitely has going for it, though, is the quality of the actors; Sam Elliot is a notable standout and makes for quite the vindictive interpretation of General Ross by exuding authority and bringing a gravitas to the film in every scene he’s in. However, while far from the longest film I’ve ever seen. Hulk does seem to drag a bit in places; Hulk’s more methodical pace means that it’s not really the sort of film I throw on casually or can just have running in the background.

Hulk is a surprisingly cerebral film and takes a deep dive into the character’s psychology.

This is because, unlike the vast majority of superhero films, especially at the time, Hulk is a much more cerebral film; rather than make a mere monster movie or an action-packed extravaganza, Ang Lee explores Bruce’s emotional and psychological trauma, both of which are portrayed as just as important to his becoming the Hulk as his anger and gamma exposure, which is also true of the character in recent Marvel Comics storylines. A slower, methodical film than many were expecting thanks to the trailers and the general understanding of the character, Hulk in many ways seems to be the exact opposite of what makes the character appealing and yet tackles the route of Banner’s complex psychological profile head-on. To me, this makes for a very interesting character study; even I, a big Hulk fan, never really thought about how complicated Banner’s emotional stability was until this film and Lee does a wonderful job of making the Hulk’s appearances a big deal in the film. When Bruce gives in to his anger (masterfully portrayed by Bana’s intense facial expressions), it is presented as a veritable explosion of repressed emotion rather than merely being an action scene for the sake of having one and the film does a surprisingly good job of delving into the traumatic psychology behind Banner and the Hulk to make the character more than just a mindless monster.

Despite some dodgy CGI shots (…and dogs), the Hulk generally looks pretty impressive.

For the most part, the Hulk is quite an impressive digital character; it’s difficult to bring a character like the Hulk to life and not make him appear cartoonish because of his green colouration and immense size but Hulk set a pretty decent standard. Obviously, some shots and sequences are better than others; thanks to poor lighting and deliberate framing, Bruce’s initial transformation is quite impressive…until the Hulk walks into frame and we see him unimpeded. Lee has the Hulk increase in size and stature as his anger grows, just like in the comics but, at times, the Hulk’s green is a little too bright, his skin a little too smooth and unnatural as well, with the scene of him being encased in expanding foam probably being one of the worst shots of the film. Of course, even the worst shot of the Hulk can’t really compare to David’s gamma dogs; no amount of darkness can hide how terrible these slobbering, cartoonish beasts appear and I can’t help but feel it would’ve been better to save some money and give David just the one dog and focus a bit more on the Hulk’s battles against Ross and his military forces.

Sadly, the finale is a confusing mess of wonky CGI and blurry shots.

When out in the desert battling with tanks and helicopters, the Hulk looks amazing and exudes menace and character with the way he toys with the vehicles attacking him. Similarly, his rampage through San Francisco and the way he “melts” down into Banner are equally impressive, especially as this entire sequence is shot in full daylight. It’s disappointing, then, that the finale takes place under murky darkness; having gained the ability to absorb and take on the properties of things he touches, David transforms himself into a creature of pure, ever-transforming energy in a bid to absorb the Hulk’s great strength. Sadly, this robs us of the power and allure of Nolte’s performance since he transforms into a gigantic electrical beast, a rock monster, and a big…bubble…thing. Unfortunately, this final confrontation is absolutely ruined by being too dark and blurry and confusing, which makes it all but impossible to figure out what’s going on. While it probably would’ve been equally disappointing for David to transform into a grey-skinned version of the Hulk, at least that fight might have been a bit easier to follow; instead, it’s a bit of a bewildering and anti-climatic ending as Bruce manages to overload his father with his rage and is then assumed dead in the aftermath, only to wind up treating the sick in South America.

The Summary:
It’s not easy to defend Hulk, to be honest. Many of the character’s best aspects are set aside in favour of a methodical, psychological thriller rather than focusing on action or excitement, and I can totally understand why the film’s slower, more cerebral approach to this of all superheroes would put some people off. However, for whatever reason, I often find myself enjoying this film. The actors all put in great performances, bringing a legitimacy to the source material in a way others might not, and the Hulk himself looks, for the most part, very impressive. Some shots don’t work, some of the CGI hasn’t aged well, and some of the stylistic decisions might be a bit questionable but there’s no denying that Hulk is a visually impressive film, and quite a unique take on the source material and the genre. More of an introspective character study rather than a bombastic action film, Hulk definitely suffered from poor marketing and I feel is well worth revisiting, especially now when superhero films are bigger and more popular than ever. As much as I enjoy Marvel Studios’ interpretation of the character, which basically erased this movie from continuity, I would have been happy to see a direct sequel to Hulk back in the day and still like to set aside a couple of hours and really get to grips with the film’s character study of the Jade Giant.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Hulk? Did you enjoy the film’s slower, more cerebral take on the character or were you put off by the psychological aspects of the film? What did you think to the CGI and the film’s portrayal of the Hulk? Would you have liked to see a sequel to this film or do you prefer the Marvel Studios interpretation? What is your favourite Hulk story, character, or piece of media? How are you celebrating the Hulk’s debut today? Whatever your thoughts on the Hulk, go ahead and leave a comment below and check in next Wednesday for my Hulk content.

Back Issues [HulkaMAYnia]: The Incredible Hulk #1

Since his explosive debut in 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers, joining teams like the Defenders, and has gone through numerous changes over the years that have added extra depth to the green-skinned behemoth and made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters.

Story Title: The Hulk (includes “Part 1: The Coming of the Hulk”, “Part 2 : The Hulk Strikes!”, “Part 3: The Search for the Hulk”, “Part 4: Enter…The Gargoyle!”, and “Part 5: The Hulk Triumphant!”
Published: May 1962
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

The Background:
The Incredible Hulk (and his human alter ego, Doctor Robert Bruce Banner), was, of course, the creation of Marvel Comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Inspired by a story of a hysterical mother exhibiting superhuman strength to rescue her trapped child, in addition to classic movie monsters such as Frankenstein’s Monster and the duel personalities of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Lee and Kirby sought to create a tortured, monstrous figure that was a reaction to the mysterious of science and radiation and the foils of war. Famously, of course, the Hulk made his debut as a stone-grey figure who emerged at the onset of night; when printing errors saw the character rendered in different hues, Lee (who also often mistakenly referred to Bruce Banner as “Bob Banner”) decided to switch the character to his now-signature green (though red would have been far more appropriate considering it, like the Hulk, is associated with rage). Despite The Incredible Hulk being cancelled after only a year and a half, the character returned to a self-titled comic and a position of prominence with Marvel readers thanks to subsequent expansions of his lore and character and, of course, his inclusion in numerous team ups, issues of Tales to Astonish, and the popularity of the TV show and his other animated appearances.

The Review:
The issue begins in the middle of the desert where stands the Gamma Bomb (or “G-Bomb”), the “most awesome weapon ever created by man”; the genius behind the G-Bomb, Dr. Bruce Banner, waits anxiously in the concrete bunker some miles away. Banner’s nerves aren’t helped by the criticism of his fellow scientist, Igor, or the blustering presence of General “Thunderbolt” Ross. Ross isn’t happy at the delays Banner has caused the operation, or his men, and openly scoffs at Banner’s concerns and apprehension concerning the vague (yet nonetheless awesome) power the weapon holds. Igor, meanwhile, is incensed that Banner hasn’t shared the secrets of the G-Bomb with him or their peers, even more so when Banner reveals that no one has double-checked his formulas and calculations.

Thanks to Igor and Rick, Banner is bathed in the full force of the mysterious gamma rays!

Banner’s preference towards secrecy and privacy backfires on him, however, as Igor, eager to take all the credit for Banner’s work, allows the G-Bomb countdown to continue after Bruce heroically races out into the testing area to save the life of a teenage kid, Rick Jones, who has slipped past the guards. Banner shields Rick in a nearby trench but, thanks to Igor, the genius scientist is caught in the full blast of the exploding G-Bomb! Hours later, he awakens, still screaming, having miraculously survived the explosion and apparently suffering no ill effects from the awesome gamma rays. Rick, humbled and eternally grateful to Banner for saving his life, sticks around and watches in awe as, when night falls, Banner undergoes a startling transformation into a grey-skinned behemoth!

The Hulk’s rampage is stopped right before he can do serious harm to Rick.

Rather than the mindless, rampaging beast known for his trademark cry of “Hulk smash!” this first incarnation of the Hulk (as the panic-stricken soldiers coin the beast) is a disconcertingly articulate and lumbering creature. His first thought is escape, smashing first through the concrete wall of the base and then trashing an oncoming jeep with ease before disappearing into the night as Rick frantically gives chase. While the soldiers back at base are gob-smacked at what they witnessed, they nevertheless mount an armed search party to track down the beast, whom they believe has kidnapped or killed Dr. Banner. The Hulk, meanwhile, is driven by pure instinct to retrieve Banner’s gamma formula but stumbles upon Igor attempting to steal it for himself! To Igor’s horror, the Hulk is completely unfazed by a “.38 slug in [his] shoulder]”, crushes Igor’s pistol in one meaty hand, and tosses Igor across the room effortlessly. Upon hearing Banner’s name, the Hulk is disgusted and annoyed, believing Banner to be “weak — soft!!”, and then violently rejects Rick’s desire to help him. Indeed, the Hulk advances on Rick, seemingly looking to kill him, and is only stopped by the sudden and unexpected rising of the sun, which sees the Hulk revert to Banner before Rick’s horrified and fascinated eyes.

The stress of his newfound curse begins to take its toll on Banner…

When General Ross and the Military Police show up searching for the Hulk, they immediately begin pointing fingers at everyone! Igor is detained as they believe he is in league with the Hulk and Banner (who sports a minor shoulder injury from Igor’s bullet) is questioned as a suspect. Luckily, plenty of eyewitnesses are on hand to attest to the Hulk’s monstrous appearance, though their accounts of the creature vary wildly. Amidst the confusion, Banner is comforted by Ross’s daughter, Betty, who previously defended him in front of her father. Perhaps out of pity, perhaps out of kindness, perhaps even out of an attractive, Betty offers her help and support to Banner, whom she believes is still suffering from the effects of the G-Bomb, to say nothing of the subsequent stress of recent events. After she leaves, Banner laments his cruel fate, despairing that, when the sun sets, he will once again become the Hulk and lose his rational mind to a monstrous creature.

News of the Hulk’s strength reaches the Gargoyle, the Soviet’s ghastly grotesque.

Locked up in a prison cell, Igor (actually a spy for the Russians) is able to use a handy-dandy hidden “sub-miniature transistor short wave sending set” (translation: a small radio) hidden in his thumbnail to send a message to his Soviet comrades. The Russians take Igor’s message of the Hulk to the Gargoyle, “the most feared man in all of Asia”, a hideous little…gargoyle…of a man who is so feared that no one dares give him the message in person. Angered at the thought of a creature able to match his power, the Gargoyle immediately has himself literally launched over to America to confront the Hulk.

The Hulk is disgusted at Betty’s fragility…

In a desperate attempt to keep the Hulk from hurting others, Banner and Rick drive out of the base and into the desert but, on the way, the transformation occurs and their jeep is wrecked. Rick is shaken by the crash but the Hulk is unfazed and immediately, instinctively, heads towards Betty at General Ross’s house. Betty, who is irrationally overcome with feelings of concern and affection for Banner, attempts to clear her head and encounters the Hulk just outside her house, fainting in his arms to the grey goliath’s disgust. However, unbeknown to the Hulk and Rick, they have been followed by the Gargoyle, who promptly shoots the charging man-monster and his young companion with a special pistol that instantly makes them obedient to his every command.

Banner uses his intellect to cure the Gargoyle, who sacrifices himself to ensure their escape.

Utilising the help of similar slaves, the Gargoyle manages to escape with his prey back behind the Iron Curtain and is positively giddy at the thought of dissecting the Hulk and claiming his power for his own…and equally distraught to find that the Hulk has reverted back to Banner during the trip. Now no longer showing the effects of the Gargoyle’s weapon, Banner and Rick are astonished to witness the Gargoyle break into tears when he realises that the Hulk and Banner are one and the same. Distraught at his ghastly appearance, the Gargoyle wishes only to be a normal man again, just like Banner, whatever the cost. Banner, who has “seen cases” like the Gargoyle’s before, believes he can use “radiation” to grant the creature’s wishes and is, surprisingly, successful. Now a man once more, the Gargoyle allows his captives to return to America safely while he stays behind and sacrifices himself to destroy the Russian outpost

The Summary:
Well, honestly, I have to say that I am surprised; I was expecting the Hulk’s debut appearance to be primarily about him coming into conflict with the military but, instead, the story takes a dramatic and odd sharp left turn with the introduction of the Gargoyle.

The Hulk is surprisingly articulate and subdued compared to his later, more mindless portrayals.

“Unexpected” is perhaps the best world to describe The Incredible Hulk #1 since neither the Hulk or the Gargoyle are portrayed as mere mindless monsters. Instead, the Hulk is childlike, lumbering, and quick to anger but a far cry from the volatile creature he is now known to be. His feats of strength are extremely subdued compared to the literal world breaking exploits he would later indulge in and he’s also surprisingly articulate and cunning, acting on instinct but not simply yelling and screaming near-incoherently at his pursuers.

The Gargoyle, like the Hulk, is not what he seems on the surface.

The Gargoyle, meanwhile, appears to be this deformed, monstrous Red Menace and, indeed, it is implied that he is one of the Soviet’s most formidable weapons. Yet the knowledge that Banner and the Hulk are one and the same reveals his true nature as a tortured, pitiable creature who is lashing out because of his monstrous appearance. The Hulk, meanwhile, lashes out to escape and out of pure instinct thanks to the remnants of Banner’s memories and consciousness rather than out of pure malice and, while Banner is seemingly unable to help himself (though, to be fair, he hasn’t even tried yet) he is able to cure the Gargoyle through questionable means and allow him to die as a man.

Many of the Hulk’s troupes are established in this debut issue despite the story’s odd turn.

The issue, obviously, establishes many of the troupes that would come to be associated with the Hulk for decades: Banner is tormented by his condition, lamenting his fate and completely giving into despair and acceptance of his newfound curse. The Hulk wishes only to be left alone and to revel in his strength and power over the likes of “Puny Banner!” Betty is at once fascinated by Banner and terrified of the Hulk, with no one besides Rick having knowledge of his dual nature, and Ross, having discovered Betty still woozy from her fainting spell and babbling about the Hulk, vows to hunt down and destroy the creature without mercy. Little of this is really developed all that much in this first issue thanks to the sudden shift in tone and focus to the Gargoyle but the seeds are definitely planted and it certainly stands out as more of a monster/horror story than a traditional superhero tale, which may have been why the Hulk struggled to connect with Marvel readers for some time as they were, perhaps, expecting bright, costumed adventurers rather than a persecuted man-monster.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

How did you find the Hulk’s debut story? Did you read it when it was first published and, if so, did the Hulk leave much of an impression on you or were you expecting something different from Marvel? What did you think to the Hulk as a character, especially compared to how he would be portrayed in subsequent years? Do you like the original grey-skinned Hulk or do you prefer the traditional green colouring? What is your favourite Hulk story, character, or piece of media? How are you celebrating the Hulk’s debut today? Whatever your thoughts on the Hulk, go ahead and leave a comment below.