2.2.09

The Incredible Hulk

This guardian review is pretty scathing, but it gives some idea of the new film’s quality. To summarize: it isn’t very good. I, of course, enjoyed it, but that is because I find the sight of Hulk rampaging and kicking the crap out of everything worth the price of a cinema ticket in itself. But there is nothing else in this film. And there should have been.

First off, and loath am I to acknowledge Mark Millar as a good writer of comics. but he got the Hulk just right in his ‘Ultimates’ series. His Hulk was funny. When he gets mean and green, he also gets stupid. Where were the scenes of Hulk scratching his head looking confused? Why doesn’t he moronically say ‘Be-tty?’ every time he sees Betty Ross. And where oh where is the classic line ‘puny humans!’, which I find hiiii-larious every time I hear it. Hulk is supposed to be larger than life -- making him slightly ridiculous would have enhanced the enjoyment factor by a huge amount.

But puny humans is important not just for comedy value. It actually says a lot about the dynamic between Hulk and his Dr. Jekyll: Bruce Banner. The film made him into a fugitive, and treads very close to Jason Bourne territory. This is a mistake. I’m not really aware of the Hulk in comics, but as far as I know, Dr. Banner isn’t some level-headed secret agent. He is a researcher, and not a very good one. He is also a bit of a square: not funny, socially inept, but not even charmingly so. He could also have anger-management issues, losing his temper and alienating the people around him. In short, Bruce Banner is a little pathetic -- as far from superheroic as can be.

And Banner knows this. Not only that, but he is in love with Betty Ross, who doesn’t pay him any attention. All this fuels powerful feelings of self-loathing, which manifest as anger against the people better than him, and the society whose rules he doesn’t understand. This is why Hulk is angry. Hulk hates his Banner alter ego because of his weakness and insignificance (and says so, in very simple terms). In Hulk form, those inner neuroses (which we all share) come out to play. The Hulk crashing through Manhattan deserves to be a classic image: the force of primal human emotion leveling a city built on artifice, pretension and manipulation, which the majority of people are oppressed by. King Kong in superhero form.

And like King Kong, the only thing that can cool his wrath is a beautiful woman, in this case Betty Ross. The force of one primal emotion (hate) is overcome by the force of another (love). And it doesn’t even necessarily have to be requited at the beginning. Hulk/Banner respond to the image of Betty Ross, and load that image with all the attributes they crave to find in humanity: kindness, understanding, sympathy. Betty needs to be horrified at Hulk at first, which would make him even more mad, and push him into mindless rampage mode. When Betty finally exhibits what Hulk/Banner is looking for in people in general, Hulk’s rage will end, because its root would no longer be there. The Incredible Hulk is as much about Betty as it is about Banner. The story should have been about how these two people change and grow closer in response to the presence of humanity’s worst features, which the Hulk monster represents. Instead all we got was a terrible script, badly acted (can you blame them?) and no 'puny humans', which is the one vital element in a Hulk film.

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