Monday, June 23, 2008

The Acceptable Hulk

Saturday my roommate and I watched two films in the theaters simply to escape our hot apartment. I had been briefly interested in The Incredible Hulk, but once opening weekend passed without my seeing it, I figured I wouldn't catch it in theaters. So Universal & Marvel can thank the sun for my patronage.

I've yet to see Ang Lee's version, but I've read/heard that the majority of it deals with how Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk. I have to say, that sounds kind of boring. Hulk is different from other superheroes. While other heroes have to learn their powers and what they can do with them, the Hulk just turns into the Hulk and that's that. He automatically is able to kick ass. Thus, he doesn't need as much time focused on his origin.

Thankfully this reboot avoids repeating everything from the last film, instead showing a quick montage over the opening credits that explains what happened to Bruce Banner (Edward Norton). (It also changes exactly WHAT happened, perhaps to make it moreplausible that his condition could actually be cured.)

The plot follows Banner as he attempts to find a cure, which forces him to revisit his past that he's been hiding from. Meanwhile, General Ross (William Hurt), the man responsible for Banner's condition, attempts to hunt him down, ultimately experimenting with Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to make him bigger, stronger, faster. It becomes a drug to him, so when he's given the chance to inject Banner's blood into himself, he does, thus becoming Abomination. Then he and Hulk have a big fight through all of New York City.

Banner's journey makes sense, as does Blonsky's. What did not make sense were the numerous COMPLETELY IDIOTIC decisions by the military, most of which were carried out by General Ross.


Witness the following examples:

-The first attempt to capture Banner occurs in South America, where he has been hiding. All of the soldiers are equipped with heavy tranquilizer guns and told to shoot upon sight. This sounds like a good plan.

Except not ALL of the soldiers have guns. Just the ones chasing him on foot. Ross and a few other soldiers are in a military van monitoring things. He happens to get out right as Banner turns the corner, and they stare at each other before Banner runs off and Ross informs the armed soldiers which way he went.

Hmm, might it have been a good idea for EVERYONE to have a tranquilizer gun? You know, just in case.

Anyway, Banner eventually turns into the Hulk. And then the tranquilizer darts bounce right off his skin.

This is the first sign of Ross' stupidity. We saw during the opening montage that they tried shooting the Hulk, and the bullets bounced right off. So if bullets don't hurt him, normal darts aren't even going to break the skin.

Now, it's possible that these were enhanced darts with stronger needles. But there's no indication of that. A simple cut to General Ross yelling over the radio, "But these were supposed to work!" would have satisfied me.

Another way to do it, which would have also been nice foreshadowing, would have been for each soldier to have regular tranquilizers and then back-up ones. Blonsky could say something like, "But these things could kill a rhino." And Ross would respond, with a knowing smile, "Trust me."

When the darts don't work, they of course switch to...regular bullets. A logical decision on the soldiers' parts, but maybe Ross should have told them just to get the hell out of there.

If this had been the only military mistake, it wouldn't have bothered me so much. But here's what happened the next time they tried to capture him.

-They're tipped off that he's on the old campus where he used to do research. Someone jumps the gun before the snipers are in position, and a chase ensues. Banner gets locked in a walkway between two buildings, with soldiers on each side. (Take note that the gates locking him in would be easy to shoot through.)

So you have Banner trapped, a sitting target for the military. Now's the time you pump him full of tranquilizers, right?

Not if you're General Ross. Instead, you fire two canisters into the walkway (from outside and through the glass, no less, as opposed to having the soldiers next to the openings do it). I'm assuming it was tear gas, which is NOT A TRANQUILIZER.

(For those that argue that it might have been some sort of tranquilizer, that seems unlikely based on what happens next and on the fact that the tranquilizer they do eventually use on him is in dart form.)

General Ross's estranged daughter, Betty (Liv Tyler) who is also Bruce's ex, rushes forward, concerned for her lover. Ross half-heartedly tells soldiers to restrain her, saying that now she'll "finally see." In other words, now she'll see what a monster the Hulk is. I guess parenting books don't cover "don't put your daughter in the path of an indestructible beast simply to prove a point."

Of course the Hulk easily breaks out of the walkway and all hell breaks loose. Bullets are used on him for awhile, and though more powerful guns are brought in, it's clear that these are only being used to lead up to the ultimate plan. But they put a lot of people in harm's way before unleashing it.

The plan involves two...I guess you'd call them sonic boom cannons. They pulsate waves of sound that immobilize the Hulk for awhile. But there's no follow up plan. Were they hoping it would knock him out, or were they just planning to keep the cannons blasting on him forever?

The Hulk eventually fights through the pain and destroys the cannons. At this point, General Ross calls in the attack helicopter. (Perhaps you could have called that in while he was immobilized? No? Okay then.)

Betty wanders out toward the Hulk, trying to see the man she loves in him. Apparently NO ONE notices this until AFTER the helicopter starts firing and General Ross orders it to stop. Thankfully Hulk protected her from the danger. Then he destroys the helicopter.

And then the scene just ends. No escape is shown. You'd figure the military would have followed him or...well, done something. But it just cuts to the Hulk and Betty in a cave.

At least they learned some lessons, right? Well, not judging from their next encounter.

-They eventually capture Banner when he visits Doctor Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson), who he's been corresponding with, a man that says he might be able to cure him. A sniper (Finally! They were in position!) hits Banner with a tranquilizer.

Of course, it's not really clear whether this would have knocked him out quickly enough were it not for the fact that he had nearly transformed into the Hulk moments ago only to have it suppressed by Sterns. It seems that it's still having an effect, thus preventing him from transforming.

They have him locked up, but I highly doubt those bonds would hold him if he changed. If I were in charge, I'd keep Banner in a deep coma as much as possible.

Meanwhile, Blonsky is left with two other soldiers that are guarding Sterns. It's not really clear why they didn't just arrest him too. He has research that they would definitely want.

Blonsky takes out the other soldiers and then forces Sterns to inject him with Banner's blood. Then he turns into Abomination.

What summed up the incompetence of the military for me was the moment when Abomination bursts out of the building and runs down the alley. A soldier chases him, and we CLEARLY SEE Abomination turn left. But when the soldier gets there, he inexplicably turns right, seeming for no other reason than to allow that Abomination to be out of frame by the time he turns and looks the other way.

That was nice of him.


Steve Jones said...

As one of three people in America who liked Ang Lee's "Hulk" (and actually owns it on DVD), I feel compelled to offer a defense. In that version, the Hulk's origin is not boring because it's portrayed as actually the doing of his father (a superbly whacked-out Nick Nolte) and sets the stage for all kinds of events in the present. So it's a lot more interesting than you might think, though your point about the difference between the Hulk and other Marvel heroes is dead-on.

It is a bit of a mystery why a character who's always been tough for the writers to figure out what to do with has inspired two movies to date. Somebody must be seeing them.

I can tell just from the previews that the new "Incredible Hulk" is far more action-oriented than its predecessor. That actually looks less interesting than the overly-talky, thoughtful 2003 rendering. While people may have gotten bored during the extensive dialogue scenes in Lee's version, at least they were about something, and it wasn't about the Hulk trying to beat up someone equally powerful (my main quibble with most superhero movies in general - if the protagonist and antagonist are equally strong, why not settle their dispute some other way, like with a game of chess?).

You also can't go wrong with Ang Lee's cast. Jennifer Connelly is to Liv Tyler as Kevin Garnett is to Pau Gasol. The Sam Elliott/William Hurt battle is a little closer, but I still give Sam the edge. And I think Bana draws with Norton.

Jonathan K said...

I've definitely heard from a number of people that really enjoyed Ang Lee's "Hulk." It's just that I've heard from more that disliked it. I plan to check it out eventually.

Yes, it's definitely more action-oriented. And really, the only action scene that was good was the first chase, before Norton turned into the Hulk. Everything as the Hulk was pretty boring.

While I'd give the edge to Norton over Bana (acting-wise, at least), you're analogy for Connelly and Tyler is the most accurate thing I've ever seen.

Steve Jones said...

Three years ago, I would've said Bana vs. Norton was Norton's, no contest. Then "Troy" and "Munich" happened, while Norton accepted a couple below-average films ("The Illusionist?"). I just think the gap is narrowing.

You up for lunch tomorrow? School's out and my days are pretty free.