Monday, October 10, 2011

Reboot or Rehash? - 'The Hulk' vs. 'The Incredible Hulk'

2003 Hulk                                vs.                                    2008 Hulk

In case you haven’t noticed I have started to diversify and increase the content I have on ‘The Reeltime Report.’  I have had other blogging duties the past few months (read: 6+ months) and haven’t had as much time.  Those tasks have been prioritized and I am back in the fold here at ‘The Reeltime Report’ (and at ‘The Jeff Report’ for all you sports fans out there).

As such, part of what I want to do is a few posts that I will smatter here and there that consist of looking at the same topic/character/story that was made, and then “rebooted” recently.  Each one will be compared and I will look at which one I see as better and give you my thoughts.

In 2003 the new superhero/comic book movie explosion was in full swing.  After X-Men came along and changed the stigma of the comic book movie and showed you can create a solid film that was actually good even with comic book source material in 2000, Spider Man came along in 2001 and proved that it could make crazy money too.  Spider-Man broke record after record and the full on comic book movie rush was on.

I am not exactly sure where Hulk rates on the popularity scale over at Marvel, but he would probably rank pretty high.  Hulk would rank behind Spider-Man and X-Men most definitely.  Then after that, Marvel has a legion of their ‘second tier’ characters, so many in fact that at some point in order to boost sales of all of them they joined them together to form ‘The Avengers’ which is a who’s who of 2nd tier characters of Marvel: Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor as well as some Avengers specific characters.

But I digress.  We’re talking about the Hulk here.  The reason I even started on that tangent was in order to address the fact that the Hulk may have been the comic book character with the biggest hurdle in popularity to fight at this point.  While Spider-Man and X-Men are universally loved, the Hulk had his following but wasn’t for everybody.

The box office receipts proved this to be true.  Netting just over $150M, ‘The Hulk’ didn’t exactly set the box office on fire.  You could say that it’s due to the popularity (lack thereof?) of Hulk, but many would say that it was Ang Lee’s direction style that turned most fans off.  Either way the movie didn’t do great, but got enough “it could be great” type reviews for Marvel to think that 5 years later it could use a reboot.  So in 2008 Louis Letterier helmed the reboot that replaced Bruce Banner and gave a less contemplative and more action oriented (think: “Hulk Smash”) Hulk.  While they thought it would please it more fans it still couldn’t surpass the $160M mark at the box office.

There are things to like about each Hulk.  The 2003 version had a very unique style to it.  While some said it turned them off the way it was made, it was done in a way you don’t see as often and as a result gave you a unique experience.  Ang Lee, still two years away from winning his Oscar (Brokeback Mountain, 2005) tried to create a live action comic book of sorts.  There was split screen effects, picture in picture effects, and the shots were very reminiscent of comic books panels with their close ups of faces, eyes, and anything else deemed important by the given scene.

Besides it’s different visual style, Lee’s Hulk also hearkened back to the contemplative Hulk from the comic books.  Hulk spends time staring at his reflection trying to figure out who he really is and why he is ruled by pure emotion.  He spends time looking at the serene desert landscape noting the flowers that are by themselves and so peaceful and Hulk yearns for that peace.  While true to the comic book storylines, it’s not the most appealing to audiences.  ‘Hulk Smash’ is what they paid money to see and they didn’t get to see that much of it.

The 2008 version of the Hulk (known as ‘The Incredible Hulk’) was a bit more conventional in its styling and storytelling.  You found yourself with a much whinier Bruce Banner and a Hulk who spends less time trying to find himself and more timing smashing things.  There really isn’t much special brought to the table here as they don’t go into much detail about Bruce’s backstory, save for his love affair with Betty Ross. 

This version deals more with Bruce trying to understand himself and control his ability to be the Hulk, rather than Bruce being afraid of the Hulk and the Hulk trying to understand himself (those who follow the comic know they are distinctly two different beings, similar to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).  When the Hulk in this movie it was mostly in the vein of action and seeing the Hulk smash and fight the military and his arch enemy abomination.

The question remains, which one is better?  In my estimation the winner here is the 2003 version ‘The Hulk.’  The style of Ang Lee I unique, original, and fun.  While the story line may not be the most intriguing to fans and non-fans alike, it is true to the Hulk cannon and provides enough action to see the Hulk do his famous mile-long leaps and start to become comfortable with his abilities.  The Bruce Banner of Erica Bana is more true to form of what my experience has been in the comic world and Lee’s version of the Hulk who is desperately just trying to be alone and in peace while also trying to understand his love for Betty is what makes this movie more enjoyable to me.

The 2008 version just didn’t have the depth and the character the first one did.  The Hulk was just an Id that didn’t get to see much of his softer side with the exception of one scene where he protects Betty.  Edward Norton may be a more talented actor than Bana but he doesn’t show that in his portrayal here.  Norton’s Banner is whiney, scared, and timid.  Banner is afraid, not of himself, but afraid that he likes what happens when he becomes the Hulk.  He has spent his entire life hiding his true emotions and when he is the Hulk his emotions get to let fly and this is a freeing experience for Banner.  Norton’s depiction loses this ability while Bana’s captures it perfectly.

It seems like a better idea than it has shown to be in practice to have the Hulk on the big screen.  Marvel has thought enough of it to try it twice, but something has not connected with the public each time.  I’m not sure what it will take for the public to truly connect with this character on screen but for my money, Lee was closer in his version than Letterier was in his.

Winner: 2003 ‘The Hulk’

Verdict of follow-up: Re-Hash

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