In light of how well the Hulk was done in The Avengers, I watched The Hulk (with Eric Bana) the other day.
Yeah, that one…
What’s the Story?
Dr David Banner was working on tissue regeneration in the sixties. He was unsuccessful, but passed something on to his son (because he was a good ethical scientist and tested experimental procedures on himself). As the result of an accident, whenever Bruce gets angry he turns into an invincible green giant. Also, his ex-girlfriemd’s dad was the one who arrested his dad.
What’s the Problem?
The biggest problem with Hulk is that the whole film is about daddy issues. Its all about the repressed memories from Bruce’s childhood. His whole relationship with Betty was ruined because Bruce couldn’t open up to her. And yet Bruce refuses to admit he has a problem.
Worse, it falls into the trap of having repressed memories. There’s the big traumatic event that Bruce has locked out and it’s causing him so much internal pain that the nanomeds assume it’s physical pain and turn him into the hulk to help heal him.
Yep. They made the hill’s whole purpose to be Bruce’s big Teddy bear, saving him from the nasty memories. Sigh.
Also worrying is that Bruce and Betty both grew up in the same army barracks and both repressed memories from the same day. Double sigh.
Hulk as baby
In Avengers, hulk seems dumb. In The Hulk, the Hulk seems like an infant. He has a babyish face and a dumbfounded expression. Somehow, that makes for a less interesting monster. It’s less about the mindless violence that happens when Banner gets mad as it is the inner child running amok. Which leads us to…
No one dies
In order for the Hulk to work as a character, you have to feel he’s dangerous. That means that not only is there some malice or unpredictability in the character, there are consequences to his actions. In this film, though, the only person hurt by Hulk is the biggest tool in the shed. Someone with no redeeming qualities at all. Everyone else – civilians, military, helicopter pilots – all survive the Hulk’s attacks. So what are we supposed to be scared of?
We don’t care
This is the main problem. We should be worried that Banner will turn Hulk, but instead we don’t care. I’m not awaiting the Hulk’s next appearance or frightened for the safety of those around him because everyone has been fine so far. There’s no sense from Banner that he’s scared of the beast within him, so we as an audience aren’t scared either. Mark Ruffalo’s Banner was quiet, shy, reserved, intelligent, and somehow always conveyed that he was scared the monster would beak out of him and kill everyone. Because of that, we as an audience were worried about the same thing and felt that the Hulk must be a genuine danger. Bana’s Banner, on the other hand, sounds more like he’s in love with being the Hulk. No danger, no care.
It also helps to have Banner surrounded by characters that we care about. That way, his turning into the Hulk is a danger to people we like. When we don’t like any of the other characters in the film (as here), or Banner is surrounded by arsehole military types (as here), we actively want the Hulk because we either a) want something interesting to happen, or b) want to smash the stupid military dicks. After all, what are all these faceless, nameless military people here for, if not to have them smashed by the Hulk? It’s not like they’re characters. It’s not like they’re advancing the story. They’re just… cannon fodder.
Banner not smart enough
Banner works in a college lab. He seems about smart enough for that to me. I don’t feel he’s a brilliant scientist who is capable of cutting edge research, though. He’s just some angry teacher.
One dimensional characters
I suppose the bigger problem in all that is that every character is one-dimensional. Banner is angry. Betty is compassionate, even when really she wouldn’t be (hell, she and Bruce are still on best-buddy terms even after breaking up because of his emotional unavailability). Ross is serious, but not very bright. And Douce us a douce. Seriously, he’s an up-himself Dick with no redeeming qualities. So why should we care if the Hulk kills him? We cheer, and well we should. He’s the baddie and he just got vanquished. But it makes the Hulk a hero, which he isn’t supposed to be. He’s supposed to be the danger, not the solution.
In this film, a man turns into a giant green monster which smashes up planes and tanks as if they were toys. You’d think the film would have a sense of humour with subject master like that. It doesn’t. It tears itself as a deep and meaningful piece about wrestling with one’s demons. It’s like the premise us a joke, but no one told the director.
Which brings us to…the fact that this film is trying to be both a monster smash ’em up and a deep psychological introspective at the same time. Consequently, scenes of Bruce’s inner torment are interspersed with screens of a green giant in bright purple shorts. It sorta ruins the tone of both…
I get that this was a comic book that they then decided to turn into a film. But given that… they turned it into a film. Stop using comic techniques of multiple frames within the page/screen. It works in comics because you look from one to the next. It doesn’t work in film; it just looks messy because everything is moving at once. When you turn a comic book into a film, the idea is to make a good film. That means adhering to cinematic rules, not comic ones.
What’s the Solution?
This is an easy one. We’ve already seen the addition. Norton’s Hulk was better by a long way, but Ruffalo’s was what this should have been: a scientist who send genuinely smart and scared of the thing inside him. A monster which is dumb and dangerous, which cannot be controlled but can at least be pointed at the enemy if there’s one nearby (but will otherwise smash friend or foe indiscriminately).
Only if you hate yourself.