The Writer’s Perspective 28/6/08


No story? Hulk smash!
When I was three I became a passionate fan of ”The Incredible Hulk”. It’s a fanaticism never once waned in the subsequent 28 years. It started, of course, with the TV show starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. In my teens I began collecting the comics and own every issue published between 1990 and 1993.

I’m not a terribly excitable person, but in 2003, when the lights went down in the cinema and Ang Lee’s “Hulk” flashed up on the screen, I metamorphosed into a trembling fanboy.

Two hours later I emerged nonplussed. I enjoyed bits here and there, but it didn’t feel like a ‘Hulk’ movie. Going in, I had feared the psychological aspects of the Hulk, which have made him such an enduring character, would be overlooked. On the contrary, the movie drowned in them. Examining issues like parental abuse and mental illness are all very well, but this was a superhero movie. One about a 1,000 pound brute with almost limitless power. Audiences paid to see him fuck shit up, not cry about his mean old daddy. Lee’s film had too much of the latter and nowhere near enough of the former.

Which brings us to Louis Leterrier’s reboot, “The Incredible Hulk”. Unlike many people, I had faith in Leterrier to pull the movie off. He showed his action-directing chops in “The Transporter”, probably the most underrated martial arts film of the past 20 years, and I thought he could make a good fist of a Hulk movie. I was less impressed with the choice of Zak Penn as screenwriter, who had blurted out the execrable “X-Men 3” and “Elektra”.

But then the exciting cast began to emerge and Ed Norton took a hand in the script. The prospects were intoxicating and the trembling fanboy within emerged from dormancy once more.

First, here’s what “The Incredible Hulk” got right: casting, action and special effects.

I actually didn’t mind the casting of “Hulk”, but “The Incredible Hulk” improved on every character. Norton, as we all expected, was a revelation as Banner; Liv Tyler provided a more empathetic Betty Ross; and the biggest surprise for me was William Hurt, who I couldn’t picture as ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross beforehand but who brought him to life brilliantly – even better than Sam Elliot.

The action gave fans what they had been slavering for since the non-event that was “Hulk” – destruction of military equipment on a grand scale, monumental fight scenes, and a cathartic sense of unfettered fury and power.

As for the special effects – it seems beyond animators to provide a believable humanoid face, but other than that the CGI was spectacular. And unlike, say, “Transformers”, while it was visually dazzling you could actually tell what was going on at any given time.

So where did the movie fall down? Story.

It’s now well publicised that Ed Norton had a falling out with the studio over the film’s final cut. Some people are accusing him of being precious and wanting to turn “The Incredible Hulk” into a ‘serious’ film, but this is grossly unfair. His main gripe was that vital story elements were cut from the movie, and he is spot on.

Now I don’t think the film should have been any longer – Leterrier and the studio got the length and pacing about right. The problem is they did a hack job in the editing room. Most of the story – as opposed to narrative – is crammed into the opening montage. As a result, the movie itself isn’t really about anything. It’s a two-hour chase scene – Banner chasing a cure, Ross chasing Banner, Banner running away from Betty, The Abomination chasing the Hulk.

The few story elements that did remain sit there pulsing like organs without a body. Leterrier would have been better off adding another five minutes of story- and character-building instead keeping the overcooked and ultimately redundant ‘emotional’ scenes. The DVD – which is said to have 50 minutes of deleted material – will make interesting viewing.

In short, I enjoyed hell out of “The Incredible Hulk” but felt it could have been so much better if the action and story elements had been better balanced. As I walked out, my mind flashed back to “Iron Man”, which had almost the perfect mix between the two – as have all the best comic book adaptations.

It looks as though “The Incredible Hulk” will at least break even on its $125 million budget, so there’s a chance green gargantuan could be in a sequel (other than “The Avengers”). If it happens, the studio needs to do two things: kick Zak Penn to the kerb and give Ed Norton whatever he demands. I smell a great comic book sequel in the offing if Marvel alters the recipe just a little.

Kris Ashton has published fiction in more than ten different magazines and anthologies. His new novel Ghost Kiss is available now from Asylett Press. Learn more at his official website: