I will be real honest...I hold a lot of affection for and loyalty to Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk. It is not a very popular opinion to hold now, when most look back on that film as being "too cerebral" (an actual quote taken from a random Entertainment Weekly article from a year or so ago). What Lee, a very serious-minded, very artistic, very brilliant director did with his version of the now-commonplace "comic book film" was craft a story that probed deep inside the Bruce Banner character to uncover the source of his inner torment, which then translated into the rage that turned Banner into that big, green monster. It was, as EW wrote, very "cerebral," and that was a breath of fresh air when compared to the mindless, soulless, action-laden excuses for entertainment that many comic book adaptations have become. It was a serious film with complex characters and very internal themes. It was also the most interesting visual recreation of a comic book that the cinema has ever seen--Lee shot and (especially) edited the film to resemble the visual palette of comic book frames. It was a bold combination of never-before-seen visuals and very quiet, very audacious story structure that challenged the popcorn audiences in ways they obviously were not ready for. Expected to be a box-office giant, the film opened to $62 million (a very large number, though not the number many exhibitors were betting on) and then slowly chugged to a $132 million total. In comic book blockbuster land, Hulk was a huge disappointment bordering on flop (nowadays, Speed Racer would love to be considered that kind of "flop," but I digress...)
Now, five years later, comes The Incredible Hulk, directed by a guy who has not proven to have enough filmmaking skill to fill Ang Lee's pinky toe, and starring a great talent who also happens to be Hollywood's Greatest Ego, Edward Norton. The intention is obviously to ignore everything about the previous incarnation of the character and to create a new, dumbed-down, action-packed, accessible-villain type of superhero movie that audiences wanted the first time around. For me, this is one of the limpest, lamest, most shameless attempts at money-grubbing to be allowed a spot on the summer docket...and I haven't even seen it yet.
Here's my question: do we care? Have people truly forgotten the first film and expect this to be the idiotic revamp they always dreamed of? Or do most audiences, like me, think it odd to release an identical origin story and expect it to be treated as completely new and original? I tend to think the mood is very lukewarm on this one, that it will be moderately successful and nothing more. It obviously will be more accessible than Lee's film, which is a big positive on the business end and a glaring negative on the substance end. And hell, in today's top-heavy box-office climate, films can shoot for $132 million on their opening weekend, so I'm sure the makers assumed beating the original's total would be smooth sailing. They are probably right, though my assumption is that once the dust settles, The Incredible Hulk will open to around the same amount that Hulk did five years ago, give or take a few million. Its biggest challenge in trying to overcome substance with mindless action will then be legginess: can it outgross $132 million in the coming weeks, as it faces off with Get Smart, The Love Guru, WALL-E, Hancock, and The Dark Knight?
I'm sure it will, which will put another nail in the Ang Lee Hulk's coffin, even though time will certainly reveal it to be a superior film. But my prediction is that it will still fall short of blockbuster expectations simply because it will never be seen as anything more than an also-ran in the year of Iron Man, Indiana Jones, Hancock, and The Dark Knight. That will at least give Ed Norton something else to bitch about in his next battle with the studios on whatever project he next chooses to grace with his wonderful talent...a talent he is all too aware of.
Of course, that is another story for another post. In the meanwhile, I am gonna go plunk down my $10 to help this version outgross my beloved Hulk. Damn...