1. Glad to see you finally talk about your films! As a hyper intelligent guy, I had a feeling you’d go easier on Ang Lee’s film than many people would. Sometimes I can reconcile a film straying heavily from the source material (such as the first Conan), but I couldn’t do it with The Hulk. Squeezing a different, nigh-incompatible story in with the Hulk’s is just too much. And am I the only one weird out by the Hulk standing like 20 feet tall? Imagine a Batman film that plays with the character’s size like that…

    I am surprised at how much more critical you are of The Incredible Hulk. For me, that movie captured exactly how I think of the character and the universe he inhabits. Your criticism that it should be a bad thing when he hulks out is very interesting. I mean, that’s a valid take from someone who watched the (apparently very silly) show as clung to that version of the Hulk above all others. But man, I dig that heroic version of the Hulk. Up until the end of the film, it *is* bad for Banner when Hulk arrives because it blows his cover and throws him back onto the run and away from normal things he wants like being with Betty. True, we didn’t get enough character beats due to the editing and behind-the-scenes shenanigans, but I still believed in Norton’s innate goodness and desire for peace above conflict.

  2. HULK knows his Hulk stuff, that’s for sure: movies, television and his favorite era comics too. Good piece on why what works. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

    And thanks for the Christmas gift.

    I like The Incredible Hulk (2008) a better than you do. I accept the story structure (which is: Round One: FIGHT! Round Two: FIGHT! Round Three: FIGHT!) because Ang Lee complained that his movie was poorly received because all people wanted was “HULK SMASH!” and as you said they over-compensated. I found Bruce and Betty’s strong, loving relationship a superior substitute for the television show’s “friend of the week”. Betty Ross as played by Liv Tyler is a very pleasant, nurturing, human (that is non-Hollywood-actress-y) person, and everything she does is good for Bruce. She’s even the reason he didn’t die of radiation sickness years ago: it’s her primer that absorbs the radiation at the moment of greatest danger, and then it abates, according to Samuel Sterns. Bruce and Betty want to be married, and they should be, they’d be perfect, but it’s the Hulk that pushes them apart. It’s like that comic book cover long ago with the Hulk standing between Bruce and Betty, with his arms out to each side, pushing them apart. They want to marry, but the Hulk is too strong. (And this includes the other Hulk: Betty has her own obstructive force of masculine rage in the form of her father General Ross.) That’s all the motivation Bruce needs to go through anything to find a cure, and it’s all the motivation I need to care about his quest.

  3. Always love a Hulk-out (though if you never review Mr. Hogan’s films I’ll understand). I liked the Norton Hulk better, but now I need to go back because I like Norton in general, so that probably colored my viewing. Plus I really wanted to like it.
    On the meta-Hulk track, your roller coaster at Universal Orlando is awesome. Well done there as well.

    1. Doug R.: “I liked the Norton Hulk better, but now I need to go back because I like Norton in general, so that probably colored my viewing. Plus I really wanted to like it.”

      Maybe it’s the romance that’s working for you? I say this as a Twilight fan. I’m a sucker for a good romance.

      In Hulk (2003) Bruce and Betty have failed before the movie begins. Romantically, there is nothing at stake.

      Betty Ross’s main function in the story is that when she shows up it means that Bruce is going to be captured again. The missed phone call that helped spur Bruce’s first Hulk-out wasn’t her fault, but the trank dart in the leg was, and getting the Hulk to melt down in the street, resulting in Bruce being captured, definitely was.

      Betty was aware that captivity for Bruce meant his execution too. Whatever concerns she had about that didn’t stop her from urging this course on her father, any more than any issues she had with her father stopped her calling him to bring on the capture team while she have him tender, heart-sharing talks and breakfast, and generally kept him feeling falsely safe.

      The attitude of the Betty Ross that Jennifer Connelly got to play is: “Oh Bruce, who (in retrospect when it’s useless) I love so much, rest your troubled head on my shoulder, while I set you up for this lethal injection.”

      OK, that’s not all she did. She was also mildly mean to both Bruce and Glen Talbot, she quarreled with her father, and she was involved with the Father (Nick Nolte) first giving away her scent for the Hulk dogs to hunt and later setting up the terrible meeting between Bruce and the Father while Bruce was waiting to be executed. This doesn’t really improve things.

      As written, Hulk’s female romantic lead is unappealing, and there is only so much a smoking hot actress who cries well can do to fix that.

      Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross, on the other hand, was written (or re-written by Ed Norton during his rewrites during shooting) as tender, feminine, supportive in every way, sexually interested in Bruce, and heart to heart on the same page with him, in love as much as he is, as shown in the scene in her house where they lie on their separate beds in separate rooms, each with a hand on their heart thinking about the other.

      When Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross shows up, it means the Lonely Man, so poor and tired from his long, hard road, is going to get all the comfort and love he’s longed for, or that some obstacle that was impassable (like the lost data) is now going to be passable, or else she’s going to provide the Hulk with inspiration to win when otherwise he would have failed, or to hold back from killing when otherwise he would have killed.

      And in my opinion, Liv Tyler knocked the character out of the park. Even when she’s swearing at the reckless cab driver and telling Bruce to “zip it” she’s adorable. And she wore her hair exactly as Betty wore it in the comics, regardless of whether that was the most flattering look for her, because that’s getting it right. (Betty fan applauds!)

      You tell me which character is a better motivation for Bruce? And who does more to show that Bruce could be something better if not for the Hulk, namely a good husband.

      Also, there’s no contest, actual or implied, for the Betty Ross that Jennifer Connelly was stuck with, while Liv Tyler’s Betty has that oh-so-warm friendship with Leonard Sampson (the future Doc Sampson), who Bruce needs help from with his “problem”, who he sort of needs Betty to be with while he’s not there to care for her, but who he is justifiably afraid he’s losing her to.

      I like the 2003 Hulk a lot. But if Bruce (heart) Betty is a big aspect of the kind of Hulk story you’ve always liked best, the 2003 film doesn’t even begin to compete with the 2008 film.

      1. Correction: “Whatever concerns she had about that didn’t stop her from urging this course on her father, any more than any issues she had with her father stopped her calling him to bring on the capture team while she gave Bruce tender, heart-sharing talks and breakfast, and generally kept him feeling falsely safe.”

        Jennifer Connelly’s Betty says her “relationship” with Bruce is just a product of her “inexplicable obsession with emotionally distant men”. She’s a little emotionally distant herself, when you realize that for that whole breakfast scene she’s been waiting for her father’s soldiers to show up and zap Bruce.

        Liv Tyler’s Betty, who goes on the run, spends every dollar she has and sells the locket her mother gave her to keep Bruce free and help him advance on his goal, is the opposite of that.

        Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross even has a relationship with the Hulk. In the cave scene she’s not afraid of him at all, and he’s the least fragile creature on Earth, but she’s still calming his foolish alarm at the thunder and lightning, leading him out of the rain to come and sit down with her, and warning him not to bump his head, because that’s her nature.

        And though Betty Ross has been through various changes and you can’t say based on the comics that one version is right and all the others are wrong, that’s just how I like her.

      2. I like Tyler’s version of Betty much more than Connelly’s, too. Kinda weird given that I’m not really a Tyler fan (she’s lovely, but not much of an actress) and I’ve adored Connelly for years, but the writing in the 2003 is


    Or, in Nolte-speak: “I can partake in the essence of all things.”

  5. Merry belated Christmas, Hulk, that was a lovely essay, as always.

    I saw Ang Lee’s Hulk in the theater and remembered liking it a good deal. I saw the other Hulk movie on DVD and enjoyed for the most part, though for different reasons. Since then I haven’t had an urge to watch either of them again and I don’t actually recall much about them specifically, which also says something. I’ve never seen the TV series or read any of the Hulk comics, so maybe I enjoyed the movies more than people who are longtime fans of the character. It was very nice to read about why people are so drawn to your Hulky charms and pathos and also why the movies missed the mark the way they did. Maybe there’ll be room in the Avengers movie between clashing super-egos, everybody else’s issues, shots of Scarlett Johanson’s butt, and the obligatory explosions to get some of that missing Hulk essence in. Not holding my breath, but who can say until we’ve seen it?

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