I'd like to use this posting to talk about the three Hulks that have appeared in Marvel's movies. I'm in the minority when I say I'm a fan of Ang Lee's Hulk. I think it's far far better than that mess The Incredible Hulk, and I prefer Eric Bana's portrayal over Mark Ruffalo's.
Now, The Avengers. When I heard Ruffalo was taking over the role of the Hulk/Bruce Banner, I was disappointed. While I was positive Bana wouldn't be reprising his role, I held out a small hope that he would. Now, I know nothing about Ruffalo. But his portrayal was good. His Banner seemed like a man who has a tight lid on himself, assessing every situation on how it would affect him emotionally. And Joss Whedon was right to insert the Hulk in small doses, he works better that way. Whedon's Hulk wasn't the cut and buff version of Louis Leterrier's nor the somewhat soft giant of Ang Lee's. He was somewhat in the middle, and more gray, it seemed to me. While I don't think Whedon's Hulk was outstanding, it wasn't bad either, and fit in well with the rest of the cast and the movie itself.
Which brings us to the meat of this post: Hulk vs. The Incredible Hulk. The first time I saw Hulk, I was disappointed at the end, I'll admit that. I even remember the UA Crimson White review. It said "Ang Lee, it's 'Hulk smash!' Not 'Hulk deal with repressed childhood trauma.'"The first time I saw The Incredible Hulk, I thought that was how it should be done. But Ang Lee's film stuck with me and the more I watched it, the more I liked it. I also watched Leterrier's, mostly for the action scenes. And the more I watched it, the less I liked it, while the more I watched Lee's, the more I preferred it over Leterrier's movie. I realized the difference was story: Lee's was full of story and emotion, while Leterrier's was empty.
Take Bruce and Betty. We learn more of their relationship in the five minute scene at the lab in Hulk than all of The Incredible Hulk. And in the latter movie, I hate to say that Liv Tyler couldn't act her way out of a paper bag in that one. Normally I like her, especially in low-key roles, like in The Lord of the Rings. But she needed emotional depth, showing hurt, distress, and anger. Liv Tyler was wrong for the role, and I'm sure doing the same role after the outstanding Jennifer Connelly was difficult. I've seen a couple of other of Leterrier's movies and directing actors is not his specialty.
William Hurt was wrong for Ross and seemed to be sleeping his way through the movie, or at least laughing on the inside, as in, "What am I doing in a movie like this?" Sam Elliot seemed like a general and a concerned father, and again, there was more depth to the relationship between him and Betty.
Which brings us to Edward Norton and Eric Bana. Norton is infamous for rewriting movies he stars in and The Incredible Hulk was no exception. While I'm not sure of which parts he rewrote, or how much of the movie he did, Norton just seemed like...Edward Norton. I got no sense of danger from him. Eric Bana, on the other hand, seemed to know there was a monster within him and portrayed that.
To me, the scenes that most distinguish the two movies is when Bruce Banner tells what it is like when he is the Hulk. There was one exchange in The Incredible Hulk and three in Hulk. Here is Edward Norton's.
Betty Ross: What is it like? When it happens, what do you experience?
Bruce Banner: Remember those experiments we volunteered for at Harvard? Those induced hallucination? It's a lot like that, just a thousand times amplified. It's like someone poured a litre of acid into my brain.
Betty Ross: Do you remember anything?
Bruce Banner: Just fragments. Images. There's too much noise. I can never derive anything out of it.
Betty Ross: But then it's still YOU inside of it.
Bruce Banner: No. No, it's not.
Betty Ross: I don't know. In the cave, I really felt like it knew me. Maybe your mind is in there, it's just overcharged and can't process what's happening.
Bruce Banner: I don't want to control it. I want to get rid of it.
Betty Ross: What happened to you last night?
Bruce Banner: I had the most vivid dream. It was being born. Coming up for air, light hitting my face. Screaming. My heartbeat. Boom. Boom. Boom
(and later in the movie)
Betty Ross: Can you remember anything. Is there anything from when you were changed?
Bruce Banner: It was like a dream.
Betty Ross: About what?
Bruce Banner: Rage. Power. And freedom.
(later, in another scene)
Bruce Banner: You know what scares me the most? When it happens, when it comes over me and I totally lose control…I like it.
Bana's was more dramatic and traumatic. When he talked about how it felt, the "boom, boom, boom," his face shows the elation. Norton just looked out a truck window as he delivered his lines.
Lee's use of multiple frames really made it seem like I was watching a cinematic comic book. The "Hulk dogs" and repressed memories? Those were actual elements from the comics. I also feel The Incredible Hulk is the weakest movie in Marvel's Cinematic Universe.
The difference between the two, as I said, is story. Hulk has it in spades. You learn more about Bruce than you ever did in the second movie. Of all the superhero movies I've seen lately, I think no other film has delved deeper into the main character as Hulk. It's not just telling how he became like that, but the why, and the effects it has on him mentally and emotionally.
Few films can balance action and drama but Hulk did that well. Audiences want to know a character, and Ang Lee delved deep into Bruce Banner's psyche. I'm disappointed the movie is so poorly received but it is one I'd highly recommend.