Friday, July 01, 2005

The Hulk

I finally got around to watching this movie tonight (Thursday) on DVD. If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you know my track record on comic book movies that were trashed by the critics. The critics hated DAREDEVIL. I kind of liked it. The critics hated ELEKTRA. I kind of liked it. The critics hated THE HULK . . . Well, you know the old saying about two out of three. I hated it, too. In fact, it’s going to be hard to talk about it without sounding like Comic Book Guy from THE SIMPSONS, but I’ll try.

First, there were a few things that I did like. Jennifer Connelly was okay as Betty Ross. (I tend to cut Jennifer Connelly a lot of slack.) Sam Elliott was perfectly cast as General Thunderbolt Ross. The cameos by Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno were just about perfect, over with quickly and not too cute. I appreciated the fact that much of the action took place in the American Southwest, like it was supposed to. I always liked the fact that the Hulk’s origin wasn’t in some big city somewhere. I even smiled a little at the nod to the TV version of the character at the very end of the movie. And the CGI Hulk, the object of much ridicule when the movie first came out, actually looked okay – when he was on screen by himself. It was only when he had to interact with his surroundings that the horrible blunder of making him twenty to twenty-five feet tall was apparent. He should have been around seven feet tall, eight tops.

To move on to the other things I disliked, for much of the movie the pace was too slow and brooding. I thought Eric Bana was miscast as Bruce Banner. Mostly, though, I thought all the tinkering with the origin story was just terrible. Making Bruce’s condition the result of his father’s genetic experiments with cellular regeneration totally invalidates the original concept of the character as created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The whole point of the Hulk is that there is a monster lurking in everyone that can be unleashed under the right circumstances. Bruce Banner, incredibly brilliant though he may be, is still an Everyman in the comic book version, until exposure to the radiation from the gamma bomb changes him. The movie version of the character starts out different from everyone else. He’s a mutant, more suited to being a member of the X-Men. (Speaking of which, I’ve never seen those movies, either. I’ve got to get around to watching them.) There’s just no good reason to make that change in the character. I realize a movie is different from a comic book or a novel. I’m not opposed to making some changes in an adaptation. There were changes from the original in the Spider-Man movies and the Lord of the Rings movies, but those didn’t bother me because overall the movies were faithful to the spirit of the source material. The movie version of the Hulk is a perversion of the source material.

Which brings me to the whole subject of retconning, i.e. the practice of going back and changing a character’s origin or back-story for the purpose of updating him or making him more acceptable for whatever reason to a current audience. I have a simple stance on retconning. I don’t like it. I think it’s unnecessary. Give me a time paradox any day over wholesale jettisoning of years or decades worth of continuity. That’s the main reason I dislike so many of the comics that have been published in the past ten to fifteen years.

From what I’ve seen of the new Fantastic Four movie, it looks pretty good and reasonably accurate. However, when some of you go see it, no matter what the movie tells you, just remember: Reed Richards was an OSS agent during World War II. Ben Grimm was a fighter pilot during the same war. Reed designed, built, and launched his rocket for one reason and one reason only – to beat the Commies into space. Trust me on these things. I was there when they happened.

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