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If It Ain’t Fucking Broke, Don’t Fucking Fix It.

Posted in movies,rants,reviews by YTAH on July 21, 2008
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If you look at my articles on africans.co.za, next to the title, you’ll see that I chose a picture of the Hulk as my avatar. You’ll also notice that it’s taken from Ang Lee’s Hulk. Not the “re-imagining” being released around the world this week – the original. Now, if you don’t know me, or if you’ve never been drinking with me when the subject comes up, you may be surprised to hear this, but when I made that crack about how any scene in Ang Lee’s Hulk is better than Batman Begins I was being deadly serious. Deadly – as in, argue with me, or deign to disagree, and I will personally see to your eternal demise. When the apocalypse comes and our mortal bodies are resurrected, the Dear Lord Jesus himself won’t be able to scrape together enough of your earthly remains to put you back together again.(And if you think I’m alone in my admiration for the film, you should check out this article from The Onion’s A.V. Club.)

Hulk box setAccept no substitutes.
Suffice to say that I am, indeed, a fan. I even have the ‘Uber-Deluxe Ultra-Special Never-to-Be-Repeated Once-in-a-Lifetime Absolutely-Bloody-Final We-Fucking-Promise We’ll-Never-Release-Another Collector’s Edition’ of the film, the one that had to be specially flown in all the way from Germany in the company of an armed guard consisting of seven Green Berets, the entire SAS, and Steven Seagal, and which was delivered in a sealed titanium box protected by a 5-inch layer of liquid nitrogen surrounding another, smaller box. That’s because back in 2003, Ang Lee made the world’s most expensive cult movie ever. At the same time, at the cost of approximately $137 million dollars, he also delivered the most expensive thesis on the cause, nature, and meaning of anger – not to college auditoriums, but to theatrical cinemas across the world. And let me tell you something: if there’s anything yours truly understands, my friends, it’s pure, unbridled anger. But here, for once, was someone who understood anger as well as I do, and wasn’t in the mood to prettify it in order to draw punters into the cinema. Irvine Welsh recently wrote that “Rage hates a phoney”, and there are lots of phoneys out there, but what I saw had the kind of authenticity you just can’t fake.

Now, just to clear up any possible confusion: I was never a fan of the Hulk comics, so it’s not as if you’re dealing with some rabid fanboy hatred here. In fact, I studiously avoided the theatrical release of the film because I saw the trailers and thought: “God, the special effects look shit.” Also, I figured, it’s the fucking Hulk: “Ooooh, dipshit gets angry, turns green and destroys stuff” – solidly Michael Bay territory so far. No brains, no story, no character; just fight, fight, yawn, fight. (Not to mention the fact that the character of the Hulk has always been a borderline rip-off of Frankenstein and King Kong. There’s also a dash of Jekyll and Hyde thrown in for good measure. It seems that there’s something about a powerful yet slow-witted and uncontrollable creature that we find irresistable. Christ, Alan Moore rehashed lots of old literary characters and tropes for his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – the graphic novel, not that pièce de taste-résistance of a movie they foisted on the public – but at least he was upfront about it, and gave a shout-out to the original creators. Marvel & Co, never much in favour of acknowledging authors’ contributions, showed no such qualms with the original comic or either film.)

Eric Bana as Bruce BannerMirror, mirror…
But then I watched the film on DVD one night when I was (doubtlessly) bored, and that’s when I realised: it wasn’t about the special effects. I can honestly say that I never cared for the Hulk until Lee’s film brought out all the subtleties inherent in the character – the deeper metaphorical meaning behind all those allusions to other massively powerful, misunderstood figures; the ethics of science and experimentation, specifically within the realms of atomic weaponry and energy; the hubris of someone who wants to rail against a god he can’t fight; how anger is both a burden and a boon. I could go on and on. It seems fitting, now (although I hadn’t seen it at the time) that Lee chose Eric “Chopper” Bana to play the big green guy. And Jennifer Connolly has never been better – and we’re talking here about someone who made their feature film debut in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, for fuck’s sake, and then went on to star in Labyrinth, Dark City, Pollock, Blood Diamond, Little Children, and Requiem For a Dream. (In case anyone was wondering: I did in fact talk to a Hulk fan about the original film. Their only gripe was with the scene where Hulk fights the mutant dogs – one of my favourite parts, actually – but they agreed that it was a pretty accurate portrayal of the character, in spirit if not in specifics.)

What made Lee’s take on the story particularly interesting was the fact that they weren’t willing to settle for being ‘just a comic-book movie’. At the same time, they weren’t afraid to acknowledge that they were working with a comic book character. So that’s why you had ‘comic-book style’ editing effects and a CGI character who looked, well, pretty much like the technician was drawing him in front of your eyes. The only difference was that they weren’t willing to stick to the normal tropes of comic-book movies, or to settle for the tired old storyline of ‘superhero with arbitrary powers that seem kinda cool at first (but which makes it impractical to pit them against any old mortal villain) battles supervillain with equally arbitrary-but-opposite powers for domination of the world due to plot contrivances too disgraceful to mention’. So okay, we all know Batman isn’t a superhero as such, but come on: 50 states, countless metropolitan centres … and all the mutants, freaks, and weirdoes just happen to appear in Gotham, conveniently when the hero is embroiled in a feeble love affair that needs some fight scenes to spice things up? But enough; we’re making a movie about a big green giant with anger management issues who wears pants that ludicrously never fall off when all the rest of his clothing practically explodes off his body, so a certain suspension of disbelief is assumed. Lee clearly believed that what he calls ‘the comic-book energy’ in the DVD commentary will carry us through.

Or, as Scott Tobias put it in his original review:

Infinitely more ambitious and purposeful than the average summer movie, though not as ruthlessly streamlined, The Hulk takes the form of a wounded behemoth, battling to negotiate a compromise between a strong artistic vision and franchise expectations. It doesn’t fully succeed on either count, but its integrity and substance stand out like an oasis in a field of cotton candy.

My only problem with that summary, of course, is the part about “doesn’t fully succeed on either count”. But I may be biased.

Eric Bana could kick Edward Norton's assNeedless to say, when I heard about the remake I was less than enthused. To be honest (and I hope you appreciate this, Dichotomaria), I was never even going to watch this film; I fully intended to boycott it out of principle. If Pikes hadn’t asked me to review it for Africans, I would never have seen it – not even for free. So, to be completely honest, I was never going to like this film. But that’s because this film wasn’t made for me; it was made for everyone who got bored with the first movie, who thought all that Freudian nonsense about fathers, mothers, children and repression was boring and unnecessary, and got in the way of the fight scenes. Well, if you are one of those people – and the odds are good that you are – then you should be more than satisfied with this movie. Unfortunately, if you are indeed one of those people, I’m afraid to inform you that you are a cunt.

The new film is also a pretty faithful portrayal of the Hulk, but now he appears in his less appealing form – nothing more than a cheap, dumbed-down derivative of Frankenstein’s monster, only with longer, more frequent, and more complicated fight scenes. Then, of course, there’s what I like to call ‘the Spider-Man effect’, where you get this constant stream of dialogue so stilted and trite that it’s amazing the filmmakers didn’t flash neon signs screaming ‘EXPOSITION!!!’ every time the actors read the lines. And since I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I didn’t much care for all the snide references to the previous film: ‘Ho-ho, so you watched that movie and thought it was great, huh? Well we shit on you for liking such a crap movie. Merde! Look at me, I’m looking in the mirror! You won’t like me when I’m hungry. Look, silly translation joke – aren’t I funny!’ (Say that in a pompous, nasally French accent, if you can, and you’ll get what I mean.) It’s like some kid making fun of his betters, then trying to dress up in their discarded rags to make themselves seem mature. Or some hick fuck at the side of the road who laughs at your car, then begs you for a lift.

The new, supposedly Incredible Hulk.
The director, Louis Leterrier, and his CGI crew have gone out of their way to give the new Hulk a rawer, more realistic feel. Because that’s exactly what’s called for, isn’t it. After all, what part of ‘scientist turns into super-powerful green guy with amazingly stretchy purple pants’ seems irrational and unrealistic to you? That said, there’s nothing all that new or improved about the ‘new’, ‘incredible’ Hulk. The opening credits with the images of science experiments, microscopes, and research notes; the watch that falls to the ground when Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk for the first time; the close-up of his shoes and clothes splitting; the bellowing with rage – all of these things were lifted, almost frame for frame, from Lee’s original. Worse, the rest of the movie feels cobbled together from leftover bits of Terminator 2, Transformers, and even Peter Jackson’s King Kong. And the romantic scenes – cue cellos! – between Tyler and Norton read like scenes cut from the Arwen–Aragorn scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy or (shudder) Attack of the Clones. Remember The Transporter? I bet when you think of that movie, you remember the deep and meaningful characterizations, the scintillating romantic tension, the high drama, the – wait, no, you probably remember nothing more than a couple of derivative but highly effective chase sequences and fight scenes, loosely strung together by the finest of plot threads and the most threadbare of acting. In two weeks, that is how you’ll remember this movie.

Jennifer Connolly vs Liv TylerNot exactly King Kong vs. Godzilla.
Then there’s the well-executed but ultimately meaningless final battle. That’s right, it ends with a fist fight. Where in the first film the characters had to figure out that more violence wasn’t the solution, the ‘sequel’ turns it into the end of The Transformers. I’m not even going to mention all the minor irritations, such as: “How does he get all the way from Brazil to the States without a passport, or money, or turning into the big green guy?”, or “How come it suddenly starts raining in the middle of a fight scene?”, or “How does Liv Tyler manage to keep up with an armoured vehicle on foot, and how does unaltered Bruce Banner manage to outrun one?”, or “Why would a military general fiddle with vials himself, instead of getting some trained lackey to do so?” (By the way: you can’t beat up the Hulk, because his strength is infinite – the angrier he gets, the stronger he gets. So if you hit him and it hurts, he grows bigger and smashes you until you stop hitting anything. It’s like saying Spider-Man could beat Superman in hand-to-hand combat.)

With all of that said, if you’ve never seen Ang Lee’s version, or if you saw it and hated it, you will probably enjoy this one. But then, that’s like saying that if you’ve never seen Zelig, Born on the Fourth of July, or Being There, you’ll think Forrest Gump is a great little film. As far as I’m concerned, saying that this movie is better than the original would be akin to saying that you prefer the Star Wars prequels to the original trilogy. So why don’t all you Jar-Jar fans go and boil your faces, see if I care. Oh what, so the original Hulk was a box office failure? Yeah, well, Edward, so was Fight Club.

Hulk angryWe were not amused.
Oh, and just in case you walk out of the theatre feeling like you just watched one long trailer, you may be right. If you look up the projects that are in the works for these producers, you’ll find that in the next 3 years or so you can now look forward to being subjected to planned instalments of The Avengers, Spider-Man, and the Punisher, plus individual movies for Wolverine, Magneto, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Thor, Silver Surfer, and motherfucking Ant-Man. So congratulations, fuckers, because you’re finally getting what you wanted, and exactly what you deserve.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go home and watch my complete edition of Ang Lee’s Hulk. There’s a bad taste I have to wash out of my mouth.

[Originally posted on www.africans.co.za on Wednesday, June 11, 2008.]

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