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hulkbrucebanner.jpgThis post contains some spoilers.
Fool me once, shame on you (I’m talking to you, Ang Lee), fool me twice… well; luckily that wasn’t the case. “The Incredible Hulk” asks moviegoers to forgive 2003’s “Hulk” and step into the Marvel universe with a clean slate. I did, and was pleasantly surprised.
We meet Dr. David “Bruce” Banner, played by Edward Norton, in a Brazilian bottling plant– no, there’s nothing suspicious about an over-qualified gringo working manual labor with a Portuguese vocabulary spanning 10-20 words, right?–after he’s been dubbed a “weapon” and “property” of the U.S. Military. Banner selects this hideout location, which has no real military, so that he can work on a cure for that pesky gamma poisoning.
This is an evolved Hulk–a man of the millennium. Rather than trying to treat his symptoms: rage and destructive behavior which trigger green growth spurts–he practices meditation and breathing exercises to control his blood pressure so the “gamma guy” doesn’t make an appearance. But, if The Hulk didn’t make a few memorable appearances, there would have been mutiny in theatres across the world. Fans of the green guy didn’t buy $55.4 million in movie tickets this weekend to watch the small-framed, sheepish Norton learn to channel his inner beast impulses into chanting mantras and yoga poses.


Norton’s portrayal of Banner is reminiscent of Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man; a soft-spoken, sensitive, unassuming nice guy able to blend into any circumstances until the science-experiment-gone-wrong powers are called to action. Spider-Man’s abilities aren’t as dangerous or obvious as Banner’s, nor are they as uncontrollable. Banner is tender and reserved–the last thing on his mind is showboating–and believes his one and only mission is ridding the world of the Hulk.
Where Spider-Man finds ways to use his special “talent” to help the community by fending off no-goodniks, the Hulk creates panic and hysteria and leaves unavoidable wakes of destruction, partly due to his cumbersome size alone. He isn’t trying to score superhero points with anyone and never finds the glory in his using his powers for greater good like Spider-Man, Batman, or Superman. His inability to do the simple things that are frequently taken for granted, like ride the subway, get a driver’s license, and be with the person he loves, makes for a uniquely sensitive and admirable hero that’s easy to relate to.
Banner attempts to contact his lover, Dr. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), only after all other methods of trying to cure the Hulk have failed. He’s successfully kept a low profile in South America but journeys back to the U.S. to retrieve the Gamma Impulse project data only she has. Betty is the type of woman any guy is lucky to have in his life: smart, accomplished, beautiful and shockingly understanding, let alone loves a guy who transforms into a nine-foot tall green monster. When she witnesses his transformation for this first time since his accident, oddly, she’s not fazed by his barbaric appearance or brute strength and doesn’t doubt that the man she loves is somewhere inside that big green body. Whether Banner is transformed or not, she’s there encouraging him to control his emotions and monitor his blood pressure (over 200 means it’s time to break out the elastic waistband capris). Throughout the film she consistently has Banner’s/Hulk’s back; getting him clothes, fronting cash, providing a place to sleep, giving him the data drive of his last gamma science experiment and calming him down when he’s on the verge of ripping his pant seams. She helps provide a safety zone for him while commanding him to control his emotions and the power of the beast. There are few ladies willing to tackle a temper of this magnitude, not to mention with such a cool, level-headed approach, but Betty persists where other women would have thrown in the towel.
And, although the range of the Hulk’s verbal communication skills is limited to grunting and roaring, his King Kong brand of love for Betty is clearly understood when he’s throwing himself in the face of danger over and over again in order to rescue her or keep her from harms way; enduring canon blasts, guns, and bombs just to protect the woman he and Banner loves.
Fans will be pleasantly surprised to see Lou Ferrigno and Stan Lee make their obligatory cameos, but only die-hard fanboys (and now you, dear readers) know that Lou lends his pipe talent as the voice of the Hulk and that nothing gets past S.H.I.E.L.D (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division; Marvel’s equivalent to Big Brother). Other geek nods include the a glimpse of Bill Bixby (Banner in the television series opposite Ferrigno’s Hulk) and of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark from this summer’s “Iron Man,” the fast-talking weapon-building genius who discovers his purpose in life is to protect his fellow man–rather than becoming the first man inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records for most consecutive days off the sobriety wagon–but you don’t need to be schooled in comics in order to appreciate the true story of the Hulk: a guy trying to live a “normal” life while trying to control some extraordinary anger issues.
I enjoyed “The Incredible Hulk” a thousand times more than “The Hulk” by far and could effortlessly write another a whole post just on the CGI quality alone. Although the movie is not in the same ballpark as “Iron Man,” it’s certainly worth checking out or the sake of rinsing away the bad taste of the 2003 version.
–written by Hillary Deutsch

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