Can Hollywood Ever Make a Great Hulk Movie?

Even though At the Movies has officially been cancelled, I give the movie review show credit for having some great discussion-sparking segments during these final episodes of its long, illustrious run.  A new bit that the hosts came up with this week is called "Over/Under," in which they select movies that are either overrated or underrated.  To start off, the genre was superhero films and the critics made some controversial choices.  A.O. Scott picked the much-praised The Dark Knight as the "overrated" selection, not blaspheming that it was a bad movie, just reasonably arguing that it was not the masterpiece that many claimed it to be.  Michael Phillips then argued that the two Hulk movies (the first by Ang Lee and the second by Louis Leterrier) were underrated and not as completely awful as their naysayers berate them as being.

I am an unabashed fan of the Hulk character, especially the television series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno.  He has gone through many transformations in the comic book storylines since his debut in 1962, so you would think that the odds were on the moviemakers' side to get some version of the character right on the big screen.  But the two films were lambasted for a reason. The major flaw with both motion picture versions of the Hulk is that the creature that Dr. Bruce Banner transforms into is far from "incredible."

In the first film starring Eric Bana, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, and Josh Lucas, the Hulk looks like a pudgy, goofy-faced doughboy.  A.O. Scott rightfully mocked him as resembling "Gumby on steroids."  While the character design in the second film, starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, and William Hurt, was slightly better, it still looked fake, inconsistant, and at times ridiculous. 

Depending on computer-generated special effects to create your lead character in a live-action superhero film is a tricky gamble.  I still think the way to go is with a blend of practical and computer effects.  The movies may have erred by trying too hard to make the Hulk look like the hand-drawn version in the comics instead of focusing on making him a flesh-and-blood character that audiences can imagine existing in the real world,suspending their disbelief at the far-fetched fantasy elements.  That's what good speculative fiction stories are all about -- Superman, for example, made people believe that a man could fly, even the original Incredible Hulk TV series made people accept that a frail guy could turn into a green-skinned, rampaging behemoth whenever he became angry.  But the poor, misguided design of the Hulk in the two movies took audiences out of the moment every time he appeared on screen and that is why they ultimately failed.

Some have blamed the basic concept of the Hulk as intrinsically flawed and untranslatable to other media, but the character, originated by Marvel Comics' Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, has had some terrific tales over the decades, giving evidence to the fact that the multiple-personalities of Banner and the various incarnations of the Hulk are ripe with stories and ideas to be explored. 

Some have argued that the only way to do justice to the story of the Hulk is in comic book or cartoon form.  I disagree.  I think a successful, even great, live-action Hulk movie is possible, and the old TV show proved that it could be popular.  They just have to get it right.  The script, cast, and director are all important factors, but the pivotal element for a great film is properly depicting the savage, but heroic, green giant.  As a fan waiting for them to do it right, I hope Hollywood isn't done with the Hulk yet.

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