Released today on DVD, The Incredible Hulk was meant to be a dramatic do-over of the 2003 Hulk feature film. Marvel hoped the first Hulk would match the record-breaking success of its previous years Spider-man, but Ang Lees cerebral, angsty take on the raging green giant was an underperformer. Despite its $137 million budget, Hulk earned $132 million theatrically in the United States (and $245 million worldwide).
As a reboot sequel, Incredible brought in French action director Louis Leterrier, pumped up the premise as a combination of monster movie and manhunt flick and enlisted a new cast, with Edward Norton replacing Eric Bana as the Hulks anguished alter ego, Bruce Banner. Incredibly, the financial results were practically identical: Leterriers film had a $150 million budget and made $134 million in the U.S. ($261 worldwide) -- and thats not factoring inflation into the equation. Here are five theories as to what went wrong.
1. Memories of the first film scared people off. Ang Lees Hulk contains some thrilling, fascinating set pieces. The scenes of the Hulk bounding across the Southwestern desert, battling tanks and helicopters, feature a weird lyricism matched by few movies of any kind, let alone comic book films. Unfortunately the film, which lasts well over two hours, is surrounded by sluggishly-paced scenes, weird Oedipal plotting that seldom makes dramatic sense and superfluous, 24-style split screens and effects that replicate comic book panels for no good reason. Making a follow-up to a movie nobody liked was bound to be a risk, although Incredible opts to ignore Lees continuity and pay affectionate homage to the old Incredible Hulk TV series.
2. People just didnt like the new movie that much. I enjoyed Incredible but acknowledge that it has its faults: its occasionally corny, rushed and soap operatic in a TV-sized way. It almost plays like a cheesy Sci Fi channel production, only with lavish effects, a cool cast and the pace of a Bourne film, and critics were mildly, not enthusiastically, positive. Nevertheless, Incredible offers plenty of bank for the (ten) bucks, and its not like summer audiences insist that their action films be even as smart as Iron Man or The Dark Knight. Compared to Michael Bays Transformers, Leterriers film is like Henry V.
3. It had too much competition. Incredible opened on June 13 on the heels of a better comic book movie (Iron Man) and a bigger action franchise (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), as well as the less successful received genre films Prince Caspian and Speed Racer. Even Kung Fu Panda, as an action-comedy, may have bit into the audience for Incredible, which later had to compete with The Happening, Wanted, and later, Hancock, Hellboy II and Dark Knight. In 2003, Lee's Hulk had to contend with relatively fewer sparring partners, most notably: X2: X-Men United, The Matrix Reloaded and T3: Rise of the Machines.
4. People dont like a CGI Hulk. The one thing the two films have in common is that the title character isnt really there, but huge, musclebound CGI creation. I prefer Leterriers sharp-featured, brawling Hulk to Lees more boyish-looking take on the character, but frankly, I think the Hulk in both films looks more solid and real than the CGI Spider-man swinging from skyscrapers in the first Sam Raimi movie. Nevertheless, the computer-animated seams show in some scenes in both, spoiling the illusion of realism. Incredible also suffers from the fact that the bigger, stronger villain, The Abomination, has a distractingly little head. Audiences may have trouble connecting to an all-CGI hero, as opposed to a villain like The Lord of the Rings Gollum or a comic relief lead like Scooby-Doo in the live action films. Or maybe it boils down to
5. Movie audiences dont like the Hulk, period. The Hulk is probably Marvel Comics second-most famous character, and has a mythos that effectively draws on the likes of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Beauty and the Beast, and the universal fantasies of acting out on ones anger, just once. But maybe theres something about the current, post-9/11 times that keeps the Hulk from resonating. Both films have an anti-military subtext, with the Hulk trashing everything the army throws at him, which might not set well at a time of war.
Audiences seem to their heroes to be sunny everyman characters like Spider-man (alter ego of profoundly ordinary Peter Parker) or a brooding martyr of societys urban sins like Batman in The Dark Knight. The Hulk is, alternately, a destructive berserker and a misunderstood freak who just wants to be alone, and Banners attempts to cure himself are never going to pay off. Both films suffered a fate comparable to Peter Jacksons financially disappointing King Kong. Audiences don't want huge misunderstood monsters and their film's protagonists, but superpowered crusaders they can more easily identify with it. Maybe monstrous antiheroes just aren't in style.
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