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THE INDIGESTIBLE HULK
I am not a comic book guy. Call them Ďgraphic novelsí all you want, theyíre still coloured pictures with thought and talk bubbles and donít hold much interest for me. Iím not casting aspersions here. Everybody needs a hobby, something to be passionate about, and better comics than, say, high-powered weaponry. If adults can proudly boast of being Trekkies and dress up as their favourite Star Trek characters to attend conferences, what shame is there in reading picture books?
My days as an avid comic book reader/collector can be dated from the fall of 1968 until spring of `71 at which time I transferred hero-worshipping from make-believe animated characters to real life athletes in the rinks and on baseball diamonds. I was more partial to Marvel than DC probably because the corny Batman TV series had undercut the Dark Knightís super hero gravitas and Superman was, well, too super. Besides, how could no one, not even the love of his life, Lois Lane, figure out his true identity? What I wouldnít give to go incognito by simply slipping on a pair of glasses.
The members of The Fantastic Four were OK. I always liked the Thingís smart-alecky quips. Captain America and Iron Man held little interest for me. Daredevil was my main guy. I canít honestly remember how that came to be, but I do have recollections of wrestling with my cousin in the backyard (he was Spider-man) and being goaded into riding my bike with my eyes closed in an attempt to duplicate the blindness which afflicted Matt Murdoch, Daredevilís public face.
Forty years on and many of these characters of yore are vying with one another for silver screen supremacy. Superman was the first, cashing in on the sci-fi, comic book-esque success of Star Wars a year earlier. It spawned a couple sequels before faltering and then was dusted-off and CGeed-up for another go round twenty years later. Tim Burtonís Batman franchise behemoth lumbered through 4 flicks and 3 different leads before being put down. But not for long as it was revived with yet another Batman in the batsuit, already primed to churn out a sequel of its own. Spider-man is now three successful instalments old and showing a little middle-aged paunch. This summer Iron Man has done gangbusters and there is little doubt that sequels will follow.
Despite making a third movie in the X-Men franchise called The Last Stand, two sequels are being filmed. Although, to be fair, theyíre more prequels so by Hollywood logic, they donít really count. That superhero group fared much better than the Fantastic Four, which by all accounts was a flop but not enough of one to be denied at least a second kick at the can. Other notable failures in the genre were Daredevil (which I couldnít bring myself to see), Catwoman and a 1990 version of Captain America that wound up going straight to video. Undeterred and with 20 years to lick their wounds, thereíll be another stab at that one planned for a 2011 release.
No such patience (or good sense) was shown the screen adaptation of The Incredible Hulk. From both critical and box office measures, the 2003 attempt (directed by Ang Lee) was considered a failure. A mere 5 years and 150 million dollars later, theyíre back at it with a new director at the helm and a new Bruce Banner. Itís not a sequel. Nor is it a prequel. Like the new model of an old brand, itís just the 2008 version.
Thatís not quite true. The first stab was a co-production between Marvel and Universal Studios. In the cinematic do-over, Marvel ventured out on its own, using the new entry as the second feature as solo producers after the wild success earlier this summer of Iron Man. Hoping to disguise the fact that they were so quickly repackaging a previously viewed product, Marvel called this one The Incredible Hulk, adjectively separating it from its predecessor that went by the much humbler title, The Hulk.
Tomato, tomahto, critics and audiences alike appear to be as equally underwhelmed with Hulk `08 as they were Hulk `03. Box office numbers arenít looking like theyíll drastically improve and reviews have generally been tepid. In the battle of Hulk 2 Vs. Hulk 1 (or to give it a more comic book flare, letís dub it Hulk II Vs. Hulk I), a draw has been declared. A dull, drab, disappointing, soccer-like draw.
Whatís that the president once said? Fool me once, shame on.. shame on you. It fool me. We canít get fooled again. (English translation: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Whatís so difficult about that?!) But what if no one was fooled in the first place? What does that say about someone trying to fool people a second time? I mean, dude, I didnít fall for it before, so why are you trying to pull the same trick again?
I know Hollywood finances are particularly Byzantine. Box office bombs donít usually lose money once foreign receipts, DVD and TV sales are factored in. Itís about expectations more than anything else. So what was Marvel Studios expecting from a Hulk remake? A much wiser man than the president was quoted as saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for different results. Should we assume that the brain trust at Marvel is nuts?
Maybe audiences arenít as easily duped as the studios think. Maybe even the comic book loving crowd has its limits. In the starkly black and white, good guy versus bad guy world that superheroes inhabit -- and no, the idea of the good guys having dark sides is neither original nor complex -- the creative thrust behind the Hulk concept barely qualifies as two-dimensional. Experiment goes wrong, gamma rays gone wild, mild mannered scientists turns green when angered and bursts out of everything but his pants before stomping off on murderous rampages. Where the hellís your second act with that, never mind a second movie.The list of screenwriters that worked on the script for the first Hulk movie starting back in 1990 is as long as it is convoluted. Numbers were down for the second but the process was similarly complex as star Edward Norton apparently rewrote much of the script but was ultimately denied credit. Countless writers and, arguably, not one could crack the story with either movie, leading an objective observer to suggest that there just might not be a story to crack. Hulk Smash!! And then what happens?
To trot out one last clichť, it has been said that threeís a charm. Even if the plug is pulled on the idea of a Hulk franchise, plans are afoot to include Hulk in an Avengers movie. Certainly Robert Downey Jr.ís cameo appearance as his Iron Man character, Tony Stark, in The Incredible Hulk would suggest as much. This might work. Some superheroes were just never meant to be leading men. Maybe the second round of disinterest and low box office numbers will convince Marvel Studios that the Incredible Hulk is, at heart, a sidekick. A bulging, green, pant-busting, monosyllabic sidekick. Hulk take second billing!! People see movie!!
June 30 2008 - KING GEORGE
June 23 2008 - PLAYING ONE ON TV
June 16 2008 - NEW MONDAY MORNING COLUMN - LIFE IS TOO SHORT - Finally, I saw the last episode of The Wire.
June 4 2008 - FLIP THIS CHANNEL - Buying first house leads to having many things on the mind.
May 29 2008 - BE AFRAID VERY AFRAID - The Canadian military is no longer some namby-pamby, truce-brokering, do-gooding, adventure-seeking, peacekeeping bunch of pacifiers
May 22 2008 - STONE COLD BORING ANGEL - All about The Stone Angel
May 15 2008 - HARD TO SWALLOW CANDY - Madonna is back!
May 8 2008 - THE DUMBEST GUYS IN THE ROOM
May 1 2008 - AN ARRESTING DEVELOPMENT
April 24 2008 - Just TWEEN you and me
April 17 2008 - A Day at the Movies
April 10 2008 - Stop the (March) Madness!
April 3 2008 - Heaven's Gate Revisited
March 27 2008 - ACTING OUT - A great actor working with sub-par material
March 20 2008 - TECHNO ROBBER BARONS - When daylight savings time ruins my taping of The Wire
March 13 2008 - DAMN AGES - Growing up is hard to do
March 6 2008 - CULT OF SADNESS PART 2 - How tearjerkers still baffle me!
February 28 2008 - CULT OF SADNESS - How tearjerkers baffle me!
February 21 2008 - SOME TV SHOULD STAY STRUCK - post strike TV now!
February 14 2008 - DOCS MUST ROCK - Documentary Films