The Hulk Returns to Smash Filmgoers

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The Incredible Hulk may be smashing its way into theaters on June 13, 2008, but the big green guy sure hasn’t been causing a whole lot of commotion leading up to the film’s release. While the Internet is abuzz with trailers and footage from other comic-to-film summer blockbusters such as Jon Favreau’s Iron Man and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Louis Leterrier’s upcoming Hulk adaptation remains shrouded in mystery.

The Hulk received a great deal of mainstream attention outside of the comic book realm in the 1970s thanks to a live-action television series starring Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby, but it was not until 2003 that the character hit the big screen with director Ang Lee’s Hulk. Its teaser trailer screened before 2002’s Spider-Man, which went on to gross over $800 million worldwide. The trailer was decidedly vague, showing Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) "Hulking out" in front of a bathroom mirror before smashing his way through the side of his house. Nevertheless, the brief clip planted the seeds of lofty expectation.

With Spider-Man’s unprecedented financial success, Marvel was poised to take Hollywood by storm. Hulk and Daredevil were ready for their big screen debuts in 2003, and the X-Men would soon have their second foray in the cinemas that same year. In the months leading up to Hulk’s June 20 release, however, it was apparent that Marvel was banking on that film being its tent-pole summer phenomenon. Store shelves were lined with everything from action figures to green-tinted Hershey’s syrup to giant foam Hulk Hands months before the film’s release. A teaser trailer debuted during Super Bowl XXXVII, giving fans their first major look at the computer-animated film version of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creation. Unfortunately, reactions were far from positive. Fans complained that Industrial Light and Magic’s computer effects were too cartoonish, with some speculating that they were not yet finished at the time of the airing. Thus began the backlash, and it was far from over.

After its release, reviews from critics and fans were mixed. While director Lee infused Hulk with Oedipal themes that showcased Bruce Banner’s torment — both in and out of Hulk form — many felt the film missed the mark as a comic book adaptation. Light on action set-pieces, some scenes played out in panels, similar to those of a comic book, which sought to generate interest even when the story’s contemplative pace did not. By not focusing on the "Hulk smash" aspect of the character — the one that most casual fans and moviegoers were hoping for — Lee’s Hulk pulled in just over $245 million during its 17-week run.

A character like the Hulk demands an action director, and Lee clearly isn’t one. Aside from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Lee’s most noteworthy films have been small character pieces, such as Sense and Sensibility (1995), The Ice Storm (1997) and Brokeback Mountain (2005), which earned Lee an Oscar in 2006. While clearly talented, Lee lacked both the sense and the sensibility to properly bring the Hulk to the screen.

Taking the character in a completely new direction for Marvel Studios’ The Incredible Hulk is Louis Leterrier, famous for the over-the-top Transporter 2 starring Jason Statham. Leterrier clearly has a flair for bombastic action sequences - a necessary ingredient for this semi-sequel/reboot to achieve any level of success. Starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/Hulk, Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, William Hurt as General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross and Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/Abomination, The Incredible Hulk follows Bruce as he evades the United States military and searches for a cure for his condition. The introduction of the monstrous Abomination guarantees at least one city-smashing smackdown, which should give the original film’s most staunch critics far less to complain about. Norton, an admitted comic book fan himself, penned the screenplay once he signed on to play the title role and told Total Film magazine in its January issue that he wanted to distance this film as much as possible from the 2003 box office disappointment.

"First off, it’s totally unrelated to that film," he said of The Incredible Hulk in the interview. "This is in no way a response to it or picking up from it. I think like Chris Nolan and those guys did with Batman, we just said: ‘We’re going to start completely with our own version of this myth or saga.’"

This reboot may lead to the launch of an entirely new franchise, setting the stage for a future Avengers movie if both The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man are blockbusters. Reportedly, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) makes a cameo in The Incredible Hulk, meaning a crossover film down the line is not out of the question.

Speaking of Iron Man, his movie trailer was one of the most memorable commercials during this year’s Super Bowl, and fans are already clamoring for more as they await his film debut on May 2. Nolan’s The Dark Knight, fully utilizing online viral marketing and a steady stream of new footage, will be released July 18. The Incredible Hulk is sandwiched in between these comic book adaptations with a June release date. Why the relative secrecy? Has Marvel learned from their past over-marketing mistakes, or are they focusing all of their energy on promoting ol’ Shellhead before unveiling an all-new, all-action Hulk movie? With rumors that a trailer for the film will be released in March, it’s likely that we’ll all get our fair share of The Incredible Hulk in the next few months. The promotional delay is nothing for fans to get too angry about. You wouldn’t like them when they’re angry.

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