It’s Hulk versus The Incredible Hulk in a game of two green monsters

Same Marvel character, two contrasting movies in HULK and THE INCREDIBLE HULK so it looks like we have to examine which green monster is the winner.

In the run-up to one of the most anticipated movies of the summer, The Avengers, I thought I should catch up on any Marvel films I’d missed and so after watching 2008’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK, it got me thinking about the movie HULK from 2003 based on the same character and before long I realised we had a game of two monsters on our hands!

It’s been really nice writing this post as it took me back to the five years from 1977-1982 when I was glued to the TV every week watching the marvellous adventures of both Bill Bixby as Dr Bruce Banner and Lou Ferrigno as his alter ego THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Great times. The two film versions of this Marvel Comics character – a mild-mannered scientist who turns into the eponymous creature after being exposed to gamma rays in a lab accident – which came out within five years of each other however have been quite different incarnations. Without them though, we may not have made it to the eagerly awaited portrayal in the upcoming Avengers extravaganza.

Eric Bana and Nick Nolte in Hulk

Eric Bana’s Bruce Banner is reunited with his estranged father played by Nick Nolte

Ang Lee, the director of HULK, may have initially seemed a somewhat strange choice for a Marvel superhero movie following his dramatic work with films such as the award-winning Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm. But possibly after him helming the huge success that was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000 which had its fair share of special effects, Marvel felt he was the man for a serious take on this comic character. Bryan Singer’s 2000 film X-Men had very successfully mixed dark subject matter alongside fantasy elements and so Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige thought Lee could repeat that.

He had some great actors: the brilliant Eric Bana (as Banner) who’d made such a strong impression in both Chopper and Black Hawk Down, a newly Oscar-winning Jennifer Connelly, her Beautiful Mind co-star Josh Lucas and heavyweights Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte – brilliant as Banner Sr. There was also a fantastic design by Rich Heinrichs and super cinematography from Frederick Elmes.

I’m always a fan of the more thought-provoking and I loved HULK. Looking at how Banner transformed and the past events that haunt both him and his father was a real psychological study of trauma but I could see that the measured pacing, sparse dialogue and less action-oriented movie wouldn’t appeal to everyone. But it didn’t, as HULK wasn’t the large-scale hit the studio has obviously hoped it would be.

Edward Norton is Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk

Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner squares off against William Hurt’s General Ross in The Incredible Hulk

So, five years later a reboot appeared in the form of THE INCREDIBLE HULK in an attempt to reinvigorate the franchise, particularly by using the title from the old TV series. This time Transporter director Louis Leterrier took over directing duties. There was a script by Zak Penn with a nice sprinkling of humour amidst the more dramatic moments and another strong acting ensemble of the beautiful Lord of the Rings alumni Liv Tyler, the amazing Tim Roth, the estimable William Hurt and headed up by the fantastic Edward Norton as Banner. Apparently Norton had been recommended for the main role by Lou Ferrigno, saying he reminded the one-time Hulk of his old compadre Bill Bixby. Similar to Lee’s film with Bana as its lead, I thought Norton was such a good choice as Banner. He’s a fascinatingly deep actor who brings an amazing focus to whatever he does (a good element for Dr Bruce) and although Banner is an intellectual beast, I felt Norton also brought a real visceral element to the movie.

Although it was termed a reboot, it wasn’t an origins story as the events pick up from where HULK left them with Banner on the run. This time though William Hurt’s General Ross (replacing Sam Elliott) has a dangerous sidekick played with a wonderfully twisted purpose by Roth. The whole thing moves along at much more of an action-packed pace than HULK and as such, you can see why this made THE INCREDIBLE HULK much more of crowd-pleaser and a success. As I feel it was just as accomplished as its predecessor, I can’t really pick a winner in this game – they both deserve their place in the comic book hall of fame.

And just to mention that coming up, we have the fantastic casting of Mark Ruffalo as Banner in The Avengers to look forward to. Writer/director Joss Whedon certainly has the fantasy chops from Buffy, Angel and the brilliant Serenity to make The Avengers work, so we’ll see if such a wacky idea – a bunch of comic book superheroes forging an alliance to defeat an evil foe – does the business when it hits our screens in late April. I can hardly wait.