On the Failure of The Hulk

Or, “Why the Incredible Hulk doesn’t translate as well to the big screen.”

The other night I landed on a cable channel that was broadcasting the most recent (Edward Norton) Hulk movie. I was reminded of how, while it was better received than the Ang Lee version, it still didn’t really hit the sweet spot with audiences like certain other superhero movies. Which is sad, actually, because I think it’s actually a good film. And I was wondering why it didn’t connect, and I came up with a few possibilities.

Jekyll & Hyde isn’t sexy. Obvious enough, right? What, you don’t quite get the logic? Try this: the central character conflict is Bruce Banner walking the razor’s edge between staying human and going Hulk Smash. Audiences want the Hulk Smash moments, but they may not like the downtime between them.

Bruce Banner is neither an Everyman nor an extreme outlier. Batman, Superman and Iron Man are extreme outliers – inexplicably rich, intelligent, or (as with Superman) alien. Spiderman is a type of Everyman. All of them maintain their innate characteristics, all of the time. Except when Hulk Smash. Where Banner is intelligent, Hulk is the antithesis. See previous point. The point here is that Peter Parker gets his powers by pure lab accident. Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark inherit/build their wealth in order to develop their crime fighting toys. Superman is a boy scout. Banner (depending on which origin you follow) self-exposes himself to the radiation that creates the Hulk.

Hulk worked as a TV series because it effectively played on the “running” aspect, of Banner being chased as he tried to figure out how to reverse the effects. The Noton movie did it okay, but most people don’t enjoy the idea of their “hero” giving up their powers.

Did I mention that Jekyll & Hyde isn’t very sexy?

So, what are your thoughts, if you’re into the Hulk story, why it fails to translate as well to the big screen?

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  1. #1 by T. S. Bazelli on November 13, 2012 - 14:42

    Hmm I hadn’t thought about it from the ‘isn’t very sexy’ point of view. I actually liked the film, thought it was well made as a film, and not just a superhero story. On the other hand, I’ve never been a hulk fan, and perhaps that has to do with what you’re describing.

    Bruce Banner is not charismatic (Ironman has that in spades), there’s nothing to envy about him (like batman’s endless wealth and resources), you wouldn’t want to be him (he’s not good looking, he doesn’t have fancy gagets). He’s smarter than everyone, a recluse, a pessimist. Not very heroic, and he is his own worst enemy.

    Perhaps he’s hard to relate to, also not someone most people would wish to be, and wish fulfillment seems to be an important theme in the superhero genre.

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