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Some Ramblings - The Incredible Hulk
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
the incredible hulk

By what standards are comic book heroes defined, or, by what parameters are super heroes tied down? To put it in another way, what are their degrees of freedom? Are they allowed to occupy the present day world or just be confined to their imaginary lands where everything is quite exaggerated - the plots, the characters, and specially, the villains. What had once started as pure escapist entertainment, the comic book fare, where vigilante heroes delivered swift justice and protected the meek and the weak, transformed into a genre unto itself, spawning countless super heroes, with a variety of powers, battling and tackling varied forms of evil in their own ways. This essentially remained the genre's main motif - small guy standing up against the forces of evil, with the aid of a little super natural or the paranormal. These characters were confined to their own worlds and only in very rare cases, were they allowed to inhabit the contemporary world, where issues aren't that black and white, and where things are a little bit more complicated, than the plain vanilla world that the super heroes are used to. And just like the comic books that never overreached beyond their set of ideals, so were the film adaptations of the same, that obligingly played along and firmly remained within their boundaries. Utmost, the filmmakers tried to vary the grit, the seriousness, and the sincerity, to lend a more credible, human and a contemporary feel, without essentially disturbing the make up of these make believe heroes.

It is in this context that one needs to view the prior version of "Hulk", by Ang Lee, as an interesting take on the cliched comic book hero character. "Hulk" by his very nature, is much unlike the rest of the super heroes stable, in that, he is burdened by his super human abilities, who devotes most of his time shaking them off to become normal, than indulge in the same, like the rest. His super human strength does not come from a healthy place in his mind. He gains his strength from his anger - the madder he gets, the more powerful he becomes. There is a certain tragicness associated with this trait. It is as though, no one wants him to be happy, as it would negate his very existence. While other super heroes, Superman, Spider-man, and to a certain extent the more human Batman, can summon their strength at will, and importantly, have complete control over their powers, Hulk has control over his power, in fact, it is only when he loses control (of his emotions), that he become ultra-powerful. Quite a quandry, this. And in the state of his red rage, he loses all discretion and differentiation. "Hulk", in his character traits, embodies the qualities of a true tragic hero, one who evokes more pity and sympathy from the audience, than awe and exhilaration. His powers are not of his choice (they are purely accidental), his choices, when he turns mad, are not of his volition, and worse, everybody around wants him to get mad, so that his genetics could be studied, replicated if possible, and made money of.

Ang Lee perfectly captured the tragedy of this situation, realizing there could never be any redemption in a character that is forced to shun his humanity and embrace bestiality. Combining this aspect to the biblical saying that 'the sins of the fathers are revisited upon their children', Ang Lee made a Greek Tragedy out of "Hulk", by turning a comic book hero into a serious tragic figure. For obvious reasons, this didn't quite agree well with the audience's expectations, who wanted to root and cheer for the hero and his antics than empathize and sympathize with him and his situation. The movie went down in the celluloid history as one that tried to rise above its simple roots and tread a new ground that was more serious, real world like and contemporary.

A few years pass down the line, and here comes the new "Hulk" - retooled, reshaped and revamped. This Hulk is more focused, driven, and for most of the times, in control, except when he really loses it. This change in the tone from a tragic one to a more upbeat and a combative Hulk is entirely motivated by money. It is an anathema in the Hollywood circles to turn a comic book franchise into a cerebral literary work, mitigating its box office potential, as Ang Lee attempted in the previous version. And consequently, the ground rules for this time around became, less conversation and more action. The constant need to keep the mood upbeat was quite evident, when, right after a very intense and emotional scene, when Bruce Banner turns into Hulk and escapes into the mountains with his lady love (very much reminiscent of King Kong), he cracks a few out of place one liners, in an obvious attempt to lighten up, and assure the audience that the movie is not taking itself seriously, and neither should they. The whole movie carefully treaded the path of caution, with both hands firmly placed on the dials, quick to turn one way or the other, whenever the material got a little bit heavy, for its own good. That is not necessarily bad, considering what the movie is aiming for.

A couple of years ago, when the acclaimed writer Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Last Temptation of Christ) was commissioned to jump start The Exorcist franchise by creating a back-story for Father Merrin, he took the route of serious philosophical introspection to delve into the true nature of the devil. The result was "Exorcist: Dominion", a unique horror film, without the requisite blood and gore sequences, and more a character study. The studio quickly buried this version and called upon an action director, Renny Harlin, to deliver the goods. Although, eventually, both versions bit the dust, the former at least tried to take the genre in a different direction.

History almost repeated itself with "Hulk", but this time around the makers seemed to have learned a lesson or two from Exorcist, and delivered a "Hulk" that is more audience, and therefore box-office, friendly. While, in the first version "Hulk" refused to bear the burden of the super hero tag, this second one didn't seem to mind it all that much, as long as it came long with healthy helpings of humor (however misplaced) and good doses of mindless action. From the looks of it, that's just what the doctor (studio) ordered.

More Ramblings on films
Indiana Jones and the kingdom of crystal skull
Speed Racer
Iron Man
Jodha Akbar
There will be blood
Chrlie Wilson's War
No Country for Old Men
Om Shanti Om
Lions for Lambs
American Gangster
Michael Clayton
Happy Days
Chak De India!
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
The Grindhouse
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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