Monday, June 6, 2011

Emails #52: INCREDIBLE HULK - On The Rampage

RICK: Hulk. Ang Lee Hulk not Stan Lee Hulk. The same questions need to be asked of the Hulk as are asked of Captain America. What is the essence of the character? What is the major conflict? Villains are just icing. I don't blame Ang Lee for making a "Daddy was bad to me" movie. Not understanding the comics, he is trying to tell the story in a way that he understands. Psychology. It fails on so many levels that it is hard to point to one thing as the master stroke.

You must have heard people use the expression, or even use it yourself, "I was not myself." THIS is the Hulk. We are talking about a man who is so bottled up and repressed that he is almost passionless and these emotions live as a distinctly separate identity who channels all the rage, the lust, the greed, the envy. An accident produces very unexpected results, releasing the Hulk from his cage of Banner. Each wants to be totally free of the other. There is no Liv Tyler girlfriend. Banner would never have the courage to talk with her and would leave the room if she entered. The Eric Bana and Ed Norton Banners are both too strong willed. Banner is weak, cowardly, sniveling, he whispers and maybe even stutters. He is book smart and otherwise unworldly, unsophisticated. Hulk on the other hand is all his passion. His rage is not necessarily against his father as in the Ang Lee version. Nope. This guy's rage is against his domineering mother who belittled him, scolded him, emasculated him and taught him to keep his emotions inside. No crying. No speaking. Do as momma says.

Jeckel and Hyde. Two personalities. One body. The accident allows both to be expressed but not at the same time.

Years of psychotherapy and all the King's horses and men can not put Banner/Hulk back together again. Sorry Ang. And as to there being a quiet side to the Hulk, absolutely NOT. There is no such thing. Banner IS the calmer side. Hulk is only passion. The minute you show the green behemoth acting all soft you have violated his character. In Ed Norton's Hulk, he has a pretty moment with a girl, you know, aside from yelling at the thunder. Never happen. Hulk is a toddler filled to overflowing with rage and he will fight like a berserker until exhausted. That is the Hulk. You could never put him for a second into a team of super people. No way.

Just why is Hulk so angry? He is angry because he is stuck inside Banner. It is that simple. He wants to get out, wants to get out , wants to get out! Once he is freed, getting out is not enough, he has to get away from Banner and yet the two are forever linked. If Banner were Hulk's foot, he would saw it off to escape. When his rage is spent and he relaxes, Banner is able to take over yet again. Banner "wakes up" and has no memory of what has transpired. He has had no control of the Hulk's actions, no "morality" from one passes to the other so Hulk would just as soon kill someone in a rage. That's right. Kill. A concept that Hulk is too diminished to comprehend. Hulk would not speak, even a little, or even recognise his own name. There is simply too much rage and no personality development. There is nothing holding him back from acting on impulse. Hulk is the part of Banner that has been buried. Hulk knows no restrictions except his boundless strength and towering rage. Hulk in effect is the demon you don't want out of the bottle. Hulk is not some childish fantasy about having a freakishly strong alter ego. Hulk is about having a dark, dark secret - a horror about yourself that you can not control that gets out and acts out for you. It truly is a case of split personality.

How do you make a hero out of that? You can't. Hulk is a villain, a demon. Banner is the hero. Banner is the one who can grow and make decisions. He is the one that can decide to save people. Hulk can only destroy and has no empathy toward anything living. This would make a poor comic but a great movie. The battle must always be for Banner to take control of Hulk and subdue him. Banner, a weak scientist with no feeling for people, must be made strong enough to fight the Hulk and put him back in his cage.

And then he meets Cap and Iron Man in the Avengers and Banner/Hulk's story is revealed to be nothing more than a simple power fantasy with no complications, maybe a few snarls and a "Hulk Smash" or two. The purity and complexity of Hulk's relationship to Banner is tipped on it's head. Banner is the spoil sport. Hulk is the hero, smashing just the right jerks at the right time. There is no real conflict in their relationship. No tension. Let's see more Hulk. He's cool. Banner? Bah humbug.

Banner is having a dream. He is walking in the middle of Manhattan. It is teeming with people and cars. You can see his anxiety rising. The people begin moving very quickly and he is swept up in the rush. He descends into the subway station full of music and other noise. It is dark. You can hear the train coming, it's wheels sparking on the tracks. Cut to exterior shot of the city. Subway cars and chunk of cement and twisted metal fly through the air. The Hulk bellows but you do not see him... CU Banner sweating is propped up in bed breathing heavy. A rocket lifts off the pad. Banner is looking out the tiny port hole as it circles the earth then lands on the moon. He hops down the ladder in low gravity and everything is serene. Banner looks out at the landscape. Barren. Lifeless. Just rocks and dust in every direction. He looks to the left and to the right. No people. He breathes a sigh of relief and pops off his helmet. The sun is glaring. The music and noise from the subway plays to a crescendo in his ears. He falls to his knees and hits the ground with his fists. Cut to shot of the ground rippling as if struck by a missle. Debris from the ship flies past the camera. The Hulk is bellowing in soundless space... Banner wakes up. He is in a haystack in a farmer's field. A train whistle blows...

BEN: You present an excellent and detailed argument which I do agree with. I suppose the superhero aspect has to be brought in to make the Hulk palatable as a super hero character (though, perhaps he's actually a poor choice of one which might be why they merged Banner and Hulk twenty or so years ago.) It's true though that in the films are more of a power fantasy than being about Banner's repressed emotions. Wizard magazine once suggested Johnny Depp as Banner back in the 90's. Looking back on that, it may have been an excellent choice considering Depp's repressed "Edward Scissorhands" and "Sam" (Benny & Joon) and even his "Ichabod Crane." Funny how the TV show probably did a better job with the dichotomy than the mega budget films. When I was a young kid, it was more freaky to me and although I watched it often, the Hulk didn't appear enough for my tastes. As I got older, I increasingly appreciated Bixby's portrayal. His take was Banner was everything gentle and soft and Hulk was everything wild and destructive. I think Banner would start out being cold and disconnected and would create the G-bomb for science. From there he would continue in that mode until his need to keep calm transforms him into a caring person. That's what Hulk would eventually force him to do-- after a very, very wild and uncontrolled phase where Hulk is totally out of control, Banner would learn that he has to keep calm and eventually finds his calm center (perhaps through Eastern meditation practices-- Banner would likely try everything from Yoga to acupuncture in a wild search to keep his emotions in check.) Then, it makes sense that in that state of enlightenment he find compassion and love and then realizes he loves Betty. The Bixby character is more accessible because he's so kind, but they still made his origins more altruistic than the original. I think that's the problem and why Iron Man actually works. They kept him starting out a misguided jerk which normally would be seen in Hollywood as a mistake because they say people want to watch someone they like off the bat. But in storytelling especially in film, it makes perfect sense because it means he ends a different person than when he started. Banner wasn't evil, he just had a lack of emotion. Finding those emotions and a connection to the world, I think, is his journey. Hulk has to do heroic things so, I tend to think that's Banner still inside him influencing his basic code of conduct. He would likely be totally violent at first, but then I think parts of Banner and Hulk would seep into each other's persona. The only real way to keep Hulk inside is to deal with his past and become a full person.

It's kind of funny, when I was a teen I wrote a short story about a girl's journey into my mind which ended inside the cage where I kept my rage locked up. A fowl and violent beast who was soothed only by this woman. That part of the Lee version worked for me although, it quickly became a lame trope the used over and over. Actually, a 90's cartoon of Hulk did the same thing and it was pretty lame then, too.

Banner is fully freaked out by the Hulk. Remember, as a viewer, we will have more information than Banner. To him, it is like having an alcoholic blackout. When he wakes up, there is no telling where he will be or what trouble he will be in. He may see the destruction. He may deal with the aftermath. But it will take a while for him to realize that he is actually the Hulk and the Hulk is him. This should put his fear level on high. The Hulk isn't just a little wild or a little uncontrollable (that scamp), he is uncaged fury! There would be no method, no plotting, no half recalled shared idea about basic physics. There is only rage. No woman can soothe him. No pretty colors. No relaxing music. Hulk breaks through all barriers and destroys all obstacles through brute force.

I see him spent, tottering like a drunk still growling and crushing a street lamp in his bare hand before falling to the pavement, head first in total collapse. He changes to Banner who sleeps deeply. After several hours, Banner wakes, hesitantly surveys the damage and winces. What has happened here? What did the Hulk do? There is no memory of it, no flashes. Banner will never see the Hulk, never catch a glimpse. He finds himself blacking out and waking up exhausted, filthy, in rags for clothing and sometimes in the middle of horrific scenes of destruction or even hundreds or thousands of miles away - many days later. It doesn't take long for the police and military to catch on. They hound him, follow him after every Hulk outburst and the goal is to capture or kill. Banner wakes to find himself on the run, always on the run. Not the kind of running where you stop in town after town righting wrongs or highjacking lab equipment to test a theory. RUNNING. Running for his life. This thing he becomes, this Hulk has put him in grave jeopardy and Banner must escape the forces that surround him.

"It's not me. I am not the one you are looking for..."

"Never saw anything. Just camped out here. Don't know about any Hulk..."

This is The Fugitive. Banner on the run. Hulk tearing up the place.

And how is it that Hulk is a hero? Or joins the Avengers? You might as well have him swiping Banner's credit cards and running up a huge tab. Ridiculous. Hulk is not a hero. I know that later, much later Hulk and Banner had their personalities fused together or some nonsense. This is just foolish, lazy writing. The question is, how long can Banner be on the run? Indefinitely? If you fuse the personalities, all the dynamic tension of having polar opposite split personalities is washed away. There can no longer be any more tension in the characters or stories because they are not propelled by the juxtaposition of the weak and the strong. It is now just an exercise in I-Am-Green-So-I-Will-Have-Adventures. Just another costume, a mask, a dress up game. Not the story of of a hyper powered Jekyl and Hyde. Hulk is not some gentle, misunderstood giant, cuddly and cute and seven feet tall. He is a monster, a beast, a force of untamed rage and destruction and the least possible person capable of stopping him is Banner, a weak sorry excuse for a man, cut adrift from his feelings and those of humans around him.

Set up the impossible situation. Put your characters into it. Things go wrong. Add a time frame. Stir. Serve chilled...

I hear you, but the story has to progress somehow (at least in a film.) In a serial comic or show, he can be The Fugitive forever, but at least for a film he has to learn sometime that he carries the Hulk and eventually there has to be some internal conflict. Without that, the story wouldn't go anywhere. He has to learn/change/grow or the story will get stale. I'm not saying that's what you meant, but I wanted to say that as Banner works at his own issues, he should gain some access to Hulk. In the end, as I said, the character may make for a flawed superhero concept, but he is supposed to be one so, there has to be, at least eventually, some sort of heroism. The Hulk you describe is probably like Savage Hulk as opposed to green, grey or merged Hulk. I'm not saying you're wrong or that the comic is right, it's just designed as a superhero so, there has to be some touch of intelligence and compassion within the Hulk persona. Otherwise, it is Jekyll and Hyde, a horror story about Banner, not a superhero story about Hulk. Again, I'm not saying the concept makes for a good comic per se, just that if it's to stay a superhero story, I understand their attempts to make it one.

Hulk a hero? Hulk a hero? Hulk a hero?

Alright. Hulk is a hero. Presto. It is done. Like magic.

"I'll solve that problem with my fists..."

Banner can not handle confrontation. Hulk can! Hulk sure as hell can!! Hulk wants to destroy problems!!! Smash them to pulp!!! Hulk just wants out!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Upon changing, the Hulk finds that he is left to clean up the messes that Banner has made. Emotional messes. Physical messes. Like Banner, he is blacked out and finds himself awoken with strong feelings of rage or fear his only guide. Banner has left him here. Rage will fix everything. No morality passes between Banner and Hulk. Yet, Hulk has morality of his own which helps direct his rage. No children. No women. No killing. He wants to get out, to be free of Banner forever...

And then he meets the Avengers...

Cap movie costume supposedly confirmed:

I can see that we are going to have to start a Hulk Doc in order to explore the character. Eventually we can do character write ups on all the Avengers... kidding.

I think if I look honestly at the Hulk character, Banner/Hulk has got to be a tortured pair. Eventually, wouldn't they start leaving clues or messages for each other to follow, maybe taunts at first? Banner, a smart man from the start, learns to be tougher and more confident through the trials of his alter ego. Hulk also begins to learn very quickly, like a young child and his rage takes on a more controlled, righteous quality. Both are discovering their heroic nature by learning from one another - even though they have never met and can never do so.

In the Bixby TV show, aside from wandering the highways and small towns righting wrongs, the search for a CURE is the predominant sub-plot. Hulk is along for the ride and predictably he smashes things to get Banner out of trouble.

In the film The Fugitive with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, Ford not only runs but is trying to solve a crime at the same time while pitting his wits against Jones.

In my Hulk scenario, Hulk wants to destroy Banner but can not because they are the same person. Banner starts simply by trying to run and hide, then drink and drug his way out, expose himself to massive doses of radiation and finally in desperation he begins looking inward for answers. It is only then that he tries communicating with the Hulk. It is only then that the truth is realized. There is no cure and Hulk and Banner must come to some form of agreement.

What about foes? Giant robots. The military. The Rhino. The Leader. The Abomination. Iron Man. Thor. Doc Sampson. Crusher Creel. Wendigo. Wolverine. Hulk can stand toe-to-toe with any or all of them. Hulk can be offered a chance to join the Avengers at the end.

Perfectionists are their own devils. -Jack Kirby

Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end."

-Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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