He's Lost Control Again! The UnControllable Hulk

Posted by Charles Reece, June 21, 2008 12:12pm | Post a Comment

An experimental mishap with gamma radiation transforms Joy Division frontman into uncontrollable Id.

As a young lad in Manchester, Bruce Banner discovered a love for the proto-punk music of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed.  Although possessing a high aptitude for science, Bruce dreamed of being a rock star. However, he had to pay the bills, so he took a top secret government research job in what back in the days of WWII was called the Super Soldier Project. The Project was an intergovernmental operation existing between the Yanks and Brits. What it produced was a gamma-radiated concoction called, appropriately enough, the super-soldier serum. After testing it out unsuccessfully on a bunch of minority servicemen in the US Army, the science team found one skinny white dude named Steve Rogers who was turned into the Nazi-fighting hero, Captain America (soon to get his own feature film -- directed by John Cassavetes' son, Nick -- which, in turn, will lead into an Avengers movie). Poor old Cap was frozen in ice and thought to be dead, leaving it a mystery what was so special about his cellular structure. But Bruce is unaware of the Project's history, naÏvely believing he is using his degree in molecular biology for finding a cure to epilepsy, not developing a human killing machine.

Little known fact: the name Joy Division was inspired by one of Captain America's greatest battles in Warzaw,
in which he freed women from the evil prostitution rings established by the villainous Red Skull.

While on tour with his band, Joy Division, Bruce has his first seizure. With a new wife, Betty (née Ross), and a baby on the way, he can't let a debilitating illness destroy his future earning potential. His research now has personal urgency. Already proving his willingess to experiment with pharmaceuticals, Bruce decides to inject himself with the serum. Never one to stand in the way of her husband's decisions, Betty agrees to monitor the experiment along with a team of scientists. 

We'd have no movie if things didn't go horribly awry: Bruce is transformed into the rampaging 2-ton monster, the incredible Hulk! The team of scientists is killed and Betty injured as the Hulk breaks through the concrete wall, leaping away into the night.

Eventually the monster calms down, shrinking back into the form of his human alter-ego. Bruce returns to check up on his American sweetheart who has just given birth to their child. But things will never be the same. Betty still loves Bruce, but he can't get past the danger he now presents to his family. This should be the best time of his life, with a new recording contract and a career as a respected scientist. But Bruce can no longer control the beast within, his radiated testosterone making the lure of French women irresistible. Betty is an old-fashioned gal who deserves a good, mild-mannered husband, but Bruce is increasingly drawn to the dark temptations of a groupie-succubus, who's only interested in the green glamor of his emerging super-stardom. As he writes in one of his songs:
Why is the bedroom so cold
Turned away on your side?
Is my timing that flawed,
Our respect run so dry?
Yet there's still this appeal
That we've kept through our lives
Love, love will tear us apart again
The impotency he's experiencing as a mere mortal makes him more susceptible to Hulking out, when he can release his rational moral concerns and become pure libidinal potency.  The groupie makes him feel like a superman, whereas his wife only inadequate.  But, as the song suggests, he still loves his wife, creating the kind of dramatic tension into which Ed Norton, master thespian, can really sink his actor chops.  As the tension increases, so does the frequency of the epileptic seizures.  And with that loss of control comes the Hulk.  
Betty's dad, General Ross, was already dismayed by her daughter's taste in lovers, disappointed that she tended to choose skinny, effete rocker types over real men.  But his interest in Bruce isn't purely familial. Ross is the head of the Super Soldier Project, so damned if he's going to let this anthropomorphic WMD be wasted on the British underground rock scene, throwing TV sets through hotel room walls during alcohol-induced seizures.

Local British celebrity and part-time scientist Tony Wilson promised to help Bruce control the Hulk, but with dubious motives. As was detailed in his biopic, 24 Hour Party People, Wilson had been doing his own research with the effects of gamma radiation on a group of impecunious Manchester youth. His experiments were a miserable failure, producing a bunch of shaggy haired mutants whose sole superpower was dancing like monkeys in baggy clothing. These mutants might've went on to cause a minor stir in the late 1980s pop world, but they were hardly capable of ripping a tank apart with their bare hands. Thus, Wilson needed Bruce and his band, knowing that his top secret Factory would never manufacture anything of equal military or aesthetic worth. Signing Joy Division's contract in his own blood, Wilson is contaminated by Bruce's radiated cells, setting the ground for an inevitable sequel featuring the former's transformation into the super-intelligent villain, the Leader. We even get to see Wilson's head begin to bubble up and swell before he disappears from the narrative.

With Betty wanting a divorce and Wilson nowhere to be found, Bruce seeks refuge in Brazil with his guitarist, Bernard Albrecht. Since all scientific procedures have been failures (nature always wins, after all), Bernard attempts to control the Hulk by training Bruce in the martial arts and meditation.

Things are going fairly smoothly with Bruce, who's taken a job in a bottling plant down there. But his bandmates and fans are getting antsy, wondering when he'll return to performing and recording. Joy Division's manager even tries another singer live, but it causes a riot. Hearing this, Bruce begins to tense up, finding it harder to control his urges once again. Compounding his stress, a droplet of his blood has leaked into one of the bottles, poisioning none other than Stan "the Man" Lee, who drinks the cola that has made it -- thanks to NAFTA -- all the way into his Californian home. Following the poisoning, the intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. traces the bottle's production back to Bruce's current whereabouts.

Ross shows up in Brazil with a team of specialists led by the Russian expat Emil Blonsky. Blonsky is a middle aged military assassin whose best years are behind him. All he wants to do is kill, but killing is a young man's game. Not since the casting of Sean Penn's arboretum of hair in The Thin Red Line has there been a worse casting choice for a soldier than Tim Roth as Blonsky. He looks to be about 5 feet tall standing next to William Hurt as Ross, and he never shaves or cuts his hair, even when the costume people put him in a over-sized military uniform. He looks like an aging Little Rascal playing dress up. No wonder the Hulk kicks his ass -- he wouldn't be a match for Bruce.

Feeling humiliated, Blonsky becomes a guinea pig for Ross' Project, getting injected with the super-soldier serum. At first, he successfully turns into a Captain America sort of soldier, which renders the entire point of hunting for Bruce kind of moot. Why do they need his knowledge and power if the Project is already capable of replicating the effects found with Steve Rogers? Regardless, the Hulk beats the tar out of Blonsky again, resulting in his desire for more serum.

Having managed to capture Bruce, Ross is faced with an even worse problem -- stopping the Abomination that Blonsky has now become. Realizing his mistake, Ross lets Bruce turn into the Hulk to stop Blonsky. After an hour and a half of boring dramatic buildup, we finally get what the ads promised, two raging, enormous phalli cockblocking each other through the decimation of New York City (a staple of the summer movie). Why is it that in biopics and superhero films, the filmmakers so often feel like the way to make them more interesting is to focus on the most average aspects of the protagonist's life, namely love. What interests us in the artist or superhero is his or her ability to  leap miles in a single jump or create art, not having a family. Unless you're going to show the Hulk in coitus, we don't care about his problematic home life. "Hulk smash and write catchy pop ditty!" -- that's the point. And for all the attempts to market this film as a fanboyish improvement over Ang Lee's version, we still have to wait a long time to get there.

Sensing that his band, the government and groupies won't stop until they use him up, Bruce fakes his own death with the aid of his still adoring wife, and retreats from the glittery world of NME and the military-industrial complex. In a nod to the TV show starring Bill Bixby, Bruce is shown moseying off to the next thrilling installment.

This review is dedicated to Eric Brightwell.

Relevant Tags

Joy Division (29), Ian Curtis (8), Hulk (1), Bruce Banner (1), Superheroes (8), Cinema Criticism (32), Summer Movies (9), Comic Book Criticism (10)