Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Recap: "Hulk" Part 2: Pair Production

It has come to my attention that yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. (For some reason, I always thought St. Patrick's Day fell on a Sunday, though I may have been thinking of Easter.) For those of you who chose to celebrate it in the traditional way before reading yesterday's post, let me assure you that it was, in fact, as weird as it seemed.

Cells had feelings, Betty Ross acted like a robot, and the special effects were accomplished by Photoshop. Oh, and there was no Hulk. Maybe in the next third of the movie?

Either that or dramatic whispering. My money's on the dramatic whispering.
As we fade back in from the Gamma incident, we see Bruce waking up in the hospital. This isn’t the aftermath of a Hulk rampage, though. He hasn’t yet transformed, and I’m beginning to think he never will. Instead, Bruce has just had a bunch of medical tests performed on him, and he’s passed with flying colors. Betty comes in to actually show human emotion for the first time as she worries about Bruce. After all, all the previous subjects done blew up.

Bruce comes to the conclusion that the impossible happened. Something that has never before occurred in a superhero origin story in the history of ever. He concludes that the experiment worked.

Bruce: “Remember my bad knee? Well, now it’s my good knee.”

But Betty’s still emotional after the near death of her friend colleague acquaintance Bruce.

Betty: “You were gonna die, and I was gonna have to watch you die.”

Yeah, Bruce! God, you’re so inconsiderate with your almost dying!

That night, in his hospital bed, Bruce gets the jimmy-legss. But he’s not simply struggling with the heartbreak of RLS, he’s dreaming about lizards, jellyfish over the desert…

I kid you not.
Exploding frogs, shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages, kings, and that door from his youth. God, these dream sequences have less point to them than actual dreams.

Bruce wakes up and finds his dad, David Banner at the foot of his bed. David explains that Bruce “Krenzler” was born Bruce Banner.

Bruce: “How’d you get in here?”

A valid question. I also would have accepted “Who are you?” or “How do you know that?”

David creeps at his son for a while, making vague promises of knowledge, asks for forgiveness, and generally does those other things that crazy bearded drifters do. He reveals that he’s Bruce’s dad, but Bruce doesn’t believe him. After all, he was told that his dad died when he was a small boy.

“Yeah, I tell that lie to a lot of people."
But as David explains, what really happened is that after the events of the opening flashback, he was put in jail and the government told his entire family that he had died. Which… I’m pretty sure is illegal. And stupid, considering they only had him locked up for thirty years. I mean, if you’re going to make someone into an unperson, you kind of need to make sure they can’t show up again.

David promises that together, as father and son, they can work together to complete both Bruce’s experiments and David’s. But the stress is too much for Bruce, and he snaps at his dad. David leaves, telling his son to watch his temper, and repeats the Gamma incident at his house using a rat. Like jellyfish, starfish, and monkeys before, it dies.

The next day, Bruce gets a sample of his blood taken by Betty. Apparently, she got a message from her dad, the general, that he’s coming to visit her for the first time in forever. We then cut to them at a restaurant. It’s a rather awkward reunion, and he’s not even buying her ice cream. They get down to brass tacks. That Bruce guy? Apparently, he’s not who he seems. But before even two minutes go by, Betty gets fed up with her dad being there for business and not just to see her, and she leaves.

Meanwhile, Bruce is finding some purple and green something-or-others in his blood sample as he flashes back to David’s crazy rants. The phone rings, Betty leaves a message, and that’s apparently the last straw. Eric Bana contorts his face as hard as he can (which actually resulted in the actor nearly passing out after the four takes that Ang Lee's spit screens require), and a transformation soon takes place in the hallway, unlocking the beast within. Shrek.

In all seriousness, this is the scene where Hulk looks the best. Mainly because it’s dark and you can barely see the green Goliath. Yes, I said green. Many internet sources claim that he’s actually grey in this scene to reference the original comics, but he’s not. He’s green. He’s also heavily shadowed, which is why some people think he's grey.

Anyway, Hulk goes on a shadowy rampage and destroys his entire lab. The campus police are quickly dispatched to the scene as Hulk wrecks the Gammasphere before being found by David. David gently touches his son’s face, but this triggers some bad memories in the Hulk and he escapes the building. The next day, Betty arrives at Bruce’s house, finding him passed out on the bed in ripped purple jeans. Over breakfast, she tells Bruce about last night’s “explosion” at the lab. Bruce starts going on about this dream he had that he compares to what it must feel like to be born, and all I can notice is a bit of food stuck to his lip as he talks.

But Bruce licks it off before he tells Betty about the crazy old janitor who claimed to be his dad. A knock at the door soon stops that line of conversation, and it’s some black-suited G-men led by General Ross. Ross whips out Bruce’s wallet, which they recovered in the wreckage of the lab… and also proves nothing. That’s like saying I stole my own TV because the cops found my car keys at my house. If anything, you’d think that the crazy janitor would be a suspect.

Betty gets escorted out as Bruce is placed under house arrest. And not the Martha Stewart kind where you get to leave your house. The real kind. Betty gets in her car, and her dad tells her that he thinks Bruce is involved in some “unfinished business.” Because evil schemes are genetic. If your dad’s evil, then you’re evil and will finish his evil schemes despite never having met the man. It’s just common sense.

Betty drives off and does some investigating of her own, tracking down Janitor David’s house in the bad part of town. He welcomes her in, and she asks him what happened last night, telling him that General Ross thinks this is a matter of national security. This gives David a chance to spread his Gospel.

David: “My son is… unique.”

Said every parent ever.

David: “That’s why you can’t relate to him.”

Actually, she can’t relate to… humans.

He sits next to her and starts putting the moves on her. The creepy, creepy moves. Then he abandons this plan in favor of swiping her scarf, kicking her out, and going back to his mad science. Over with Bruce, General Ross is running what I’m pretty sure is a very illegal lawyerless interrogation.

Ross’s logic is as follows. David Banner gets released from jail, and his remaining family thinks he’s dead. He starts working at his son’s lab. The place ends up getting destroyed. Therefore, Bruce is to blame because he must be in cahoots with his dad. Look out, Batman. I think there’s a new detective on the prowl!

Bruce: “I was always told my father was dead!”
General Ross: “Don’t play with me! You were four years old when you saw it!”

Uh, I don’t know about you, Ross, but I barely remember being four. Seems to me like you just argued against your own point.

Bruce: “When I saw what?”
General Ross: “You were right there! How could anyone forget a thing like that?”

By virtue of being four years old. Next question.

Ross concludes that Bruce has some repressed memories and apologizes for, you know, being a jerkwad. But he tells Bruce that because David Banner is involved, the lab is now a crime scene as well as the property of the U.S. Army. And they’re going to blacklist Bruce from working in any other labs just to be on the safe side.

General Ross: “If you ever get within a thousand yards of my daughter again, I’ll put you away for the rest of your natural life.”

You know, General Ross flip-flops so much during this scene that I’m half-expecting his head to flip around and say “Hey, Buddy!”

Later that night, David Banner gives Betty’s scarf to his dogs so they can get the scent. Speaking of Betty, she arrives home as Bruce looks out the window at the army guys outside. He answers a cell phone under his couch which… I don’t think it’s supposed to be Bruce’s, but I don’t know how David could have planted it there. Because that’s who’s calling. He exposits that he did mad science on his own genes back in the day, which got passed on to Bruce. But whatever he did to himself is ten times more evident in Bruce. And David wants to harvest the Hulk’s strength for himself, but Bruce wants a cure for his condition.

David tells Bruce that he already managed to use a bit of his DNA to improve his dogs, and they’re off to pay Betty a little visit as they speak. But all this does is make Bruce angry. As Bruce tries to leave, an angry Glenn Talbot shoves his way in to have a few cross words with him. He’s apparently convinced that Bruce went to General Ross and had him kick Glenn off the project, which is ludicrous, to say the least. Glenn beats Bruce up for a bit.

Bruce: “Talbot… you’re making me angry.”

He removes Glenn’s hand from his throat and begins to Hulk out.

"Don't make me constipated. You wouldn't like me when I'm constipated."
And now that we can see a relatively well-lit version of the Hulk….

Kermit the Frog looks more realistic than this. I mean, at least Kermit is physically there.
Creating the Hulk in CGI technically began in the 1990's when production began for the first time, but the Hulk as seen in the final movie took a year and a half for Industrial Light and Magic to create. It took over 180 technicians to create ol' Jade Jaws satisfactorily. 12,996 texture maps, 1,165 muscle movements and 100 layers of skin. Countless hours went into this, and at the end of the day, they made the Hulk's skin too opaque and his body too puffy. This Hulk doesn't look like chiseled muscle, he looks like a horizontally-stretched Eric Bana head was stuck on a green-painted stock-He-Man-toy body.

But the Hulk's body was actually based on bodybuilder Gunter Schlierkamp, while his arms were modeled on Lee Priest. The problem is that when you put these massive slabs of man meat together (stop laughing), the resulting body is just ridiculously unrealistically constructed. It's like you tried to build a human using only balloons and chunks of ham. And the unrealistically opaque skin makes him look like Shrek after P90X.

And to add to that, you have Ang Lee (who moves decidedly unlike someone with loads and loads of muscle) himself doing the motion capture. The man may be a movement expert, but his movements are simply too fluid and make the Hulk seem like he's weightless. Not as much as in later scenes, but I'll get to that.

Hulk makes a path by tossing Glenn out the window, and leaps out. The military opens fire, but this just makes the Hulk angrier and bigger. He throws Glenn at another soldier and leaps off to find Betty. Betty, meanwhile, is drawing. She hears something outside, and ventures out to find the Hulk himself, hiding in a tree. He picks Betty up and sets her on her car to look her in the eye, and there’s a nice, quiet, Beauty and the Beast-style scene of them just looking in each other’s eyes. This scene draws on classic works like King Kong, Beauty and the Beast, and Phantom of the Opera. And David Banner’s Hulk-dogs soon arrive, so we can add Cujo to that list, too.

Honestly, the best thing I can say about this scene is that it’s dark. Our brain fills in the details with things that look much better than the clear glimpses we do get.

I don't know whether that's nightmare-inducing or laughably bad.
At least the initial concept art (done by Ang Lee's son) looked pretty cool. And more realistic than the finished CGI.

Anyway, the Hulk soon makes quick work of the beasts because the original length of the scene would have cost too much to create, finishing them off and then going to cool down in a lake. Hulk shrinks back into Bruce Banner, and we get a shot of Eric Bana’s naked butt. Apparently, Eric Bana was actually naked when he exited the lake. It was also apparently very cold, and Ang Lee has called Eric Bana a brave man for doing this scene. The whole scene would have had the Hulk be naked, doing away with the stretchy pants, but it was decided that covering up "little Hulk" with scenery (to keep the PG-13 rating) would take too long to choreograph.

Anyway, Bruce explains to Betty that it was David who sent the dogs, and the thought very nearly makes him Hulk out again as he grabs Betty’s neck to calm down. For some reason. Betty gets him inside and gives him a blanket, babbling about the effect the nanomeds must have had on him, so he babbles in return about David’s experiments. He explains that the dogs were sent to get him to Hulk out, which is what David wants for some reason.

Bruce: "My father sent them. He is my father. He wanted me to change. He wanted me to change into that mindless hulk."

And there it is, the one time in this movie the word “hulk” is used. Like they're embarrassed by the very thing they're trying to adapt.

Things get a bit artsy as Bruce talks about how being the Hulk was like dreaming about rage, horror, and freedom, and we soon cut to the next day. Betty calls her dad and tells him that she needs her help. She makes Bruce breakfast, and the two of them start technobabbling about why Bruce is transforming.

You see, the nanomeds respond to pain, right? With physical pain, they grow new, healthy tissue to replace the damaged tissue. But with emotional pain, they don’t know how to deal. Instead of looking information up on the internet like Baymax, though, they respond by overloading. In Bruce’s case, this starts to unlock what was already hidden in his cells.

Bruce tells Betty that Ross told him he had some repressed memories, and he wonders what it could possibly be. Betty, as uncaring as ever, changes the subject back to the transformation. She’s worried that, because there’s no set “boundary” to emotional pain, there could potentially be no limit to how large the transformation gets. It could reach critical mass. And Bruce is scared. Because he likes the feeling of losing control.

But Bruce suddenly gets shot with a tranq, and gets shipped to the old Desert Base via helicopter and Mondrian-esque editing. It's like they couldn't decide which bits of footage to use during this sequence, so somebody in the editing room asked "Is there any way we can put all of it on the screen at the same time?"

Or maybe they edited the film using Lego bricks.
They take him through an animated layout of the base that took three months to create in real life….

Hey, at least it looks better than the Hulk does.
And he ends up in the lowest level, where they prepare to do science, overseen by General Ross. They’re keeping him sedated in a tank, which Betty ends up arguing with her dad over. General Ross argues that they can’t let him Hulk out, and Betty counters that he’s a human being. Ross counters that counter by saying that David Banner was evil, therefore, so is Bruce. Evil is a dominant gene, didn't you know that?

General Ross: “He is his father’s son.”

Well, yes, that’s generally how that works, Ross.

Ross’s evidence is simply the fact that Bruce is working in the same field that his dad did. The two argue the point for a bit, and Betty finally tells him that she’s a scientist, too. She can help figure out what’s wrong with him. Meanwhile, the military raids David Banner’s house, but David’s not there. He’s off at the wrecked lab, which apparently has very lax security. He quickly repairs some of the machinery and directs the Gamma emitters at himself. After breathing in some nanomeds, he activates the Gamma burst. The film then proceeds to spend a buttload of money while making it look like some intern goofed around with Photoshop during his lunch break.

Seriously, were you trying to make this look like a cheap DeviantArt photo manipulation?
The sheer amount of Instagram filters makes him lose balance, and he falls over and cuts his hand. What follows is, with no exaggeration, my favorite bit of special effects work in all of cinema.

His blood coagulates into a single, giant drop before getting sucked back into his hand. Then his hand becomes a starfish.

Karmic revenge for what he did in the prologue?
Then his hand becomes part of the metal beam he’s resting his arm on.

Quite literally my favorite special effect in all of cinema.
It’s just…. beautiful. As he moves his hand through the beam, it moves in stiff bursts, like he’s having trouble separating his hand from the metal it’s bonded with. The creaking, the squeaks, the fact that the very grain of the metal moves as he moves his hand through the beam is just… just…  it’s breathtaking. I mean, you can imagine what it must feel like for him to move his hand through the beam. Screw Avatar; Hulk has some of the best special effects I’ve ever seen. And the worst. Funny how that works.

Anyway, a security guard comes in and demands to know exactly what the heck’s going on here, so David starts up the crazy rambling.

David: “You see, I can partake with the essences of all things.”

So, now’s as good a time as any to explain. David Banner is what’s known as a “composite character.” Multiple characters were stuck in a blender and set on frappe, giving us David. In the comics, Bruce’s dad was named “Brian.” For this movie, they took Brian Banner, gave him the name of Bill Bixby’s character from the old Incredible Hulk TV show, gave him the janitor job that Samuel Sterns had before becoming the Leader, and gave him the abilities of one of Thor’s supervillains, the Absorbing Man. But because the character is vastly different from Absorbing Man, the character is never given an alter ego. Although because of the previous line, Ang Lee refers to him as “the Partaking Man.” Audience members, however, were content to stick him with the name “Absorbing Dad.”

Anyway, he uses his new powers to “partake” of a computer terminal and hits the guard with it, making this guard the first onscreen human death. And, of course, he’s black. The only black character with dialogue in the film, if I’m not mistaken. Make of that what you will.

Coming up in Part 3... more of the same. Prepare for more WTF-ness.

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