Ang Lee's "Hulk" while it may be missing a dessert or two is a full course meal to be digested slowly, while 2008's "the Incredible Hulk " is Mcdonald's - everybody loves it, but two minutes after eating it you feel hungry again. Just like Mcdonald's fries there are things I loved about the new Hulk, but at the same time I knew it was bad for me. "The Incredible Hulk" is a seriously dumbed down Hulk! Yes, it's action packed and it has a cool finale. I loved the addition of Tim Blake Nelson as Dr. Samual Sterns/The leader. However many characters were not fully fleshed out or at the very least were not as good as the same charcters in Ang Lee's film. Yes, Ang lee did deviate from some of the comic canon with his interpretation. However, there is not a live action Hulk production created thus far that has been entirely true to the comic. Most fanboys complain about how Bruce Banner is passed genetic traits to become the Hulk in Ang's film. While I do side with fans regarding Ang making the hulk 20 feet tall ( bad idea!) , I also have to say "Hulk" came out in 2003 at a time when we all know gamma rays will KILL YOU!!!!! This was a case where changing the origin a little made sense. To me it makes much more sense that the Hulk was developed through a combination of genetic research/repressed rage and gamma rays.
So, let's look at the characters from "The Incredible Hulk" and compare them to characters in the Ang Lee version.
Ed Norton's Banner is greatness!!! In fact I'd say he was even better than Eric Bana's Banner. Eric's Banner was a bit too repressed and I think we didn't get to know him enough in Ang's film, although Bana does shine in several moments of the film like after he has defeated the "hulk dogs" and when he is confronted by his father several times in the film. Eric Bana is a fine actor and gives a solid performance. However, Ed Norton reminded me a lot of Bill Bixby' the televison Banner. To me Bill Bixby epitomized who Banner really is- a caring sensitive genius forced to live alone with a terrible rage that lurks inside.
On the otherhand when you compare Betty Ross' in both films Jennifer Connelly "owns"!!! Her acting is dead on in Ang lee's Hulk. I feel her pain, frustration, fear, and isolation. She is essentially alone. The man she loves she cannot be with and her father is too abrasive to allow anyone to be close to him for long- including his own daughter. Connelly really made me belief she was in love with Banner. For me one of the most memorable and endearing scenes takes place in the hospital after Bruce Banner has been belted by gamma rays, a teary emotionally broken Betty played by Connelly delivers the powerful line ," Bruce, you were going to die. And I was standing there, helpless, knowing you were going to die!". I'm sorry but that's deep tremendous dialogue folks and anyone who thinks Ang's film isn't worth a dime needs to take a second look. Now you compare that to Liv Tyler's performance and Liv's Betty doesn't even scratch the surface. The Betty of " The Incredible Hulk is more or less a screenwriter's after thought and a cliche of every damsel in distress we have ever seen on film. She's a cardboard cutout, but Connelly's Betty is a person on celluloid.
In the comics General ross was a boring old fart that I hated. To his credit William Hurt makes that old fart jump right off the pages of Marvel comics onto the big screen. Hurt give's a great performance that is the General Ross I recall reading. Nevertheless, Sam Elliot as Gen. Ross in Ang's version seems more like the real deal. It's as if Sam Elliot was born to play general Ross. Elliot takes Gen. Ross to a new place and makes him better than he ever was in the actual comics similar to the way Wesley Snipes improved "Blade". This was a rare case where an actor reinterpreted or redefined a fictional character and made him 100 times better than he was written. Elliot as Gen Ross simply cannot be topped. 'Nuff said!
Tim Roth is an amazing actor, his efforts alone in "Planet of the Apes" nearly saved that film... almost. Unfortunately, Roth comes off rather bland in "The Incredible Hulk". Roth's Emil Blonsky is a career soldier who feeds on war and violence, yet his motivation is never really explained. The character is never explored deep enough. We never get to see why a semi-rational human being would choose to be experimented on. Could it be he is going to be discharged because of his age? Is his life truly so empty that he has nothing else? Is he insane?Why does he care so little for himself? These questions are never answered. Blonsky is simply written as an unthinking thug who does stuff for the hell of it, wheras this guy should have been as compelling as "Travis Brickle" in "Taxi Driver" or "Prvt. Pyle" in "Full Metal Jacket". I think I woudl have liked to have seen Blonsky written as a shell shocked demented and sadistic soul, that enjoys hurting others. Someone who spends all his time alone off teh battle field. we could see him downing strong drink in a strip bar, even popping pills. they should have made him a true basket case. Then I would have believed and said ok , this guy just doesn't give a damn. And I am Roth could have taken such a role to new heights. Puny marvel! If only you had taken it a step farther.
Enough with my tirade, so lets compare Roth's Blonsky/Abomination to Nick Nolte's David Banner/Absorbing Man dad. Ok, Nolte gave a far out unhinged performance. They say there is a fine line between genius and insanity and Nolte plays the role of scientist as if he has stepped over the line, yet he doesn't realize it. Nolte's David Banner believes everything he has done is right, which makes him truly twisted. The best madmen in fiction much like their real life counter-parts ( ex. Adolph Hitler ) always believe they are doing what is right and just by committing acts of evil. David Banner in Ang's film, experiments on himself seeking a way to improve human frailty. Yet, he passes a genetic anomaly onto his son. An error that can only be released with gamma radiation. At, first Banner Sr. attempts to cure his son, but when this fails, he decides his only recourse to spare his son a life of pain is to destroy his only child. It's a sick modernized greek tragedy!
David Banner justifies his actions to Betty in Ang Lee's Hulk saying , "And what have I done to my son, Miss Ross? Nothing. I tried to improve on the limits in myself. Myself, not him. Can you understand? To improve on nature, MY nature, knowledge of one's self. It's the only path to the truth that gives men the power to go beyond God's boundaries."
While the Abomination was a great villian to pit against the Hulk, I have to say Nick Nolte's David Banner was more clever and plain fun to watch on film. The Abomination was all muscle, no brain. The ending on Ang Lee's hulk could have been animated better or set in the day time, because many people misinterpret it. What happens of course is that by the end of the film Banner Sr. is truly nuts and decides to absorb his sons energy in order to stablize his own power and take over the earth, but the Hulk's anger fueld strength is too much for the Absorbing Man-Dad whois reduced to a cloud of unstable energy , before being nuked. At any rate, Nolte's performance as a sick demented old man made me laugh and cringe with disgust, while at the same time explained the methods and motivations of his madness. Again, make mine Ang Lee's "Hulk".