Round 2 hews closer to comicbook origins

It’s not easy being green. It’s not easy being green, size XXXXXL and in need of massive doses of Celexa. And then there are all the expectations. The box office projections. The marketing. The promotion. Such pressure! Arrrgh. Hulk smash building now….!!

It’s not easy, either, for those around “The Incredible Hulk,” whose efforts to bring back the big green Marvel-ous character for the second time in five years has been the subject of second-guessing, innuendo and endless questions. To which there has been no shortage of responses.

“I’ve got two very good answers and it’s a question I’ve been getting for two and a half years,” says Kevin Feige, head of production at Marvel. “Quite simply, Hulk is the second-biggest character in the Marvel pantheon next to Spider-Man, and there’s a heck of a lot of Hulk stories to tell. If we told 1% of the Hulk mythos in Ang Lee’s ‘Hulk,’ this is the beginning of telling the other 99%.”

The other essential element, he says, was articulated, frequently, by producer Gale Anne Hurd.

“Gale used one term a lot during development,” Feige says. “‘Wish fulfillment.’ And what that means is Hulk-as-hero, the wish fulfillment of finding a strength you didn’t know you had and being able to tap into that strength at just the right moment, when you’re being overpowered by the bullies who are pushing you into a corner. And even though you’re warning them to stay away, they keep on coming. And then the Hulk bursts forth to take care of business.”

For all the kinetic energy emanating from “The Incredible Hulk,” there’s a delicate dance of diplomacy being done regarding the Ang Lee-helmed “Hulk” of 2003. Hurd, perhaps, treads lightest around the Hulk gap.

“Well, you know, if you go online, which we do, there are rabid fans of the first film,” she explains. “Many people who love the movie feel it’s one of the best superhero comicbook adaptations ever made. It stands alone. It’s not like any other superhero adaptation. But at the same time, there were fans who felt it was not as tried and true a representation of the Hulk as it could be.”

Adds director Louis Leterrier: “There was not enough Hulk in the movie. I think that’s what was missing. If I were a 13-year-old boy, I wouldn’t have understood a single thing.”

Feige says the new Hulk will have a “heavy, heavy seasoning of the emotionality of the television series,” which has also been talked about as an element absent from Lee’s Eric Bana/Jennifer Connelly film version.

The new film will be a synthesis of the old CBS TV show and the Ang Lee film. “The elements of the TV show that really worked was the lonely man on the run, the haunted man,” says Hurd. “But it didn’t have the elements of Betty, and it didn’t have General Ross, it didn’t have the components that are so essential to the comics. And it didn’t have a strong villain.”

Tim Roth steps into that role, as Emil Blonsky, aka the Abomination. “I sort of laid my body across the tracks and said ‘I want Tim Roth,'” Leterrier says. Given that Roth is uh … mature, British and short, did Hurd take some convincing?

“A little bit,” he laughs. “But she was not the toughest one to convince. The Marvel boys were tougher. Gale, she understands. She’s hasn’t made the safest casting choices in her career. She was always right, but she always found the kooky one. She was telling me they originally wanted O.J. Simpson to play the Terminator. I said, ‘I think you made the right choice, picking Arnold.'”

The choice of Edward Norton as the Hulk wasn’t debated, although the blowback after all the online gossip about dissension in the ranks “soured the mood” in post-production, according to Leterrier. “The office was very small,” he says, “and it was kind of weird ’cause we were all in the same room saying, ‘So … you’re furious at me? And you hate him?'”

“It was disheartening to have people discussing not the movie but what may or may not have happened behind the scenes,” Feige says. Arguments, disagreements, he explains, “have been a part of every movie I’ve been involved with, and it’s almost always for the betterment of the movie itself.”    

Hurd, having been through the trench warfare of movie productions for more than a quarter century, knows enough to know what to ignore. “Nothing’s ever simple, but when there’s a sensational story, that’s what sticks is the headline,” she says. The far more important questions are, she adds, “What is the movie? What’s the best way to tell the movie? What’s the best version of the story? That’s a process you discover.”

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