New 'Hulk' boasts better effects, smashing foe

Hulk want do-over.

Just five years after the brute with anger management issues and forgiving pants hit — and splattered against — the big screen, "The Incredible Hulk" returns to theaters June 13 in one of Hollywood's boldest mulligans.

The movie, this time starring Edward Norton as the scientist belted by gamma rays, breaks Hollywood's golden rule of remakes (studio executives prefer they be call "re-imaginings"): Give audiences time to forget the first one.

Instead, it's the filmmakers who are disregarding the original. And they're wagering $150 million that audiences will follow suit.

If they're wrong, it could sink franchise hopes for the big green guy, who made for a popular 1970s television series with Bill Bixby and is behind only Spider-Man and X-Men in Marvel comic-book popularity.

But translating Hulk onto a 30-foot movie screen has been tricky, even though his 9-foot, 1,500-pound body would seem a perfect fit.

"It's different than, say, 'Batman' or 'Iron Man,'" says Rob Worley of Comics2Films.com. "Those movies have human beings in costumes, which gives you a personal connection with the hero. With the Hulk, you have to turn him into a computer-generated character. That can be a fine line to walk."

Many felt Ang Lee tripped over it in 2003 with his brooding and violent take on the comic-book icon. The film took in $134 million domestically — not bad, but hardly the moneymaker Universal had expected.

Worse, tough reviews and savage fan reaction appeared to mark the big-screen end of the emerald beast.

But in the comic-book world, heroes die and return all the time. And Marvel, which has become one of the most bankable studios in the industry, decided to try what they do with their comic books that are stuck in a rut: slap an adjective like "ultimate" or "incredible" in the title, put a No. 1 on the issue, and give it another shot.

"It's unprecedented for a comic-book movie," Worley says. "And if you don't follow the industry or comic books, you run the risk of confusing people who think they just saw that film."

Internal battles

Consider Lee among the confounded. When he heard that a new "Hulk" was coming out — without a number 2 behind it — he says he was "bewildered."

"I was very proud of the movie I made," he says. "It seemed strange that it was being treated as if it didn't exist."

Actually, the opposite was happening. Directors who revere the man behind "Brokeback Mountain" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" were nervous about redoing one of his movies — including the man who ultimately did.

New "Hulk" director Louis Leterrier, who helmed the "Transporter" films, initially turned down the project out of respect for Lee. "I was divided," he says. "I couldn't believe they wanted to reboot the franchise after just five years. And I loved (the 2003 movie) as a filmmaker. There was great art in it. But as a nerd, I absolutely didn't like it. It was slow."

Leterrier went to his home in France to reconsider the offer and decided to send an outline of the story he wanted to tell, complete with paintings and sketches of the action sequences he felt the film needed. "It was kind of a prenuptial agreement," he says. "This was my big chance, my first big American movie. I didn't want it to be the end of my career. I wanted to start with a healthy relationship."

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