“The Incredible Hulk” — A Comic Book of the Mind — 2 & ½ popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

Musing the inevitable inquiry–“What’s better, ‘Iron Man’ or ‘The Incredible Hulk?’”–a comic book of the mind transports me back to a couple of ten-year-olds who could give that weighty question its deserved contemplation. Gamboling along the idyllic itinerary that was the way home from Saturday’s matinee, such stuff was mulled. It could prompt bold decisions: “Next time, when the giant ants (‘Them’–1954) come on, we’re looking!”

Indeed, long before Siskel and Ebert, Schenker and Goldberger pondered the unquestionable evil of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954) and extolled the heroism of Gary Cooper. A confrontation with “The Incredible Hulk” would’ve been the perfect occasion for comparisons along their rambling route.

“He’s really just Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), a scientist, when he’s not the Hulk. Would you want to be a scientist? You get to be a monster, too.”

Jumping over a sticker bush, falling, skinning a knee. “Ah, ow…no, that’s just if the radioactive chemicals go in you. Otherwise you just stay in the laboratory all day, drinking coffee and mixing chemicals, like aspirin. Anyway, I’m going to be a baseball player.”

“I know. But Iron Man is pretty cool, too. He wears a neat steel outfit. It’s like his own rocket ship. He’s definitely good. Sometimes the Hulk is bad.”

“Yeah… he wants to be good. But it’s real hard. Especially when he gets mad. He can’t help it. Iron Man is better. But The Hulk is strong even without a machine.”

The duo runs up someone’s front steps. A dog barks. They leap a fence to the sidewalk. “Y’know, the soldiers are bad in ‘The Hulk.’ They want to get him even when he’s good. Are they American soldiers?”

“Yes…but he has the secret formula in his blood, and they want to get it… and use it against their enemy. Remember when the army gets that Russian guy (Tim Roth) and they put the radioactivity right in him so he can fight the Hulk?”

“Yeah…they put the needle right in his bone on that operating table. My doctor put a Polio shot right in the bone of my arm. It hurt worse than if you get hit by a big kid.”

They shudder at the thought, and then, spontaneously, run breakneck speed for two blocks, yelling, “I’m the Hulk…grrr,” “I’m Iron Man…aargh,” and plop onto a stoop.

Not understanding why he’s bringing it up, one notes, “It’s lucky that girl (Liv Tyler) helps the Hulk when he’s being chased by the army. And her father (William Hurt) is the bad general. She could really get in trouble.”

“Oooh, you like girls.”

“I do not,” comes the alarmed protest. “But she’s nice, like the one in ‘Iron Man’(Gwyneth Paltrow). There’s always a girl to help the superhero, because no one bothers them and they can get away with it. Do you think you’ll get married?”

“No…but I think you have to when you grow up, or they don’t let you drive a car and everything.” The thought sinks in. They embarrassedly laugh, punch each other in the shoulder, then run another block, climb a fence, go through a backyard to get to the next street, and there espy Mitchell. He is burdened with fetching a loaf of bread from Kruppman’s candy store. They mercilessly assault, “Oooh…you missed it. We saw ‘The Incredible Hulk.’”

“Who cares?” retorts Mitchell as the three saunter to the store. “I know it’s not as good as ‘Iron Man.’ Besides, it’s really just a new Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, except it’s a cartoon when he’s a monster.” Mitchell’s knowledge of such things makes it difficult to one-up him. How is he so smart? And why does he want to be a doctor instead of a baseball player? The Mr. Hyde reference puts a chill in the pair.

Still, they’ve a moviegoing status to defend. “Yeah, but the cartoon part looks real.”

“And there’s so much fighting. And when the Hulk is running from the bad American army guys he jumps from an airplane. He can’t fly, but it doesn’t matter because he crashes through the street, but doesn’t die.”

Counsel rests. You can’t argue with such immortality.

Mitchell purchases the Wonder Bread and gets three cents change. A kindly Mrs. Kruppman serves the sweaty trio, a collage in polo shirts spinning on stools, free glasses of water. Mitchell glances at the jars of penny candies and asks, “You guys want malted milk balls?” Good choice, they all agree.

Skipping, walking and running home, the sweetness of malted milk balls on their palates, the triad smuggles and laterals the bread like a football. And the worldly moviegoers amend their bravado. “Yeah…it’s not as interesting as ‘Iron Man.’ Anyway, you can see it later.”

“The Incredible Hulk,” rated PG-13, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Louis Leterrier, and stars Edward Norton, Liv Tyler and William Hurt. Running time: 114 minutes

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