While The Incredible Hulk didn't bomb at the box office, it didn't quite manage to outperform the outrageously sucky previous Hulk flick, directed by Ang Lee. This might not be such a big deal, as we pointed out earlier, since movies like Batman Returns have recovered from so-so openings based on word of mouth. My guess is that Incredible Hulk isn't going to get that word of mouth, largely because critics and movie-goers alike have been lukewarm about the flick. But if there's one thing that could have made this movie a smash, it would have been splicing a chunk of the Jekyll and Hyde mythos into its narrative structure. It's not as if Hulk and Hyde haven't met before (see image above), and we've got five good reasons why a Hyde-ier Hulk would have kept us watching. Spoilers ahead.
1. Hyde is locked into a battle of wills with Jekyll.
What was missing from this version of Hulk, but not from many of the best comic books about him (including the recent and superlative Planet Hulk series), was a sense that Hulk hates Bruce as much as Bruce hates him. As Charlie pointed out in her review, this Hulk was too emo and dejected. He never challenges Bruce's right to take back his body, and never complains about how Bruce maligns him. Basically, we needed this Hulk to have more psychological complexity.
2. Hyde has goals.
We know as the Incredible Hulk flick starts that Bruce has been Hulking out for five whole years. And yet when Hulk comes out, he can barely talk and just rampages randomly. He hasn't developed any ideas of his own over the past five years? We know what Bruce wants, but what does Hulk want? The thing that's great about Hyde in the Robert Louis Stevenson novella, as well as the countless subsequent movies, is that Hyde has a plan. He wants to kill people who remind him of his monstrous status sometimes, but at other times he wants to drink, party, and make out with hookers. He's a bad boy who can't stand Jekyll's nice, upper-crusty doctor. The only time we ever know what Hulk wants is at the very end of the movie when he yells "Hulk smash!" Good, Hulk, good. You've expressed an opinion. Now we want more of that.
3. Hyde embraces evil.
Nearly every version of the Hyde tale, from the 1950s Kirk Douglas version to the 1990s Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde version with Sean Young, has the big guy embracing darkness. One possible exception is in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic books, where Hyde is something like Hulk was in Planet Hulk — a dark superhero for a dark task. Hulk has embraced evil in his time too, though generally he just wants to be left alone. But why not, for the purposes of this movie, fill out Hulk's character by having him flirt with evil?
4. Jekyll bears some responsibility for creating Hyde.
Perhaps the most bothersome aspect of the Hulk movie was that Bruce was so nice and upstanding. (And as I've already said, his Hulk was totally emo.) Even though he helped invent the scary juice that brought out his Hulk side, he's somehow been duped into it by the military? What? Does that even make sense? I mean, he knows he's working for the military. He knows the military makes weapons. What the hell does he think they are after, anyway? In the Jekyll/Hyde mythos, Jekyll bears full responsibility for letting loose his inner demons on London. He's whipped up this serum and takes it, exactly like Bruce does. So why don't we get more of Bruce angsting over how he basically turned himself in a super soldier? What I'm really asking for here is more development of Bruce's character. OK, so he's some kind of semi-ninja who knows how to evade authorities and slip from Mexico into the U.S. But doesn't he feel guilty for what he's done, too? Can't we get a little soul-searching, here?
5. Jekyll and Hyde make up two parts of a whole.
One of the reasons why the Jekyll/Hyde mythos has endured to this day is that it's easy for audiences to understand how Hyde is the dark side of Jekyll. Dr. Jekyll is a kindly person, usually a guy who wants to help the poor and leads a respectable middle-class life among other bourgeois types. Hyde is clearly his repressed Id: he's greedy, filled with hate and lust, and wants only to exploit the vulnerable for amusement. But what exactly is Hulk in the Incredible Hulk? Is he Bruce's repressed rage? His repressed excitement? What? I'm not asking for the whole problematic Ang Lee "my dad was mean" subplot — I'm just asking to get a sense that Bruce had the Hulk in him even before the experiments and gamma poisoning. I love Ed Norton and I know the guy can act up a storm, but honestly I got more feeling for the character of the mad scientist who helps Bruce de-Hulkify before getting dosed with gamma blood and starting to become the Leader.
The whole point of Hulk comics, and what makes them such compelling reading, is that Hulk is a character study. Sure, he's all about the SMASH, but he's also about human psychology. Just like Jekyll and Hyde are. If Hulk is to go down in cinematic history the way Hyde has, he's going to have to grow a psyche and fast. Pages from the Incredible Hulk #368, by Peter David.