Most people think the concept of the movie franchise "reboot" started with 2005's Batman Begins. As I posted a couple of years ago, that isn't necessarily the case. In 2002, Paramount Pictures, despite the success of the last installment of the Jack Ryan franchise, Clear and Present Danger starring Harrison Ford in 1994, decided to go with a younger actor, namely Ben Affleck, for what should have been a subsequent installment as far as the books were concerned, The Sum of All Fears. The film obviously couldn't have been a sequel, but because, storywise, it took place later than the other books, it couldn't really be treated as a prequel either. And it was too soon since the last one to be considered a re-make, especially since the book had never been adapted before. It was thus that the reboot was born.
Although Sum may have flown under most people's radar (and it would, next to the much more high profile Batman Begins and even the James Bond reboot, Casino Royale) it did pretty respectable business back in its day, dislodging Star Wars: Episode II from the top spot of the U.S. box office and grossing more than $100 million dollars in the U.S. alone. It validated the concept of the reboot and now it appears to be en vogue, with the handlers of many a flagging franchise at least toying with the idea.
One of those handlers, the newly-formed Marvel Studios, appears to have adopted that idea for one of their own franchises, the Hulk. Though I personally liked Ang Lee's decidedly unconventional take on the character in 2003, I can certainly understand and sympathize with the people who hated the movie. Still enjoying the runaway success of Iron Man, Marvel hopes, with The Incredible Hulk, the second feature film based on the titular property in five years, to rub out the box-office stench from Universal Pictures' failed attempt to establish the Hulk as a franchise.
It's actually somewhat laughable how Marvel tries to distance themselves from the word "reboot" even though they've already categorically admitted to hitting "the reset button" for this franchise as if they're ashamed to admit it. To an extent I understand their leeriness; it's only been five years since the last film, and unlike the Ryan, Batman or Bond franchises, there's been one other film so far. A reboot, therefore, feels too premature, even though a sequel to a film that many people hated obviously feels like a bad idea. So they're caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Whatever they want to call it, though, this film represents something very important for the studio as they try to build on the momentum they started earlier this summer with Iron Man. This film is meant to make a statement, namely that "the studio did it wrong; now that we have creative control, we'll do it right."
And they've hit a lot of right notes so far, from the casting of Edward Norton (who was actually one of Ang Lee's first choices for the role for his 2003 film) as Bruce Banner to the inclusion of character actor Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction) as Emil Blonksy, better known to comic book fans as the Abomination.
Having been burned by the backlash they got for the computer-generated imagery of the first film (which in my opinion was actually pretty good), Marvel held off releasing footage of the new Hulk as long as they possibly could while they tweaked the shots, and were accused of refusing to market the movie. Of course, when they finally did release the trailer and several minutes of action footage besides, they still got the inevitable and utterly predictable fanboy bitching about how fake the CGI looked, as though it's possible to make a "real" looking nine-foot, 1500-pound green man. Maybe my post flipping the bird to fanboys needs updating (especially with all the Indiana Jones bashing that's been going around). Still, even the CGI-bashing fanboys have acknowledged that from what they've seen this film is definitely a departure in tone from the previous film and professed some optimism. Of course, fanboys are the only barometer so far because only fanboys love to shoot their mouths off about movies they haven't yet seen. Everyone else, like critics and audiences, weighs in after they've seen the film.
As a Marvel fan I dearly want this film to be good and may even forgive it some of its shortcomings, whatever they may be. I was happy that Iron Man restored some luster to the Marvel brand after the thorough disappointments that X-Men 3 and Spider-Man 3 turned out to be, and while I seriously doubt that The Incredible Hulk will ascend to those heights, critically and commercially, I at least hope it will be good. The Hulk, I think, is a beloved enough property to justify a second attempt, as soon as it may seem. There's no denying though, that for all their careful casting choices and aggressive marketing at this stage, Marvel are still facing an uphill battle. Still, if they win it, what a victory it will be.