Bad Math and Short Memories Spin Wacky 'Hulk' Hate-In

Two percent doesn't sound like much of a quantity on its face, but it's apparently more than enough room for studio execs to rejoice after recent box-office scans reveal this year's grosses are slightly up from those of Summer 2007. Observers attribute part of the bump to "better-than-expected" openings for films like Kung-Fu Panda, Sex and the City, The Happening and The Incredible Hulk, with the latter film's $55 million opening rounding out Marvel Studios' blockbuster tandem with Iron Man.

Naturally Marvel boss David Maisel will be doing victory laps for rest of the season, but after the jump, join us in parsing a bizarre contrarian argument gaining traction against the studio's acknowledged re-do of Ang Lee's brooding 2003 Hulk. Hint: It's bullshit.

You can start to see it in the raw numbers put out today at Box Office Mojo, where a comparison of Hulk '03 and Hulk '08 indicates the latter film underperformed its predecessor by $7 million after five days in release. The inference — intentional or not — is that after all that Marvel did to disown the first Hulk, the second couldn't even keep up. Such hubris, right? Such a letdown! At least that's the read laid forth in a more explicit crack analysis at The Playlist:

Ed Norton's The Incredible Hulk (notice no director mentioned here), was [an] enjoyable action-packed flick, that has been a smashing success, toppling the box-office this weekend and erasing the memory of Marvel's original embarrassment, right?
Not quite. The Incredible Hulk, directed by Louis Leterrier, opened this weekend with a winning $55.4 million, but it was well off the opening of Ang Lee/ Eric Bana's 2003 version of the green monster film which opened five years ago to a substantially larger $62.1 million. Marvel is calling this new version an unqualified success, but of course you're not reading this truer story everywhere (of course its the Aussie press have to make a note of pointing this out, not in the name of fairness of course, but because Bana is Australian).

You're likely to hear more of this crap as the trades latch on in the weeks ahead, but pray along with us for a moment that the big green apples and oranges are seen for what they are. To wit, Hulk '03 opened with high expectations opposite a shitty rom-com (Alex and Emma) and the self-immolating From Justin to Kelly; the summer releases that preceded it — X-Men 2, The Matrix Reloaded, Bruce Almighty — had far less legs than Hulk '08's competition from its own studio, let alone Indiana Jones 4 and Kung-Fu Panda. Mix in The Happening, which pulled away at least $5 or $6 million, and you've got a reasonably well-performing franchise opener.

It's really pretty simple, and we wouldn't recommend relating its trajectory to that of Lee's film in polite, sentient company. Was it an "unqualified success" or the blockbuster that Marvel wanted? Of course not. But in the clogged-up context of Summer '08, it's a good showing for a decent film nobody should be ashamed of — stroppy star and, ahem, "Aussie press" be damned.