DIRECTOR: Ang Lee
May Contain Spoilers!
I’ve written a lot about Hulk in this blog over the years but this is the first time that I have sat down and watched it in quite a few years. I am clearly one of the few proponents on this film, as Ang Lee’s art house exploration of inner-rage wasn’t quite what Marvel fans were expecting or apparently wanting.
But as a film fan, and one who likes to see a movie adaptation of comics in the best way for the medium, Hulk hits ALL the right buttons. I can remember first watching this and knowing there and then, that this was something different. 2003 for Marvel was in the midst of their comic book revolution as it were, with Marvel leading the way in the wake of DC’s failures with the Batman franchise in 1997.
Though some would sight Blade (1998) as Marvel’s opening film of the new franchise, though it’s more relevant to take X-Men in 2000. Though not the best, it was certainly the beginning of more cerebral and grown up comic book adaptations, leading to 2002’s Spider-man and its phenomenal success. But 2003 saw this success wane, though I felt unfairly. Daredevil didn’t ignite the box office, though X2 certainly did. Hulk suffered too and has since been refereed too “That Ang Lee one”.
But as a film, this is what movies do best. Convincing dialogue, fully realised characters, complex emotional and motivational arches and a story which whilst filled with plot holes, is an ambitious attempt to understand what the Hulk is all about. He is a rage monster, and whilst the gamma radiation accident is played down as just the final catalyst in a long line of events with created the Hulk, this time from birth, Lee has taken the core of the comic’s characters and humanised them as feature film characterisations.
And there in lies one of the problems. As a comic book adaptation, this fails to capture the spirit of the source material, but what I liked about these movie s from the early 21st century, was the fact that they were adaptations. From 2008, when everything was about building The Avengers (2012), the tone radically shifted. The latest crop is much lighter and more comic book in tone, with fanboy action leading the way.
If you want that, then Hulk isn’t for you. But primarily as a film fan, this is what I want to see. The iconic characters of Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) and her father, General Ross (Sam Elliot) are all here but played straight as serious and disturbed characters. There issues are psychological and well conceived, as is the science, whether it makes any sense or not, but in the traditions of any good sci-fi, with Star Trek springing to mind, a little technobabble can go along way.
As the film progresses, the Hulk makes his appearances, and prompts one of the main criticisms of this film; the CGI. I don’t see it myself. I’ve always thought that this film gets a raw deal as for its Hulk effects. He moves perfectly and I feel the rage which is driving him. Granted, it’s not perfect and I don’t thing that ANY of the Hulk’s a have looked perfect but it certainly doesn’t take me out of the story.
But when he his captured and taken to a top-secret dessert military base by Ross, this is when the action really kicks off, and it was definitely worth the wait. He convincingly smashes tanks, takes down helicopters and battles fighter jets. The only action scene which may jar a little, is the climactic fight with his mutated father, who is now a creature who can absorb energy to be come a massive and seemingly inevitable monster and the Hulk.
Ang Lee’s direction and sense of artistry is fresh and incredibly bold, especially with his use of comic book styled panels throughout, whilst not perfect, was innovative and I found it be very impressive. This was the first real Art House meets comic book movie, and would be followed two years later by the much more successful Batman Begins (2005), which would also begin to bring DC Comics back into the market place which had become dominated by Marvel.
I love the pacing, the look and feel of this film, and it stands as one of the best comic book movies ever made, along side Nolan and Burton’s Batman franchises and Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (2009), another underrated comic book adaptation in my view. I admit that as a comic adaptation in the sense of adapting the source material straight to the screen, then it’s poor, but as a work of interpretation and translating the story for a cine-literate audience, such as myself, then it works wonders and I hope against hope that sooner or later, that Ang Lee’s Hulk gains the recognition that it deserves. Though on a sidebar, Mark Ruffalo’s, Banner/Hulk in The Avengers (2012), whilst offering a different and more super-heroic take, it’s just as good of an interpretation of the character, as Eric Bana’s, is here. As for Edwards Norton in The Incredible Hulk (2008), not so much.