by: S. Scott Stanikmas
I love comic book movies. I’ll usually watch any and every comic book movie I can, from Guardians of the Galaxy to Ghost World. I enjoy seeing how a director takes someone’s drawn and written vision and parlays that onto the silver screen. Sometimes we luck out and get something like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Other times we get X3: The Last Stand. But amongst my friends I have never seen a movie that has garnered quite the reaction as Ang Lee’s Hulk. While I love it, almost all of my fellow cinephiles cannot stand it. And it is this reaction that has spurred me to voice my Unpopular Opinion.
I remember about a week before Hulk came out, a close friend came over to my house around 11 pm on a Sunday night and handed me a DVD-R with nothing written on it. I asked him what it was and all he said was “Watch it now. We’ll talk at work tomorrow.” I popped the disc in and up came a title screen that said KERMIT GOES BANNANAS. My jaw dropped. A bootleg copy of the new Hulk movie?!?!?! It was a work print with unfinished CGI, but I didn’t care. This was a movie I had been looking forward to for months. And that night, over the next two plus hours, I was made into a believer of Ang Lee’s vision of what a comic book movie could be. I enjoyed it even more the following Friday on the big screen, the way it was intended, finished effects and all.
Ang Lee’s Hulk isn’t a critically panned movie. Reviewers were quite favorable towards it, but with many back-handed compliments. Many felt that it was too long without much of a payoff. Some felt that we didn’t see enough of the titular character doing his trademark smashing. Others complained that it was too dark, thematically and visually. And while yes it does have its pitfalls and it isn’t a perfect movie it is quite entertaining and went against many expectations.
Let’s tackle the darkness first. Thematically this was a dark movie. Marvel movies up to that point did have some darkness in them, whether it was Magneto’s being a Holocaust survivor or Peter Parker’s douchebag attitude leading to his Uncle Ben being killed. But Hulk went one step further with having the big reveal of David Banner originally attempting to kill his 4 year old son and instead killing his wife in front of his son. I thought it added a deeper layer to the Bruce Banner character. Childhood trauma like that can certainly scar you for life, regardless of the memories being repressed or not. And it makes sense that with Bruce repressing those memories, he’d also keep the majority of his feeling dialed back subconsciously. After seeing his dad in such a rage, young Bruce may have made the connection that extreme emotions lead to bad things.
Visually it was dark as well, but only in certain points. The CGI in this movie was a little wonky at times. I read that the Hulk was compared to Shrek at some points in the film, and while not accurate, I do feel that the animators could have handled the Hulk a little better. Jurassic Park, which came out quite a few years prior, had dinosaurs so believable that small children were having nightmares. No one could say that about the Hulk dogs. But if we were going to have subpar CGI, at least it wasn’t made glaringly obvious. I feel that the fight with the Hulk dogs, as well as the climactic battle with David Banner, being so dark kept the audience from laughing out loud at what could be construed as the silliest parts of a serious movie.
And Hulk does try to take itself serious. Whether it was Betty Ross and her father, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, or the not-quite-there relationship between Bruce and his father, Ang Lee tried to show us that a comic book movie can be more than just good guys punching bad guys. Sometimes it’s the inner turmoil that can take its toll on you the most. The scene that best exemplifies this is when Bruce is de-Hulking after escaping the military installation and destroying parts of San Francisco. When Betty says he wasn’t hard to find and Bruce retorts that he was, I tear up a little bit. It’s an emotionally powerful scene that needs only a few words and the wonderful chemistry between Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly.
Every comic book movie needs a good villain or two. While Hulk did have Gen. Ross and David Banner, Josh Lucas was excellent as Major Glenn Talbot. The smug and smarmy Talbot was the kind of bad guy you really love to hate. From the moment he leered at Betty on the elevator, you knew he was a scumbag. He’s like Ben Affleck’s Shannon Hamilton character in Mallrats– you know the guy is up to no good with your ex-girlfriend and you just want to punch him, but you know you’ll just make things worse for yourself if you give in. We see that early on when Talbot tries to formally introduce himself and Bruce very brusquely asks him to leave. Talbot does walk after making some very pointed comments, feeling as though he’s got the upper hand, leaving Bruce to stew in his own emotional juices. To see him get rag-dolled by Marvel’s Green Goliath was one of those moments I always enjoy watching.
While we didn’t get a lot of Hulk smashing bad guys, I feel like we got just enough. This is why it’s so difficult, in my opinion, to make a really good Hulk movie. The Hulk is like the one night a week you get to order out. Whether you get Chinese food or pizza, it’s special to make a break from the normal routine every once in a while. That’s what the Hulk is to me- order out night. Give me just a taste and I’m happy. I don’t hear too many people complain when Spider-Man isn’t always swinging around on webs or when Batman isn’t constantly beating up his Rogues Gallery, but for the Hulk it seems all people want is a giant green cartoon character on screen demolishing things. That’ll get old real quick and then all people will complain about is how it was all action and no story. It’s a double edged sword that not too many people can handle. I think Joss Whedon did great handling the Hulk in The Avengers, but he was also tempered out amongst 5 other heroes, so it was okay that we got him in small doses.
I don’t hate the new reboot version that Marvel created to fit into their cinematic universe. I thought that Edward Norton and company put on an admirable show. Good story, excellent CGI, believable bad guys. I can’t quite put my finger on what it really is, but for my money, Ang Lee knocked it out of the park with his version of the Jade Giant. But, that’s just my opinion. Unpopular as it may be.