These are our four categories for this list:
These guys have had it too easy. Far too easy. Don’t believe the insane hype.
Good flicks that have gotten too damn big for their britches.
Asshole, you love this film for all the wrong reasons.
WHAT THE FUCK
Something went horribly wrong here and it’s carried over the the fans, who are blinded by shizer.
Why Hulk is Misunderstood
Your guide: Andre Dellamorte
Its Legacy: Five years later it invented the re-quel, in that The Incredible Hulk is not a sequel, but more a reboot of a franchise that wasn’t. Or, as it should probably be called: a “Take two.” Had one of the steepest second week drop-offs in the history of summer movies, equaled only by Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla and Cloverfield in audience rejection. Sent Ang Lee scurrying back to the art house, where he took an old South Park joke and made it one of the most emotionally satisfying films about unrequited love. Gave us the single greatest toy ever invented: Hulk Hands.
Why It’s Here: Hey, a little bit of a change up here. We actually love this film. But it is misunderstood. Anyway, there are two major problems with most comic book films, which is why often films that aren’t based on comic books often feel like the best comic book movies ever made. Those two problems are such: They’re always one origin story or another (even something like Spider-Man 2 has to spend a chunk of the narrative setting up why and how Doctor Otto Octavius becomes Doc Ock), and that eventually, all superhero films become Godzilla movies, in that it eventually becomes a fist fight, shoot-out or wrestling match between guys in suits. And the victor is always predetermined by the name on the poster.
The failings of Ang Lee’s Hulk is likely why it’s the best superhero film ever made. What director Lee and scripter James Schamus did was – it seems to me – watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie a shit-load of times, and used the model of suppressed familial discontent tinged with the sexual as a starting off point for a story about a dude who gets big and turns green. In the film’s extended prologue it sets up that the father, Dr. Frank Banner (Nick Nolte), is a scientist who experiments on himself and passes something along genetically to his son (again, it’s science, but the film quickly raises the questions of nature vs. nuture, predetermination vs. free will… heady stuff for this sort of thing). When Banner’s work is cut short, he flips and ends up killing his wife. Cut to twenty five years later and Bruce is in the same line of work as his father, though without knowing it. He just broke up with Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), and their nanomed experiments aren’t working as well as they want, while private-sector scientist Talbot (Josh Lucas, best on screen death ever) is looking to take their work out from under them. When one of their experiments goes awry, Banner gets hit with all kinds of chemicals, and should be dead. But instead whatever it is that his father passed on to him is awakened, and when he has a fit, he gets green and his shorts turn purple. Bruce has a lot of suppressed rage, and when it comes out it is nasty, but the beast side of himself never loses his moral compass. The real antagonist is his father, who he eventually must come to face.
In putting this film together, Ang Lee failed at delivering what was expected of him. Of that there is no doubt. Even after the breathtaking and visceral Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon fights – when working without Yuen-Woo Ping, the Hulk vs. Hulk Dogs is sloppy and has been barely visible since release. While the concluding fight is – no if’s and’s or but’s – thematically brilliant but expressionistic to the point of absurdity. When the Hulk is dragged by his father, who becomes lightning, rocks, water, and eventually a fantasia cloud of water/jellyfish-shaped thing filled with all of Bruce’s repressed memories you’re asking a mainstream audience to wrestle with something that isn’t exactly as much fun as watching Batman throw the Joker off a roof. I love it for that, but that audiences were flummoxed and disappointed that they got one action sequence in squint vision, and a conclusion that left the hero realizing that he may have killed his father, and that he may have also loved his father… Well, I can’t say I blame anyone for not digging on the film.
If the film errs on the side of too much Freudian analysis, it can then claim victory over its peers by being one of the rare superhero films where the superppowers really do feel like an extension of self, and everything that happens is thematically relevant. And – as such – Hulk really isn’t an action movie, but one of the greatest filmed therapy sessions ever. Really, only the extended sequence of Hulk escaping from the underground lair has any real action beats, but often those sequences are more beautiful than thrilling. The film also has the benefit of Tim Squires masterful head-oriented editing. It’s a singular vision, though it may be more theoretically comic book than comic book. Seeing as how piss-poor most comic book films are, that’s not a bad thing.
A Moment of Pissing Excellence: Hulk goes into outer space, and then falls back down. Rarely has spectacle captured the innate qualities of dreaming so perfectly.
These Ain’t Chopped Liver Alternatives: Robocop, Starship Troopers, Crank, Spider-Man 2
Jeremy Smith Agrees: I have no qualms with Ang Lee hijacking Hulk to work through his own papa issues; B movies are durable, and, as long as you deliver the obligatory scenes, you can smuggle in all manner of subversiveness. But when you focus on theme at the expense of the narrative, the audience is bound to get restless, if not downright perturbed. Undoubtedly, Lee miscalculated; he got so preoccupied with the father-son dynamic that he was lost sight of the essential elements. The film builds to a perfectly rousing finale (everything from the Hulk’s escape to his transformation back to Bruce Banner is top-flight stuff), but the Banner business was completely unresolved. So it comes down to this: do you like your superhero movies to get broadly theatrical (the growling therapy session feels staged for a proscenium), or would you rather they wrap up with a brief denouement a few minutes after the major action is done? I don’t see the former too often, so I relished the opportunity to watch a great filmmaker challenge the conventional boundaries of what was then an intellectually malnourished genre. Though Lee’s big, hovering cloud of CG resentment made for an uninspiring climax, it’s at least the product of genuine human pain. As for everything that comes before it… best superhero movie ever, man.
Devin Faraci Disagrees: The problem with Ang Lee’s Hulk isn’t that it mixes psychodrama with superheroics. It’s that the film does it badly. In the original comics Bruce Banner changed into the Hulk when night fell, but that soon changed and the character became about repressed rage. Over time the history of that rage was explored, with Peter David being the writer who brought the most background to Banner’s anger, including his daddy issues. The Hulk was always the superhero most in need of counseling, so Ang Lee wasn’t really breaking a whole lot of new ground with that aspect.
But while Ang Lee understood the psychological aspect of the Hulk, and while Lee is the only filmmaker yet to accept the weirdness of Marvel Comics in the 60s and 70s (the Hulk fighting a big cloud of energy is so Marvel Comics it hurts), he is never able to get these two elements together onscreen. Part of it is that Lee doesn’t seem able to unironically embrace the pulpy comic bookness of his material – he keeps that stuff at a distance with his Creepshow-esque panel layouts and scene transitions. He also doesn’t seem to understand how to make that pulpiness cinematic; in a comic the Hulk fighting mutated dogs would be a quick cool two page scene in a 22 page comic, but in a movie its a fairly retarded set piece.
Watching Ang Lee’s Hulk it’s obvious the director is making two movies – a dramatic one about a father/son relationship and a goofy one about a CGI Jekyll & Hyde. The dramatic one is more than a little boring and the goofy one is too silly, and the whiplash you get as the film careens between them is almost enough to keep you interested in the dull proceedings. I feel like people who are really into Lee’s Hulk aren’t fans because the movie is good – it simply is not – but because the thematic aspects resonate with them. I’m as much a whore for good theme as anybody (I’d rather a movie be thematically satisfying than narratively satisfying), but I do demand that the thematic exploration be happening in a movie that’s a well-assembled whole.
Although now that I think about it, maybe Hulk‘s schizophrenic aspects are reflections of the duality and Jekyll & Hyde themes… Oh well, interesting but still a bad film.