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Marvel Movies Project: Hulk

Movie poster for Hulk (2003).

I noted in my X2 post that I didn’t care for Hulk (2003) the first time I saw it. I think I feel a bit more favourable towards it now, having watched it a second time, perhaps because my expectations were lower going in.

From my original perspective, this movie had a couple of things going for it: Ang Lee and Eric Bana. I loved Eric Bana as Hector in Troy, and if I remember correctly I didn’t even see Hulk until I went on a Bana kick after seeing Troy in 2004. I tend to like Ang Lee’s work; he’s directed several excellent movies, such as Sense and SensibilityRide with the Devil, The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. At the time, I was most familiar with him from Crouching Tiger and Sense and Sensibility, which I still consider the best film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel.

Of course, it’s quite a leap to go from Jane Austen to Marvel Comics. It was a big surprise to me and probably everyone else when Ang Lee was announced as the director for this movie. I don’t love what he did with it, but I give him credit for trying to incorporate the comic book panel look. It’s interesting and it works well on occasion to make the viewer consider the differences between the two forms. Comics have that ability to show several different perspectives at once, which movies generally do not.

The film’s focus on Bruce Banner’s daddy issues was an interesting and unexpected, at least to me, direction to take. I was watching the movie and I thought to myself, is all this stuff true? By which I of course meant, did it come from the comics? I don’t think I’ve ever read a Hulk comic, so I consulted my friend Darrell, who is the biggest Hulk fan I know, and asked him to tell me a bit about the comic book background for this movie as well as his take on the film itself. He kindly agreed to contribute a couple of paragraphs for this post. Over to Darrell:

In the comics Bruce Banner’s father, Brian Banner (the name was changed to David Banner in the movie as a nod to the TV series), has become a very significant part to what makes up the Hulk even though he was introduced many years later (1985). [Meaghan’s note: The Hulk first appeared in 1962.] The storyline was started by Bill Mantlo but it was Peter David that really took off with it. At one point it was even suggested that many of the Hulk’s powers (from his well known strength to his lesser known ability to see “astral forms”) came about from Bruce’s desire to protect himself from his father ever coming back from the grave to attack him (and he eventually did just that). It’s a part of the character that has come up again and again over the years.

Knowing the role his father played in the comics, I did appreciate that the movie makers attempted to incorporate at least some of this story (with some modifications) into the movie to give some backstory to Bruce and what makes him the character he is and to attempt to give the Hulk some depth. Unfortunately, I felt it was poorly executed, receiving glances in a set of quick flashback scenes, not giving it the chance to really connect on any level. And even then, it took up enough time that everyone complains about how long it takes for the Hulk to finally appear in this film. Also, I can’t deny that the final act of this movie with the father (which does not tie in with the comics at all) is a huge letdown in pretty much every way.

I agree with Darrell that the final act is a big letdown; I still am not sure I really understand what happened during the final battle between the Hulk and his weirdly superpowered dad, but oh well. I also feel that, as much as I like Eric Bana, he is not a very good Bruce Banner. He’s alright as a nerdy scientist, but he doesn’t pull off the moments of rage very well. Jennifer Connelly, too, is not quite right as Betty Ross; Betty complains about Bruce being too unemotional, but Connelly’s restrained performance makes her seem just as bad. Pretty much everyone in the cast seems slightly off in some way.

And that sums up the viewing experience that is Hulk. I’m trying to put my finger on what exactly I think the problem was, and I’ve concluded that the rather dark, slow story doesn’t match the comic book action movie style sequences. It’s a weird mix, and I think it was a noble attempt by Ang Lee, but ultimately it just doesn’t succeed.