Thoughts on… Hulk (2003)

Hulk, 2003.

Directed by Ang Lee.
Starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte, and Josh Lucas.


An accident results in a scientist turning into a big green monster whenever he gets angry.

The question I’m left pondering once the credits have rolled is – was Ang Lee the right person to direct Hulk? His previous feature film was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), and he followed Hulk with Brokeback Mountain (2005). Now, I’m not claiming a director can’t be versatile, but Ang Lee at the helm of a blockbuster superhero movie? Colour me apprehensive.

I’m not particularly familiar with the Hulk, in either his comic book or his television form, so I have no means of comparison. When it comes to Hulk, too many elements just fell flat for there to be any semblance of enjoyment. To start with, the story is far too long and attempts to spin too many plates. It’s never clear if this is a film serving as a character study probing anger issues, a love story, an examination of the sins of the father, an attack on the American military, or just a blockbuster where CGI things fight and/or explode. The story is lacking a definitive direction, roaming across ideas but never settling long enough to hook the audience. If the ten minute long introduction that does little but reveal a repressed memory we’ll revisit later doesn’t bore you, the painful forty minute wait until the Hulk is unleashed will certainly seal the deal.

You’d think, for a film titled Hulk, there would be something of a rush to get to the Hulk. I could forgive the long wait if the film tried to give Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) some characterisation to get us on his side, but he’s just presented as a scientist lacking a personality. Knowing that he’ll inevitably become the Hulk, it would have made sense to try and get us to sympathise with Banner, so when the mindless destruction comes we’ll at least have a character to root for once the dust settles. Instead, it’s the far more interesting ex-girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) that attracts attention – she’s layered and, much like the audience, trying to get through to Banner to make a connection. This likeability factor largely comes down to acting capability, with Connelly admirably demonstrating range and Bana proving that he can’t shoulder the responsibilities of a complex character without looking mildly constipated.

Unfortunately, Hulk is also somewhat lacking in a definitive villain. Initially, it would appear that Talbot (a fantastically smarmy Josh Lucas) is being positioned as the big bad. He’s superseded by Betty’s disapproving over-protective father, Ross (Sam Elliott), an army general. With the U.S. military to contend with, the Hulk must then also address family issues of his own in the form of his father, David Banner (Nick Nolte). The lack of focus results in many CGI showdowns, but no strong antagonist that we want to see Hulk smashed.

Then, of course, there is the computer wizardry. It may be due to its time, but the Hulk really is a sorry looking creature. Undoubtedly many hours were spent on animating the Hulk, but he just doesn’t look very good. This could be a problem inherent with the character that is worked around in the comic books, but the transformation scenes are laughable in a real-life setting. That said, the explosions are pretty – which one would expect from a big budget blockbuster film.

We arrive back at the question should Ang Lee have directed Hulk? To answer, I offer as evidence my major problem with the film – it lacks a sense of fun. This film tries so hard to be taken seriously and to legitimise what could have been a smashing time, that it just completely forgets ingredients necessary for a good film – a good story told well via enjoyable characters. With the Hulk, you expect a certain amount of mindless destruction – what you don’t expect is a heartless story. Hulk needs to be Hulk smashed into oblivion.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★

Liam Underwood

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