Director Ang Lee‘s Hulk (2003) movie is generally looked at by Marvel fans as a failure. Scorn and disdain towards it seems to be the norm. This was long before the whole “shared universe” materialized and the MCU has developed a case of amnesia about this film.
There are definitely reasons for this. First, the CGI effects are spotty. The Hulk is a bit too green and some of the interactions are spotty. Second, the superhero movie formula is not followed. This is a psychodrama, Greek tragedy and love story disguised as a superhero movie. It’s a queer duck all around.
Many complained about the “Hulk Dog” fight. And it is a strange scene, to be sure. There is certainly an element of the ridiculous in it. I suspect that might have been deliberate on Ang’s part–to create tension through the bizarre. It wasn’t terrible, though.
Also, the ending felt wrong. I think they needed a ‘superhero fight’ in there, so Ang Lee tacked one on. It’s not bad, per se, but is a jarring and radical shift.
Having said that, I really enjoyed the movie, warts and all. Eric Bana as Bruce Banner really manages to capture someone with major emotional problems who keeps his feelings buried. Jennifer Connelly does a solid job as Betty Ross, who tries to comprehend just how dysfunctional Bruce is, even as she pushes him away. Sam Elliot as General “Thunderbolt” Ross is just awesome. Of course, Sam Elliot is always
awesome. Love the guy. He could give gravitas to a Froot Loop commercial.
And then there’s Nick Nolte as Bruce’s dad, David Banner. Oh lordy. I just love this role. Nick chews scenery in this movie like Pac Man chewing up dots. He takes the brakes off and is full-on manic. Over the top? Oh, sweet Jesus, yes! Especially his final monologue to Bruce, where he literally chews the scenery! To be fair, I can’t stop watching Nick Nolte. I’d watch Nick Nolte speaking at an insurance seminar. The man is magnetic. (If you’ve never seen Mother Night, do yourself a favor and go watch it. It’s the most depressing movie that you won’t be able to stop watching.)
I also enjoyed how The Hulk moves and stumbles around in a realistic fashion. Ang Lee actually did a lot of the motion capture himself, so it would look “realistic”. It anchors the (somewhat disappointing) CGI to the world in a way more polished CGI doesn’t. You see the “realism” during the Hulk Dog fight and when he jumps. Just a small element that adds to the charm.
Ang Lee actually takes some chances in this movie. He puts in some oddball camera tricks, slow pacing and comic flourishes. Not all of them work, but I won’t condemn the man for trying to stand out and try something different. Modern Marvel movies are solidly done, but they’re also “safe”. You know there aren’t going to be too many curve balls. It’s a product and you know exactly what you’re getting. So far as DC movies, let’s note that the most “unconventional” ones–the Nolan Batman movies–are also the best. The rest are, well . . . let’s just say “bland” is the most charitable term I can use.
I’d say the superhero genre could use some more directors who want to take chances. It could use a lot more Ang Lees a lot fewer Zack Snyders.