Written by David Holland
I have really been enjoying the early 2000’s, pre-MCU, walk down memory lane in this Reflections series. It was an era of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. Comic book movies were still figuring themselves out and the idea of a shared universe was little more than a dream. Hulk enters this conversation in a pretty interesting way. Most people have a passing understanding of Hulk’s origin, probably less so than Spider-Man or Batman but more than Ghost Rider or Daredevil. After all, there had been a 1970’s era TV series starring Lou Ferrigno and a few made-for-TV movies. This leaves enough space to tell an interesting story but enough foundation for an audience to know they should expect some smashing. Director Ang Lee went pretty heavy on the former and maybe just a little light on the latter.
Your reaction to “Hulk” may vary depending on what you want out of your superhero movies. These blockbusters need enough plot to tell a story but enough action to keep people eating popcorn and paying for repeat showings. With this particular character, you also have to decide how you are going to treat the Banner/Hulk dichotomy. The film does a good job addressing Banner’s identity crisis. He tells Betty that when Hulk takes over, he likes it. Unlike later cinematic versions, in which Banner is constantly trying to keep Hulk under control, this one flirts with the idea that Banner is actually tempted to transform. “Hulk” is definitely a more serious superhero movie. There is no MCU style banter, and Lee commented that he was inspired by Greek tragedies. Lee is famous for tackling projects that deal with repressed memories and internal struggles, such as “Life of Pi”, and “Hulk” definitely fits in that genre even as a superhero movie.
This movie might just take itself a little too seriously. Hulk doesn’t even show up until forty-two minutes in. That’s a lot of time spent on an origin story that “The Incredible Hulk” managed to tell in the opening credits. Part of the reason it takes so long is that we have to establish the layers upon layers of trauma in Bruce’s life. By the time all of this is accomplished, there’s not enough time left for smashing.
Lee often uses a split screen or layers multiple shots over each other to give the sense of a page on a comic book. It works in some cases, but sometimes it falls flat. Talbot’s death, for example, was supposed to be serious but just made me laugh at how ridiculous the final product looked.
A lot of these criticisms are personal. Certainly the serious tone or unique shooting style might work for some folks. I think another serious challenge for anyone making a solo Hulk movie is the character itself. Hulk is fueled by anger and therefore isn’t always good, and a lot of the damage he leaves behind is collateral. One of the most famous Hulk runs in Marvel comics was “World War Hulk”, where the rest of the Marvel universe had to team up to stop him from taking revenge on them. Of course, the only reason he wanted revenge was because of that one time in “Planet Hulk” where they tricked him, launched him into space, and accidentally marooned him on a dystopian gladiator planet. This is probably the other best Hulk run in recent history and it would be a challenge to adapt because it doesn’t take place on Earth. That is probably why all of the best parts of “Planet Hulk” were woven into “Thor: Ragnarok”.
Why Hulk no smash more?
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