'Hulk' Review: Box Office Bomb is a Mean Green Smash
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Director Ang Lee's films often deal with the dangers of repressed emotions. This is a theme Lee explores to great effect in movies such as The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and Lust, Caution. Each of these stories explores what happens when a person's culture clashes with their inner desires. Due to Lee's obsession with this particular theme, it seems like he'd be an excellent choice to tackle the ultimate representation of bottled-up emotion: the raging green behemoth known as the Hulk.
However, despite this seemingly perfect match between director and character, audiences hated Hulk when it was released back in 2003. This is one case where the majority of the audience got it wrong, as Hulk remains one of the best translations of a comic book character to the big screen.
Like most movies that are designed to kick start franchises, Hulk is predominantly an origin story. It tells the tale of bookish scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), whose life drastically changes when he's hit with a massive dose of gamma radiation in a lab accident. After somehow surviving the disaster, Banner discovers that the radiation causes him to turn into a rampaging beast whenever he gets angry. Things that make Banner angry include his crazy father (Nick Nolte), and the military men who are determined to capture and study him.
It's easy to see why audiences rejected Lee's take on the Marvel Comics character. A summer blockbuster, especially one revolving around a giant green guy with anger problems, is supposed to be loud, action-packed and tons of fun. Instead of catering to the audience's expectations, Lee spends much of his 138 minute running time focusing on how Banner's inner rage destroys his life. He also spends much time exploring where that rage comes from, which is a topic that seems to interest him more than the Hulk himself. Lee wants to explore the way a father can destroy a son, and the way rage can infect a family for generations. It's all very heady stuff for a comic book movie.
Lee may favor thematic exploration over "Hulk smash!" action, but that doesn't mean the movie isn't extremely entertaining. Lee's decision to shoot the film like a comic book come to life, with the scenes framed in constantly moving comic panels, is wonderfully innovative and delightful to watch. While some of the action may be lacking, there's an epic sequence with the Hulk rampaging from Nevada to San Francisco that's tremendously thrilling and visually spectacular. Add in an amazing score from composer Danny Elfman and you have a two-hour plus movie that flies by.
Despite all my praise, I'll be the first to admit that Hulk isn't a perfect film. The lead performances from Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly are a bit on the bland side, some of the action sequences are underwhelming, and Lee never quite figures out what to do in the third act. The climactic standoff between father and son makes sense on a thematic level, but its resolution is rushed and slightly confusing. Hulk needed to go out with a bang, but instead it goes out with a bit of a shrug.
When it was released in 2003, Hulk became known for having one of the biggest second weekend drop-offs in box office history. When Marvel decided to reboot the franchise with The Incredible Hulk five years later, everyone involved made sure to let the audience know that the new film would be completely different from Ang Lee's version. It's as if they were apologizing for Lee's creation, but Hulk isn't a film to be ashamed of. It may be more of a thoughtful meditation on the nature of rage than an action-packed summer blockbuster, but this Hulk is still a smash.
- Don Williams, BuddyTV Staff Writer
(Image courtesy of Universal)