Marvel Movie Madness! Part 2: Hulk

Underrated or appropriately maligned?

Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.


Part 2: Hulk (2003, 62% @ 227 reviews)
Directed by Ang Lee, starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliot, Nick Nolte

Jeff: Marvel books have been the inspiration for plenty of disappointing movies, but I'm not sure any of them stung as badly as Hulk. Of all the characters who seemingly stood to benefit from modern special effects and a smart director, this guy had to top the list -- but while we were watching a paint-covered Lou Ferrigno and thinking about how much cooler a comic-sized Hulk would be, we never stopped to consider how much harder it'd be to build a real human drama around him -- or, just as importantly, meaningful fight scenes. Two words: gamma dogs.


Luke: About half an hour into this movie, bored little kids started doing laps in the theater. I was hoping they'd keep running around and wreck the place -- at least they were entertaining, which is more than could be said for this sorry pile up of faux heavy drama and cartoon CGI. Hey look, I'm Ang Lee and I'm making a comic book movie! You can tell because I keep sliding the panels across the screen! Just like, you know, in a comic book! Even when Yoda from Attack of the Clones showed up to trash some tanks, the kids still didn't sit down. I should have joined them.

Jeff: What really bothered me about the sliding panels was that Lee was trying to create a real serious drama with Hulk, but he kept taking the audience out by cluttering it up with those "I'm making a comic book movie!" gimmicks. It puts a distance between the viewer and the characters, so by the time Nick Nolte is spraying through his climactic monologue, all we can do is laugh. Hulk still wouldn't have been a good movie without the comic-style editing, but it would've have less schizophrenic.

Tim: I went to a matinee with my brother and his wife, and there was this family a few rows ahead of us with these two little kids running around the theater screaming. We left after a half hour in a lousy mood, but not because of the movie, which we agreed was intriguing. As I sat down to watch it in its entirety the other night, thought to myself, "When is this supposed to get bad?" I understand what you guys are saying about the self-conscious attempt to mimic the experience of a comic book, but I disagree: One of the most interesting aspects of Hulk is its bold stylistic palette. Lee is able to meld the kinetic energy of reading a comic with the airy, evocative mood of an art film -- those early scenes of a young Bruce wandering around his boyhood home have a sense of patience and beauty that wouldn't look out of place in your average Director's Fortnight entry, while the split panels pack information onto the screen without distracting from the main points of interest. And as with Brokeback Mountain and The Ice Storm, Lee doesn't bog the whole thing down with unnecessary exposition. A lot of superhero origin stories over-explain things, but the actors in Hulk do a good job of playing their roles with admirable restraint, creating three dimensional characters within the admittedly limited confines of the material.


Jeff: Wait, wait, wait. Did you say restraint? I thought we were talking about the Hulk that stars Eric Bana and Spittlin' Nick Nolte.

Tim: I'm just saying there's a little more shading than your typical comic book movie. Actually, that's the biggest problem with Hulk -- it's a superhero movie that's not really a superhero movie. I hate to say this, but the inherent problem with Hulk is the Hulk himself. The appeal of the comic is obvious -- Bruce Banner is cold and cerebral, while the Hulk is his raging id -- but the movie does something altogether different. It promises Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but gives us King Kong instead. All the while, we're stuck in a strange position. Do we root for the Hulk? Pity him? Marvel at the fact that he's completely unstoppable? I think audiences were expecting "Hulk smash!" and were disappointed when they got "Hulk struggling to deal with traumatic, confusing nature of Hulk's existence." What can you do with the Hulk? He's indestructible, has no control over his strange gifts, and for most of the movie he doesn't have anyone to fight except the military -- and they're not inherently malevolent. So other than feeling protective of Jennifer Connelly, his actions aren't really his own, and we don't get the satisfaction of watching our hero battle the forces of evil. Ultimately, I like Hulk -- heck, I like most of it quite a bit -- but it's not an unqualified success because its makers never really figured out how to make its central character sympathetic.

Jeff: I agree -- that's what I was getting at with my opening comment. A big ol' Hulk seemed like it'd be the coolest thing ever...and then he showed up on the screen. In the comics, Hulk has meaningful enemies, but he's also got decades of backstory; the problem with giving him an origin tale on the big screen is that the rules say you've gotta have action, and the screenwriter doesn't have the luxury of spending two hours showing Banner on the run. But that's what I think it'd take to really build the kind of framework you need to invest an audience in a movie about a giant green monster who doesn't really speak. And I know that's what Lee was trying to compensate for by tilting his focus toward all that internal struggle, but I think he undercut his efforts with all those self-consciously "comics" gimmicks. They repeatedly took me out of the movie. Ultimately, I didn't hate Hulk, but I never cared about what was happening, either.

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Comments

THEREWOLF

Markus Arbutina

I didn't mind Eric Bana as Banner, I didn't think the movie was terrible except for the part with the Gamma Dogs. The Incredible Hulk was a much better film though. I actually think Bana would have been a good replacement for Norton in The Avengers.

May 11 - 05:25 PM

Daniel L.

Daniel Lima

Nah Norton makes a much better Hulk then Bana. Norton has a lot more in common to Baner in the comic books, and besides, look at Norton, he is a skinny tormented white male. Bana is somehow bulked.

May 13 - 07:59 AM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

....Nah, Hulk fucking sucked.

May 11 - 05:31 PM

Unbreakable Samurai

Unbreakable Samurai

I agree, I gave it a D+, didn't like it at all.

May 13 - 05:31 PM

Christopher G.

Christopher Gallagher

I agree with Tim. I liked Hulk. It is a film that has gotten better with age. Even though, at the time, I was expecting an action packed movie, I didn't walk away from the theater disappointed. I was surprised how well this CGI creature displayed feelings and emotion. It's an amazing sight to see when Hulk is jumping through the air to escape the tanks and it looks as if he's flying. Even today, Ang Lee's CGI Hulk still looks good. It definitely looks a lot better than the CGI monstrosity in The Incredible Hulk.

May 11 - 05:40 PM

August M.

Agustin Macias

Enjoyed this one, although I can't decide which one is better since some elements of this movie I enjoyed more than the Incredible Hulk and vice versa. I guess I like them equally.

May 11 - 05:49 PM

Stepping Razor

Stepping Razor

I haven't watched it in a long time, but it wasn't the worst comic-book movie. There are more recent superhero movies that are worse.

I think my initial reaction after seeing it that one time was that it feels like watching a train wreck in slow-motion. But that doesn't mean all the elements were awful. The movie just didn't hold together as well as it could have.

I should go back and watch it again. I might appreciate it more now. And, I agree with those who say that Eric Bana made for a good Dr. Banner.

And just look at their last names: Bana... Banner. Can't beat that on a promo poster. :)

May 11 - 05:55 PM

Hollywood Karma

kevinsmithsux Last

Yeah... especially since you can't tell if he's saying Bana or Banner because of his accent.... that gave me a good chuckle. Sorry.

May 11 - 07:28 PM

Zach Thomas

Zach Idiculla

haha, me too man

May 12 - 06:05 AM

J. Pack

Jeremy Pack

Yea. I also liked "HULK". I like its thoughtfulness and art house-esque elegance that it could at times portray. The Gamma Dogs were silly but I saw it as a minor set back. Length is also another downside to this film but that is ultimately due to the establishment of character and providing depth while still having to include an adequate amount of action. (a la the somewhat recent Bond reboot "Casino Royale"). I do ultimately end up liking "Incredible Hulk" over "Hulk" slightly. This is mostly due to a shorter running time that is directly an effect of the "Incredible Hulk" bypassing the origin story almost completely, had it not been for the opening credits.

May 11 - 06:05 PM

Murdoch

Murdoch +

you know . . . . now that i think about it: after seeing it twice. . . i don't think i even understand Hulk's origin story . . . .. . i mean, his childhood was told in flashbacks throughout the rest of the film, and i never really understood what was Banner's dad doing with: the gamma rays, bruce as an infant, his mom's death etc. etc. the whole thing was just too wanky (wanky's a word, right?)

May 11 - 07:04 PM

General Wiz

Carlos Flores

According to spell check on my computer, no.

May 11 - 07:10 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

I think the word you're looking for is "Wonky", "Wanky" could be interpreted as something else entirely.

May 11 - 07:29 PM

Murdoch

Murdoch +

Nah . . . wonky sounds too much like Willy Wonka . . . . that guy was a total wanker!

May 11 - 07:44 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

Heh.. you should take up rapping!

May 11 - 08:06 PM

Sean N.

Sean Nasuti

Honestly this Hulk is really underwhelming.

Don't get me wrong, it worked as a drama, the cast (especially Bana) did a good job.

But...

It got really boring at times.

The 'comic-book' like camera shots were kind of annoying to me.

The design of the Hulk looks too cartoony in this film.

May 11 - 06:06 PM

J. Pack

Jeremy Pack

yea. there were definitely boring parts you had to get through.

May 12 - 07:49 PM

General Wiz

Carlos Flores

I agree with Tim. Of course, the Visual effects for Hulk are from what impressive, but it's still a enjoyable movie. It's different from other superhero flicks, and is alot like a sized down king Kong. Like a Frankenstein's monster movie where Frankenstein is the monster. In the end, a solid monster movie, nothing more, nothing less.

May 11 - 06:13 PM

wolverqueen 1.

wolverqueen 101

It was very very very bad.

You are all buying into Ang Lee's intellectual wankfest and trying to explain and justify what was in fact just a total load of bollocks.

The hulk CGI was terrible, the acting was dreary, the story utterly boring and did anyone say action? There wasn't any.

Stop trying to be wanky art students and start being hulk lovers and then the obviousness of how bad it is will hit you over the head.

May 11 - 06:35 PM

General Wiz

Carlos Flores

Well I would say hulk is in no way a " wanky art movie" Of course, it does take itself too seriously at times for it's own good, but that doesn't make it terribly bad, nor does it make those of us who like it "wanky art students." Whatever wanky means.

May 11 - 06:49 PM

wolverqueen 1.

wolverqueen 101

YES IT DOES...

May 11 - 09:36 PM

doomzdavo

Doomz Davo

I bought the Hulk when it first came out on DVD, and I haven't seen it since. Not because Hurricane Ike destroyed my entire original DVD collection(I have since started my collection over). But because it was too dark in a bad way. These days you never know what you're going to get with a comic book adaption. This was a bad one. Nick Nolte really fouled this movie up. Not that he is a bad actor. His character was freakin terrible. The acting all around was good. But the story was shit. This one was a no go. I'd rank it right next to Jonah Hex and Punisher Warzone.

May 11 - 06:42 PM

algreen99

AL Green

Hulk was too dark for Doomz? Just the other day you told someone you were going to skull fuck their mom hahaha




May 12 - 05:44 AM

doomzdavo

Doomz Davo

hahahaha. I just busted out laughing Al.

May 12 - 10:05 AM

General Wiz

Carlos Flores

Well I would say hulk is in no way a " wanky art movie" Of course, it does take itself too seriously at times for it's own good, but that doesn't make it terribly bad, nor does it make those of us who like it "wanky art students." Whatever wanky means.

May 11 - 06:49 PM

wolverqueen 1.

wolverqueen 101

YES IT DOES...

May 11 - 09:36 PM

Murdoch

Murdoch +

you know . . . . now that i think about it: after seeing it twice. . . i don't think i even understand Hulk's origin story . . . .. . i mean, his childhood was told in flashbacks throughout the rest of the film, and i never really understood what was Banner's dad doing with: the gamma rays, bruce as an infant, his mom's death etc. etc. the whole thing was just too wanky (wanky's a word, right?)

May 11 - 07:04 PM

General Wiz

Carlos Flores

According to spell check on my computer, no.

May 11 - 07:10 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

I think the word you're looking for is "Wonky", "Wanky" could be interpreted as something else entirely.

May 11 - 07:29 PM

Murdoch

Murdoch +

Nah . . . wonky sounds too much like Willy Wonka . . . . that guy was a total wanker!

May 11 - 07:44 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

Heh.. you should take up rapping!

May 11 - 08:06 PM

Andrew M.

Andrew McGregor

I quite enjooyed, but I watched it when I was like 10 or eleven (odd I know). I really would like to watch the film now to see how a feel about it since I transformed into a total movie snob and cinephile.

May 11 - 07:09 PM

kalikoda

nick c

is a cinephile like a paedophile ? do you sneak around watching kids movies hoping no one catches you doing it?

May 11 - 11:26 PM

General Wiz

Carlos Flores

According to spell check on my computer, no.

May 11 - 07:10 PM

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