While Ang Lee’s take on the Hulk was not the first to hit the screen, it was the first of many modern attempts to translate Marvel’s not-so-jolly green monster to film. Those repeat attempts were sorely needed as this first modern take leaves much to be desired.
Let’s remember the film’s context. It came out in 2003 when we had only seen one Spider-Man and two X-Men films. The Fantastic Four, Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers squad had not hit modern screens and the last Batman we’d seen was George Clooney. It would be five years before Marvel Studios emerged with Iron Man and developed its money-printing formula.
When the film debuted we were still trying to figure out what it means to make a “comic book movie.” But Lee took an approach similar to 2005’s Doom. Both films made great efforts to honor the aesthetic of their source material. A mistake on both occasions. Hulk is littered with so many consternating and confusing split-screen sequences (sometimes strung together for minutes at a time. One is featured below) and overused scene transitions which look more like my first PowerPoint presentations than a polished film. The film’s heart is in the right place and each individual jump cut or wipe does the job but together the film becomes dizzying. I actually did find myself enjoying some specific split-screen moments, including when the Hulk thrashes soldiers on the main image while General Thunderbolt Ross (that’s right Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt Hoooo!) gives commands in the smaller frame. Without the split screen format we would need multiple cuts to show all the action of this scene. Again, the individual use here worked but together the effects prove too much to handle. Side Note: I’ve commented on how much I like the style in Sin City but there, Rodriguez and Miller go all in, bathing every frame with color and contrast and creative camera angles. Here the story is presented like most other films with chiefly customary camera angles which are then collaged and compartmentalized into corners of the screen.
I haven’t even reached the film’s story. It drips with stereotype and inevitably there is not much of a story to tell. Many plot points are delivered in passing then covered in a deluge of extended action scenes or rather, extended scenes of the Hulk jumping through the desert or Army vehicles traveling in split screen formation. Even with all the growling and smashing the plot carries no weight.
(Note: I liked the final fight scene so much I bumped the rating up from a 3/10).
Bottomline: Overburdened with style and busy frames, Hulk‘s experiments in comic-book-movie style may have failed but the attempt helped show the genre’s bounds.
Flashback/Backslide’s Marvel Blogathon continues Monday, February 2nd with a review of The Punisher (2004) written by Drew’s Movie Reviews. Check out the most recent entry in the Blogathon; a review of 2003’s X2: X-Men United.
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