A controversial movie upon release, Hulk split fans down the middle. Some appreciated the very dark and somber approach the movie took toward the title character, relying more on character dynamics to sell the premise. Other fans, however, were let down by the lack of action and metaphorical ending that, well, confused a lot of people. But now with the new The Incredible Hulk feature hitting theatres, it’s time to look back at Green Goliath’s first attempt at a big-screen franchise and why it’s actually a better movie than most people realize. So, let’s check the synopsis and get on with the review!
Adopted as a child, Bruce (Eric Bana) knows nothing about his parents and their story. Plagued by unexpected nightmares and teased by classmates, Bruce continually struggles with tumulous fits of embarrassment, anxiety and rage. As a genetic scientist studying the regenerative effects of gamma radiation on damaged tissue, Bruce wages an escalating battle with an unknown monster inside him. Catalysed by a freak lab accident, Bruce’s inner conflict culminates when he becomes the most powerful being on the face of the earth – the Hulk. General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (Sam Elliot) – backed by an army of tanks, helicopters and soldiers – aims to destroy the powerful and ever-growing Hulk. Banner – a hunted abomination – strives to mend his relationship with General Ross’s daughter, Betty (Jennifer Connelly), and uncover the answers to his enigmatic past.
Now, let me get this out of the way by saying that I loved this movie. Even with the problematic ending, I still loved it. I thought the special effects were absolutely stunning, I thought the story was great, and I thought the acting was right on par. I thought it was a hit right out of the park. However, I did happen to notice a substantial lack of smashing, but that didn’t bother me one bit. But I know it bothered others, and boy did it ever. After a smashing first weekend, the movie fell hard and eventually disappeared before gaining somewhat of a second life on DVD. And now that the new The Incredible Hulk is upon us, I wouldn’t be surprised if more than a few people turn their eyes back toward this excellent 2003 movie.
Instead of progressing through this move in a somewhat chronological order, I’m just going to jump right to the end of it, the final climactic battle. Now, it’s definitely not a battle that people expected. It’s a showdown between the Hulk and his father, who’s gained the ability to take on the consistency and shape of other object, basically absorbing their properties (yes, very much like the classic Thor villain The Absorbing Man). And this battle eventually ends at a lake where it seems like dear ol’ dad has finished off the Hulk. However, when the Absorbing Man goes to absorb Hulk’s power, it’s too much to handle and we get a rather . . . metaphorical viewpoint of it. The Absorbing Man turns into a huge cloud of energy, where memories flicker here and there coupled with disjointed voices, ever-growing, until the military blows it up. And that’s it.
And yes, it’s more confusing than it sounds. I get what Ang Lee was going for, no question, but what we end up seeing on screen is a bit difficult to make out, especially with it splashed in so much black and darkness. I can understand why many would be upset with what is basically a very anti-climactic ending.
What astonishes me about this movie is how this would never get made today. I know, a mere five years later, but I am convinced a Hulk movie, with this script, would never pass today. Things have really changed for Marvel over the previous few years and given how much control they now have over their movies, I don’t think they’d dare let this radical of a movie, with this radical of a reinvention on the character, stand. Granted, it’s not that major of a change for Hulk’s character, but there are enough differences to make it stray quite a bit from source material, something that will definitely displease the hard-core fans.
Now, personally, I enjoyed the film. I thought, for the most part, it was a great ride. I did have a few problems with it, namely the weak scene where Bruce Banner is doused with Gamma radiation, the death scene for one of Hulk’s most petulant adversaries, and the final climactic battle which is actually engaging up until the very end of it, as it sort of peters out into an anti-climactic mess. Now, what I enjoyed about this film was how it was powered by human emotion. In fact, the majority of this movie runs on pure, complex emotions, with people trying to make sense of their complicated lives. People, who repressed themselves all their lives, dealing with the arrival of new and complicated feelings. It’s very well executed, I find, and was what had me so engaged in the film in the first place. I couldn’t help but watch as these people . . . interact.
And they do interact. A lot. A great majority of the film is people talking and just . . . talking everything out. If I recall, Hulk is actually on screen for about 20 or so minutes, give or take, of the entire 140 minute run time. Given the small fraction, you better believe that the movie finds other ways to fill up time. A lot of talking, a lot of symbolic shots, a lot of metaphors, all of that. In fact, this almost seems to be a very “sci-fi Shakespearean” take on the character, or a superhero opera. There’s so much tragedy here that you can’t help but get overwhelmed at the horrible lives these characters live. It’s unbelievable all of the tragedy, lies, and conflict that arises. But ultimately, to me, that helps to sell the movie. The human drama, which, to me, is the real epicenter of this whole movie. Sure, it’s called Hulk, but there’s more going on there.
For all of the flaws, for all of the dense scenes, for all of the scenes where Hulk should be smashing but doesn’t, I still found this to be a great little movie. It’s definitely one movie that you have to commit yourself to watching. There is a lot that goes on within these 140 minutes and while there are some great action scenes, with CGI that still holds up to this day, it’s more of an afterthought. This movie is more about the human condition, no question, and it’s pulled off quite well. The actors all do a stunning job and Ang Lee directs some really tense moments between these characters. Now, it does have flaws, but I’d still say Hulk is worth checking out, and comes cautiously Recommended.
Hulk arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with an insert inside advertising the Blu-ray format. Disc art mimics the cover and menus follow the usual Universal “blade” layout. The big surprises here come from the video and audio transfer, which, while it is Blu-ray, is actually remarkable looking. I somehow expected it to be a lackluster transfer, but the film holds up remarkably well under scrutiny of the 1080p resolution, boasting high levels of detail and remarkable clarity throughout the film. Night scenes have appropriate black levels and everything looks as it should; it certainly doesn’t have an issue in the video department and the crazy visual style and editing done for the film translates to a very unique viewing experience. The audio is a powerhouse with an English DTS-HD MA track that rumbles and sweeps across the room at all the right moments. If English isn’t your fortay, DTS 5.1 tracks in French, French Canadian, German, Castilian Spanish, L.A. Spanish, Italian and Japanese are included as well. Subtitles in French, French Canadian, Italian, German, Castilian Spanish, L.A. Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Traditional Mandarin are available.
Extras here are merely a repeat from the previous 2003 DVD release. First is a commentary by Ang Lee who likes to go for long stretches of time without saying anything, but maintains an interesting track throughout regardless. You have to have a lot of patience with him as it can get dry, but when he does speak it’s often very enlightening about what he was trying to do with the film. Moving on we have a mixture of deleted scenes (5:51) as well as a mixture of featurettes to sort through. Sadly all of these extras are presented in standard definition.
“The Making of Hulk” (23:43) takes us through the production of the film, while “Evolution of the Hulk” (16:18) talks about the characters comic book origins and the transition to different mediums. “The Incredible Ang Lee” (14:29) covers the brilliance of the film’s director (a bit egotistical, but, hey…if they want to do an extra on that…) and “The Dog Fight Scene” (10:10) covers the brutal fight scene in-depth, with plenty of commentary on how the scene was constructed and done. Finally we have “The Unique Style of Editing The Hulk” (5:34), which discusses the films sometimes crazy visuals that certainly made for one visually interesting film.
Overall Hulk receives solid Blu-ray treatment that is well worth the upgrade if you enjoyed the film. As is the already fantastic audio/video transfer from the DVD may be more than enough for some, but the clarity of this release cannot be denied—it looks and sounds absolutely fantastic. Recommended.
Hulk is now available on Blu-ray.
This review was co-written by James Harvey (film portion) and Zach Demeter (Blu-ray portion).