HULK SMASH!!!! After nearly 13 years of being passed around like a hot potato, Ang Lee’s Hulk made its official debut onto the silver screen. Coming fresh off the acclaim of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee set his sights on his next big project: a character drama about a big green meathead who has some daddy issues. With X-Men and Spider-Man proving to be absolute bangers with the general audience, it was only natural that the Hulk would be next; I mean, hell, they even got Spider-Man’s composer Danny Elfman to score this thing! Perhaps it was misguided ambition to make such a somber film out of a character who turns green and smashes things; or, considering that Batman Begins would come out two years later, perhaps we just weren’t ready for it. Regardless, Hulk still remains a fascinating entry into a genre that was still finding its place in the cinematic landscape.
First things first: the plot. Eric Bana’s Bruce Banner is a genetics researcher with some buried trauma that he needs to work out. One day, after a science experiment goes wrong, the gamma unleashes something that’s been laying dormant since childhood: Ronnie from Jersey Shore!!! If you’ve read the comics, then you know how this goes. It’s a tale as old as time and a song as old as rhyme, but instead of doubling down on the camp, Hulk feels more serious and meditative. I don’t know if you guys know this, but Hulk’s really a character drama about repressed trauma and Bruce’s traumas are resurfaced with the arrival of his father David Banner, the man responsible for creating the Hulk.
Speaking of David Banner, Nick Nolte’s performance is like a fine Christmas ham, only if you left the ham to bake in a dumpster for an entire week. Nolte legitimately looks so unkempt that you can practically smell him from the screen. While Nolte is doing his thing, Eric Bana kinda just mopes around with nothing much to do. Eric Bana is fine, but if we were to rank him against Norton and Ruffalo, Bana would be ranked last. Bruce Banner is a cipher in this film, which isn’t something you want for a film that’s such a slow-burn. Some will stick with it while others will tune out, but for those who stuck with Ang Lee’s vision, he rewards you with an emotionally impactful third act.
The sequence in question is between Bruce and David Banner as both finally come face to face. Whatever feelings you might have about Hulk up until this point, this final confrontation was always the endgame for Hulk’s story. With Bruce’s repressed memories finally resurfaced, it’s time for him to confront his father one last time. Nolte goes all out and leaves nothing on the table as he delivers one of the greatest monologues of any superhero film. The final battle might not be the strongest fight sequence in a superhero film and in fact looks a quite dated by today’s CGI standards, but it’s what it represents that ultimately makes it such a crucial moment in the film.
Hulk is really weird man, even for a superhero film. For fans of the MCU or superhero films in general, the unconventional nature of Ang Lee’s Hulk might enthrall you or repulse you, but it will stick with you in some way regardless. Hulk comes so close to greatness, but Bruce Banner is such an underwritten character that it’s difficult to buy into what’s going on. There’s also a weird action sequence between the Hulk and a trio of mutant poodles that throws off the serious vibe that the film was going for. It’s a tragedy disguised as a superhero film and despite its imperfections, Hulk still proves to be a thoughtful and emotional journey about a man learning to come to terms with his emotions.