Hulk: Ang Lee Film Marks Its 20th Anniversary

Eric Bana in Hulk. Courtesy of Universal.

Ang Lee brings his own style to Hulk and makes the film stand apart from other comic book movies as it marks its 20th anniversary.

This film is not a disaster. Sure, the visual effects work make it stand apart from what we’ve seen in other Marvel movies. It really wasn’t until The Avengers in which someone finally gave us the right balance between Bruce Banner and the Hulk. When they recast Eric Bana with Edward Norton in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, I remember thinking, why? In retrospect, I understand why they chose to go that route but I didn’t think that Bana was terrible whatsoever.

When one thinks of comic book movies, Ang Lee is not the first filmmaker that comes to mind. The Oscar winner is a brilliant filmmaker and brings something to the genre that no other filmmaker would ever dare think to bring. This is an ambitious film that features a mixture of psychology and drama, which are in Lee’s wheelhouse. However, they’re also mixed in with some less-than-stellar VFX, which bring the film down. Because of Lee, there’s a bigger focus on the father-son relationship and more of an arthouse feel to the film. It’s something that we don’t even get in the 2008 reboot or Avengers films. Lee goes for split-screen imagery, which is easier said than done.

Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is one of the smartest scientists working in all of the Marvel universe. Unfortunately, he also puts himself in harm’s way during a Gamma explosion. While the comics have him saving Rick Jones, the movie has him save Harper’s life. What should have killed him ends up evolving him into some sort of monstrous green giant. It’s not until the later Marvel films in which filmmakers explore Banner and Hulk sharing the same body. The Ang Lee film is heavier on dialogue than the action we know and love in all the Marvel films. It may have been a flaw upon release but something about it has changed throughout the years.

In the film, David “Dave” Banner (Nick Nolte/Paul Kersey) had performed genetic experiments on himself. Not long after, wife Edith becomes pregnant and Bruce Banner is born. The elder Banner realizes Bruce isn’t normal and starts becoming rather abusive towards his wife especially after General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Sam Elliott) shuts down his research. Meanwhile, the ingredients for Bruce becoming this monstrous green giant was there long before the gamma exposure. Anyway, one would assume that General Ross would be the main antagonist. Instead, it’s David Banner serving as such. It’s certainly quite the father-son story with the father driving his son to become the Hulk, even sending mutated dogs after Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly). Meanwhile, Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) has his own agenda.

Hulk is a character that grew out of the Cold War and also, Stan Lee wanting to create a character inspired by the likes of Frankenstein’s Monster and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Combine the two of them together and the result is The Incredible Hulk in May 1962. The character has become a fan favorite through the years, appearing on both the small and big screen. Obviously, there’s a question of rights issues that are preventing more solo films from seeing the light of day.

Of all the comic book movies to hit the big screen, this film probably went through the most hell. Development started in 1990 with both directors and screenwriters coming and going. While James Schamus did most of the work on the screenplay, his script used elements that both John Turman and Michael France’s script. That’s why both of them have credit for the final screenplay.

Hulk has long been a misunderstood film but it’s a very different type of comic book movie and should be reappraised as such. In a world where the Spider-Verse and Multiverse exists, I would love to see Eric Bana return to the role, even if it’s a one-off cameo. I also understand if Bana feels the ship as sailed.

SCREENWRITERS: John Turman and Michael France and James Schamus
CAST: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, and Nick Nolte

Universal released Hulk in theaters on June 20, 2003. Grade: 3.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.