#9: Hulk (2003)
The Hulk is not a complicated character, which makes it all the more confusing to me that it’s taken so many tries to get him on the big screen successfully. Doing so was arguably one of the best accomplishments of Joss Whedon’s masterpiece The Avengers, which did so brilliantly. Prior to this, we had The Incredible Hulk (2008), by far the most lackluster of the Avengers origin films. This was especially disappointing given how much had been made of the fact that Edward Norton (who was reasonably good as Bruce Banner/The Hulk) had personally rewritten parts of the script (which didn’t really show.)
But it was universally agreed upon that this mediocre venture represented a vast improvement over the first attempt to bring the character to the big screen, Hulk (2003). If calling the film simply “Hulk” rather than “The Hulk” or something along those lines sounds pretentious, it is only the symptom of a much larger problem.
Debatably, this could have been a good film if it weren’t purporting to be a Hulk film. The action and special effects were reasonably exciting at times, and the drama of Bruce Banner’s (Eric Bana) relationship with Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) was reasonably believable. Yeah, okay: that was a lot of qualifiers. But even if a good film could have somehow been salvaged out of this mess, a good Hulk movie definitely could not. The tone of this film was just completely wrong for the Hulk. The film was so heavy, it felt downright oppressive. I know Hulk’s condition is somewhat analogous to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but I’m sorry: I didn’t realize his life was a Greek tragedy.
More than its overly serious, borderline depressing tone, this film just had awful pacing. It was far too long, far too slow, and honestly, for the most part, outright boring. We’re talking about the guy who gets angry, turns into a giant green monster, and yells, “Hulk smash!” while leaving destruction in his wake. I suppose I should view the filmmakers’ ability to make that boring as something of an accomplishment.
The main plot of this film, when it decides to have one in the final ten minutes or so, ends up bringing Bruce’s father (David Banner, played by Nick Nolte) back into the story and turning him into a bizarre combination of two completely different villains (Absorbing Man and Zzzax), neither of whom is related to David Banner at all in the comics. I guess the idea here was that tying the main conflict of the film (which, again, didn’t happen until the end of the film) in with Bruce’s family would somehow make it more meaningful, but really it was just as boring as the rest of this overly long, monotone film.
If you read interviews with the cast and crew, it really isn’t difficult to see what went wrong here. All of them talk about how this is a completely different take on the character, how it’s more serious and psychological in nature, and more of a tragedy. When you think you’re above your source material, it becomes very difficult to do it justice on the screen. If you want to tell a different story, tell a different story. Something where all this heavy-handed tragedy wouldn’t be so painfully out of place, though I have trouble imagining it being anything but weighty and boring without some serious reworking.