I know the current “Avengers” movies are popular right now, and everybody digs Mark Ruffalo’s version of the Hulk (myself included), however I still consider Ang Lee’s 2003 “Hulk” to be one of the finest comic book based movies ever made, and contrary to popular belief, one of the most faithful. Being a true fan of the Hulk comics from the 70’s to now, I think I can say this with credibility. I’m also coming from the angle that the 70’s TV show is not the real Hulk.
First, Ang Lee’s film is extremely faithful to the comics. Watching the movie, it was as if some scenes were lifted right out of the Stan Lee stories. Hulk fighting army tanks in the desert, Hulk leaping over canyon cliffs, Hulk touching the reaches of space, and yes, even Hulk dogs are from the comics. Hulk’s father in the movie is directly based on Bruce’s father in the comics, Brian Banner, who was abusive and allegedly had a hand in Hulk’s origin. The many villain incarnations that David Banner takes on at the end of the film are not just the Absorbing Man, but are an amalgam of many of the Hulk’s villains including Zzzax.
Second, Ang Lee’s film was less about simply showing “Hulk Smash” and more about the idea of the Hulk. The idea of evolution, the idea of repression and subsequent freedom from that repression. It’s interesting that every Ang Lee film is similarly about this idea of repression. Repressed gay cowboys, repressed women in China, a repressed slave finding freedom after the Civil War, etc. The evolution idea is expressed in the food chain of “Hulk” creatures we see in the movie. First a frog, then dogs, Hulk himself, and then a near “Hulk god” in David Banner. Evolution is also cinematically expressed in the morph edits seen throughout the film. Contrary to popular belief, the multi-frame editing was not just about mimicking a comic book, it was about expressing the idea of freedom from repression, of seeing something from different angles, different points of view, different sides, much like Bruce has a “different side” to him. If you notice, the multi-angles many times show us the same subject but from a different camera angle. The idea of the Hulk is also metaphorically visually expressed through the imagery of atomic mushroom clouds and jellyfish, two visually similar objects. It expresses the idea that this Hulk was born of two of the greatest known forces in the universe, genetic and atomic force.
It’s Ang Lee’s masterful filmmaking, strong use of visual metaphor, and faithfulness to the original comics that really sets his Hulk film apart for me. Perhaps the one scene that really spells out what Ang Lee is doing and also brought me back to the old comics was that first close-up we see of Hulk free and jumping through the desert to Danny Elfman’s haunting music. Classic.
10 out of 10 stars