Just to quickly follow-up on the topic of Ang Lee’s Hulk, it’s interesting to me the way this film is remembered. It seems to be considered a critical disaster, despite a fairly respectable 62% (55% amongst the Top Critics) freshness rating at Rotten Tomatoes. It is also hailed as one of the worst box office flops ever, despite doing about $250 million worldwide, which while not great, isn’t exactly chump change, either. For a time, after word of mouth absolutely destroyed this film, it seemed that nobody was willing to speak out in defense of it. Over the years, however, fans have been slowly coming out of hiding.
What’s odd, however, is that those of us who respect and even enjoyed Ang Lee’s Hulk always seem to couch our discussion so cautiously, as though we all live in fear of incurring the wrath of the insulted fanboys swarming the Internet. God forbid we just like the movie because we found the emotional narrative to be cerebral and the character development to be complex and unusual within the genre. Lord knows we couldn’t have truly been satisfied by the Hulk fighting mutated poodles (I swear, this poodle scene is the number one complaint leveled against the film).
Every review written in recent years is going to have a line like this in the first paragraph: “I know I’m in the minority, but…” or “While Ang Lee’s Hulk isn’t a perfect film…“.
I’m not saying I’m above doing the same, by any means. But it does become rather tiresome reading review after review that laud the artistic achievements of the film while also ensuring that they acknowledge the reasons that people might not have liked it. If these same reviewers were discussing almost any other movie, they wouldn’t feel compelled to make their praise palatable to the leagues of angry viewers who found the movie too talky, plodding, or overwrought.
Can we just agree to disagree by now? Everything you hated about the film, I probably loved. If anybody ever doubted that aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, then this highly polarizing film should prove otherwise.
In any event, here are a few reviews that I like:
- In Defense of Hulk, by Erik Sofge, for Slate. 90% of this review is a glowing report of why the film is almost unique in its genre and so powerful dramatically in comparison with other superhero film efforts. Then at the end, he tosses this on: “None of this is to say that Lee’s movie is perfect—far from it. Some of his decisions were confusing, some just plain bad.” And proceeds to criticize the editing decisions, such as the use of split screen. This is a silly criticism, because apart from being merely a stylistic choice that shouldn’t really affect your enjoyment of the film, the multiple angles and creative transitions were actually innovative storytelling techniques, even if not always faithful, necessary, to the way panels are used in comics. When these editing tricks work, however, they work really well, and it’s another visual hallmark that sets Ang Lee’s Hulk further apart from the pack. In a review of any other film, such a complaint would be a footnote.
- The Incredible Hulk (2008) vs. Hulk (2003), by Beau DeMayo for the website Movie Smackdown. In a nutshell, DeMayo seems to have loved almost everything about Hulk, but in his decision, I swear he does an about-face and decides to rip it apart: “Ang Lee’s Hulk just gets lost in its own murky head, and only finds its way out to deliver some disjointed action sequences that barely weave into an overly-complex tapestry of fatherly neglect, memory repression, starfish, lizards, and poodle dogs.” I don’t understand it, but I did find his write-up to be very good.
- Hulk VS Hulk, by Ryan Somma, on his blog, ideonexus. A short review that actually comes down pretty clearly on the side of Ang Lee’s film with minimal apology. I like this review, because he describes comic books featuring the Hulk that have influenced his relationship with the character and then explains why he feels Ang Lee got it right. Simple, and to the point. No matter how much you may have hated the film, you can’t say that Somma is wrong for thinking that Ang Lee did right by the character.
- The Incredible Hulk vs. Hulk: A Bitter Editorial, by Adam Arseneau, on the website Cinema Verdict. Another entry that sort of kills my earlier argument that those who write in defense of Ang Lee’s film often apologize for themselves. Arseneau really doesn’t at all, and like Somma in the article above, he is fairly dismissive of viewers who were upset that the 2003 Hulk wasn’t a full-on mindless slugfest.