Movies – The Ten Best of the 2000s Part 1 – “Hulk”

A weird thing happens whenever “Hulk” is mentioned among nerds of any sort, be them film nerds or comic book nerds, or just regular people. Most people bag on it, but inevitably, two or three people come out and admit they don’t just like it, they love it. It is that truly rare thing: a genuine cult movie.

There are lots of reasons to love “Hulk”, one of two superhero movies that’ll be on this list (you get no prizes for guessing the second one). But the most basic is, it is a movie about superheroes that asks serious questions. After all, Bruce Banner doesn’t just get angry at major things. He gets angry at everything. In the comics, and in the movie, we’re presented with a mild-mannered guy roiling with fury underneath the surface.

That’s what’s great about “Hulk”; it explains not just how Bruce Banner got his powers, but why they happen. It’s the first bit about the Hulk that defines Bruce Banner as a person instead of a container…which is arguably why so many people hate it.

Is it a bit Freudian, both in the genetic manipulation of Bruce Banner and just how he became so enraged? Yep, but then again, we are dealing with a movie about a man who can grow eighteen feet in a few seconds and rip a tank in half, so asking us to believe some simplified psychology isn’t too demanding. And the payoff is beautiful, action scenes, especially an elaborate finale, that genuinely means something on a symbolic level that the movie has carefully set up. How often does that happen?

Just as breathtaking is the editing and visual work. Ang Lee brought everything and then some to this movie. The use of computers in the editing makes the movie feel like reading a comic book without interfering with the flow of the story. The few times Lee truly indulges himself (a flash of surrealism here, a final dramatic scene before the climax that’s a bit Brechtian in its setup, what with Nolte chewing the scenery), he earns it.

None of which is to discount the pure glee of this movie. One of the most baffling criticisms of this movie I’ve ever heard is “it’s not like the comics.” Are you kidding? We’ve got an extended scene of the Hulk destroying tanks, dragging helicopters to Earth, and flying into the troposphere before trashing San Francisco. We’ve got him trashing the lab by throwing a massive ball out a window and destroying some cop cars. Even the sometimes-mocked Hulk dogs sequence is a lot of fun.

“Hulk” deserves a reappreciation, and I think it will inevitably get one as expectations fade and people approach it as an Ang Lee movie instead of part of a franchise. For now, I’ll settle for being one of those card-carrying cult members.

Next – “The Fountain”.

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