Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Give Us Your Worst, Part 10: Hulk

In the interest of full disclosure, we were specifically going to skip Ang Lee's Hulk, as The Middle Room has never acknowledged it to be a bad movie at all, nor are we about to shift positions having just re-watched it. It is a strange movie, surely; a baffling movie, a flawed movie; and yet, it is engrossing and beautiful, artistic and fascinating.

Our opinion is actually within the mainstream; the movie scores a passable 62% on Rotten Tomatoes, and has a number of fans. However, a majority of them exist outside the geek community. When the 2008 reboot was released, geek goodwill towards Ang Lee's version evaporated, and the consensus within our circles migrated to the view that this was a horrible film.

Because The Middle Room exists to explore and strengthen this very community, and because that is the origin of our audience, we have decided to re-watch this film and consider what we feel works and what clearly does not. We also hope this will help us better map the boundaries between good and bad superhero movies, a goal we lacked when starting this project that has since appeared on the horizon.

First, the bad. We acknowledge many flaws with this film, beginning with the plot and characters. Considered narratively, Hulk makes little sense, particularly towards the end. Likewise, the two main characters, Bruce and Betty, are of little interest, though General Ross and Bruce's father are more interesting. Lee's decision to focus thematically on repression, rather than anger, is a clear miscalculation, as well.

With so many issues, how can we call this a good movie? While the script was broken, the direction - in our opinion, at least - was awesome. The visual component was spectacular, despite some dated CG. In fact, even this was well used. While most superhero movies attempt to transform their concepts into something that could exist in the real world, Ang Lee treats the Hulk like a comic book superhero, and unapologetically allows him to exist as he is. That he's a cartoon superimposed on a live-action world isn't a joke, because Lee doesn't treat him as a joke: he takes the concept, in all its absurd glory, seriously.

We can't think of another non-comedy live-action superhero film so courageous, and we love this movie for that.

On top of the Hulk himself, there's a sense of artistic style permeating every frame of this film. In this genre, the use of color is second only to Dick Tracy. The lab equipment has a super-science sensibility that sets the tone up front - this isn't our world; it's a far more interesting one.

And, more than anything else, we absolutely adore the panelling effect used to give the film the feeling of a comic book. Could this have been better integrated? Perhaps. But it works incredibly well, and we wish other directors would steal the idea when editing their superhero movies.

As for the movie's pacing, while we can certainly appreciate why some find it boring, it's not a problem we've ever had. We find Hulk fascinating from start to finish, despite - and in some cases because of - it's flaws. Nothing about the end fight makes sense, and yet... there's something awesome about the Hulk fighting a lightning monster in the clouds, illustrated entirely by still flashes of comic-style images. Even when the story falls apart, it does so in the style of a comic book.

It's that style we find missing in most of the other movies we've seen in this series. If anything, Schumacher's Batman movies came closest, though they were pale imitations crafted by a hack who clearly understood nothing of what he was trying to adapt. Ang Lee, while perhaps not entirely grasping the Hulk, demonstrated a profound comprehension of the comic medium itself at a visceral level that's seldom been duplicated.

This is a movie about superheroes and comic books, a movie unafraid to showcase their impossible absurdity and unreal power. This is a flawed work of art, but a work of art, nonetheless.

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