Why Ang Lee’s Hulk rules

As The Incredible Hulk heads to cinema screens this month, John says that the ultimate Hulk movie has already been made...

Why is this not in the ‘guilty pleasures’ article that we ran recently? Well, I have NOTHING to feel guilty about. I don’t even want anyone to shoot me. It’s everyone else (it seems) that should hang his or her head in shame.

This is an open letter to all the people I’ve disagreed with over the past five years on this subject, and here’s the point: you don’t deserve Hulk, you philistines. You hypocrites. You get what you fraking deserve… And that’s Transformers 2. Enjoy it… I hope your brains bleed out of your left ear, slowly and painfully… Before you die – alone, with an owl.

Have you ever seen the Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith (Time Enough At Last)? The one where he’s Henry Beamis, the antisocial bank worker who locks himself in a vault so he can read in peace, only to emerge and discover there’s been an apocalypse, and that he’s the only person left, but he’s happy about it ‘cause now he has time to read all the books he’s been ridiculed for loving all his life?

Well, I know how he feels every time I hear some geek moan and groan about why ‘there are no intelligent Superhero movies’ and how ‘studios always dumb them down…’ Why? Well, although they’re right, I know that in virtually the next breath they’ll take the piss out of me for loving Ang Lee’s take on the Big Green Guy. Just leave me alone, with a big screen and a DVD of this movie, I’ll be fine. Feck off.

In fact, do you know what? I don’t even need the big screen. Even if my glasses break – the fate that befell poor old Henry in that show’s dénouement, just before Rod Serling really stuck his know-it-all boot in – I can still listen to the dialogue: ‘cause, y’know, it has some that’s worth listening to.

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Do you remember when people talked in movies – even action movies – and what they said actually meant something? When it wasn’t just half-arsed exposition allowing the director to get to the next set-piece as quickly as possible, when characters were built, explained slowly and had motivations both implicit and explicit? When movies didn’t always feel the need for comedic interludes to ‘cheer things up’? When people’s actions had consequences – when heroes and villains came from somewhere and weren’t just chosen by a Gilliam-esque hand from the Gods for no apparent reason.

Comics, my friends, are not cartoons (as you well know)… So why do we accept movies that treat them as such? Comics, my friends, go to great lengths to explain the back-story of their central characters, so why does nobody appreciate it when a film does the same? Here is a script that loves its central character enough to spend time with him, and – let it be stated, right here – Bruce Banner’s that central character. Hulk doesn’t treat him as an inconvenient ‘norm’ that gets in the way of Hulk doing cool shit; it’s the other way around…don’t you see?

The Hulk is the monster in the closet, the demon under the bed, Freddie-fricking-Kruger haunting Banner’s dreams and stunting his life. The unmentionable truth, the Primal Scream. Ang Lee’s Hulk is not a superhero movie; the titular character is a monster that Banner must control. He’s not there just to bend stuff, throw tanks, call us puny and work as a do-good shill. If you want catchphrases sod off and watch The ‘Fantastic’ Four. What’s more, Ang Lee’s Hulk is not a superhero movie, it’s a family drama… It’s fecking Jane Eyre – but the madwoman in the attic of this emotionally stunted Mr. Rochester is a Gamma irradiated mutant. I love that movie, I love this movie… Orson Wells would’ve loved Hulk.

Here is a movie that grows, evolves, oozes, slips and slides across rocks pulls itself out of the water, evolves some more and then accelerates wonderfully. After that it drags itself onto its hind legs in time to kick virtually every other comic book movie that came before it in the teeth for being immature, just because it can.

It uses colour and visual metaphor to foreshadow events and illuminate the story. It builds a tension and claustrophobia in its editing, and a wonderful pace develops in the cascading scenes and the way they’re inter-cut using panelling. Hulk never loses its nerve, it bubbles and burbles as the pressure grows; until the inevitable explosion, until the doors are kicked open and the house burns down. It, quite frankly, is a master class. A master class of direction, of cinematography, and of acting – one that takes a wonderful ten minute interlude halfway through to become an off-Broadway kitchen sink act-off between Bana and Nolte. In this moment, it lives, and breathes… It cares. Yet all I ever hear is; “it was ages before we saw the Hulk, and then he looked a bit rubbish”.

WRONG! You fecking feckers…

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I remember being thrilled by a plasticine gorilla climbing a model of the Empire State Building, by Harryhausen’s skeletons emerging from the ground, by Christopher Reeve lying on a table whilst a helicopter shot of New York was projected behind him. I don’t need photo-realism; pushing pretty pixels is the last refuge of the cinematic scoundrel – stand up George Lucas stand up Michael Bay… Yes, I’m talking to you. When the best thing I can find to say about a movie is ‘I love those lighting/dust/laser/explosion/camera movement effects’ then I know I just wasted two hours of my life. To me, Hulk’s effects are transparent – they’re not a feature, they are a tool for the drama: no more, or less than they should be.

When I look into the Hulk’s face, I see the pain, I see the struggle, the confusion, I see all I need to see. I see Eric Bana, Bruce Banner, behind its eyes; save for Gollum, I consider him to be perhaps the finest digital actor so far. So, he looks a bit ‘drawn’, there are a few problems with the skin, the clothes. It doesn’t matter. It’s in the eyes, and everything you need is right there. If you cannot suspend your disbelief beyond a critique of the visual effects, why the hell are you watching a movie like this at all? Grow up.

None of this matters though: the box office tells me I’m wrong, the studios tell me I’m wrong, the internet tells me I’m wrong, my friends tell me I’m wrong and complete strangers walk up to me in the street and punch me in the face – or simply cross the road in disgust. I’m a geek leper. Come this summer though, they’ll all get what they want in the form of a sequel: Hulk Lite, as I like to call it. Of course it’s The Incredible Hulk to all the right-thinking people of the world, delivered directly to their 10-second-attention-span eyeballs by the director who thrilled ‘em with Danny The Dog, The Transporter and The Transporter 2. Now, I enjoyed those last two movies, but putting them up against the cinematic ‘form’ of Ang Lee is like comparing Big Macs to Beef Wellington.

What he’ll deliver is Ed Norton – an undeniably talented actor, but with an eerily suspect taste in roles lately – Liv Tyler (Jennifer Connolly Lite), workaday Will Hurt (in place of the wonderful Sam Elliot) and Tim Roth (as the ‘anti-Hulk’) in an all-singing, all dancing, all smashing Hulktastic extravaganza – as vacuous and predictable as the others that inevitably follow. What’s more, you’re getting the added franchise-ability of a guest appearance by Tony Stark/Iron Man thrown in: whoopee-fecking-do.

So, you’ve already had your Matrix-esque trailer, now you’ll get your superhero movie, you’ll get the Hulk movie they ‘shoulda’ made, and I can guarantee that that’s how it’ll be sold to the cattle. In less than two weeks, you’ll get more of what you deserve, lucky you.