In 2003, the first superhero rebirth was well underway. Blade started it all, X-Men fuelled the fire and then Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man sent it into orbit. This was before a succession of not so great titles caused it to stall again before Nolan’s Batman and the coming MCU reignited everything. Buried in there somewhere is Ang Lee’s Hulk.
An acclaimed director, one of the hottest young stars on the planet at the time in Eric Bana, a strong supporting cast in Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte and Josh Lucas, and a well-loved comic book character right in the middle of a cultural wave. So what went wrong?
A $137 million production budget ended up only snaring $245.4 million at the box office. It was a highly ambitious movie with a huge scale, but it just didn’t chime with audiences. It featured mature themes of love, loss, generational conflict, betrayal and greed alongside the familiar story of a green angry man smashing stuff up.
The first live-action adaption of the character since some TV movies based on the 1970s television show is worth revisiting after many years, and it remains very interesting. You might even say that if it is a failure, it’s a noble failure.
Current Yellowstone star Josh Lucas was asked for reflections on Hulk by The Playlist and he said maybe the movie was too ambitious, particularly for what was available to them at the time:
“I don’t use this word genius, but I think he’s truly up there as a, if not brilliant, genius filmmaker. Like you say, he was swinging for the rafters on it. I don’t think the technology was quite where his brain was…
I know he was pushing the team of people who were on the CGI of Hulk to make something that, technically, maybe wasn’t capable of being at the level he wanted it yet. And so I think he was very frustrated with that movie by not being able to get what he wanted and what was in his brain.
The way he was morphing, the way pages were flipping. I mean, he was creating a visual comic book. And I haven’t seen anybody do it quite the same way he was doing it – think about it, that’s twenty years ago, right? So, there’s an incredible auteur filmmaker beneath this monster, an early Marvel movie. I have nothing but respect for it.”
Rumors were that Ang Lee had a sequel in the planning stage, but events overtook him. Since the MCU reached full maturity the Hulk has only appeared in ensemble pieces after Universal released The Incredible Hulk, replacing Banner with Ed Norton.
Universal’s Hulk distribution agreement is rumored to end in June 2023 and unconfirmed internet scuttlebutt talks to a World War Hulk plan being in development. Character intros and teases in She-Hulk certainly could open the door to this.