We have a theory that maybe, sometimes, a film gets such a bad rap early on that its reputation is unfairly spoiled for the rest of that movie’s history. This is Second Chance Cinema. We re-examine the most infamous films to determine whether its reputation is earned or not.
I know a lot of people who love comic book movies. Curiously, of those people I know, very few actually read comics. This may or may not lead to some comic book movies being unfortunately passed by or panned.
I’m not here to make any claims as to why or why not a person doesn’t read comics. What I will say is that Hulk (2003) is a super hero movie that emulates a comic book very well.
Part of Hulk’s legacy is that the movie holds the record for second biggest box office drop for a movie that premiered at number one. This is not a movie that the critics or audiences were fond of.
Since its release, Hulk has limped along as a footnote in Marvel’s cinema library. It was the first Marvel franchise to be rebooted. (Yes, there was a Punisher movie made in 1989 and then one made in 2004. The Incredible Hulk was the first Marvel movie referenced as a reboot.) Not to mention the above “record.”
So what makes Hulk worth of a second chance?
The visual palette and aesthetics are astonishingly good. This is especially true for the editing. In Hulk, every scene, every moment, every sequence looks as if it were lifted directly off a comic book page. Some sequences even feature an editing style that uses “panels.”
It seems to me that audiences in 2003 weren’t ready for such an extreme visual style. But as movies like Sin City and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World show, borrowing comics’ visual vocabulary can be immensely beneficial to a comic book movie’s success. Hulk was one of the first movies to bridge the gap between printed comic and film.
The most prevalent complaint about Hulk is that the movie is too slow. What most call slowness, I call emotional depth. Yes, the Hulk is a giant green monster who smashes things. That should be part of a Hulk movie. And it was apart of this Hulk movie. On the other hand, Dr. Bruce Banner is a character so afraid of his emotions that he is in a constant state of internal turmoil. That is what Hulk as a movie is about. Even the two most important side characters in the movie — Betty Ross and General Ross — reflect the two sides of Banner: emotional openness and repression.
Again, it was a timing issue that worked against Hulk. From movies like The Dark Knight to A History of Violence, we’ve seen that it is possible to have an emotionally complex comic book movie.
I often wonder if Hulk would have been better received if the filmmakers had known that Marvel was going to have a grand unification movie universe. Perhaps the film could have had a different plot that worked in concert with the other Marvel movies but still be a movie with a strong emotional core.
Hulk is not the best superhero movie. Not by a long shot. The film tends to rush past important plot points. The acting is a little wooden too. However, Hulk is a movie that got an unfair shake the first time around and deserves a second chance.
P.S. That Hulk-dog scene? That lasts like five minutes. Get over it. It’s not as bad as you remembered.