The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Saturday, July 05, 2003
ANGRY GREEN GIANT: Why are so many people picking on Ang Lee's Hulk? They find the special effects unrealistic? Well, nothing here is as disappointing as the effects in Spider-Man, which basically turned into a video game whenever it was time for the action to begin; yet its reviews were glowing. They're annoyed that some of the fight scenes were filmed in the dark, so you can't quite tell what's going on? Lee did the same thing in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and no one complained but me. They don't like their superheroic action mixed with more "serious" themes? Then why did they flock to Crouching Tiger, whose chop-socky battles were interspersed with incredibly tedious ruminations on loyalty, honor, and other weighty matters? At least Hulk is actually about rage, repression, and distant father figures, rather than merely expounding the importance of such topics at soporific length.

Or is it, as some insist, because Lee is a middlebrow filmmaker, unable either to descend into pure pulp or raise it to high art? I hate to break it to you, but that's the Marvel formula. As Jonathan Lethem once pointed out, the classic Marvel comics of the '60s and '70s are mildly embarrassing to their now grown-up fans in a way their DC counterparts (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) are not. Like a Yes album or a Harlan Ellison story, they aspired to be more than they were capable of becoming -- and were aimed at an adolescent audience not yet able to recognize the difference. They demand more than simple nostalgia, but they can't quite deliver what they promise. Before you can appreciate just what was good about them, you have to get past everything that's bad.

In other words, they're middlebrow pulp. Ang Lee is thus the perfect director for the project, and he has made, in my view, the best of the Marvel films.

It helps that this is more a monster movie than a superhero movie, and thus belongs to a genre with a longer history of being done properly. (Lee obviously realizes this, since he's filled it with plagiarisms-cum-homages to King Kong, Frankenstein, and other precursors.) It is, as a bonus, one of the most visually inventive films of the year, shot and edited with more playful energy than most summer action epics.

If you want a serious, complex movie about familial dysfunction, watch Capturing the Friedmans. If you just want some mindless action fun, then hey, I hear there's a new Charlie's Angels flick. But if you want a film that gets across the rich but essentially adolescent flavor of an old Marvel comic, you couldn't do better than Hulk.


posted by Jesse 1:26 PM
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