Five reasons why Ang Lee’s HULK (2003) is so underrated and unfairly misjudged 

What I enjoy most from the comic book superhero genre are the films focusing on a central protagonist that faces the personal struggles and inner demons when keeping their superhuman alter egos under control. In this case it’s The Incredible Hulk. Having grown up watching the 70s TV show starring Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as his mean, green, muscular humanoid counterpart respectively, I just loved the idea of an intelligent scientist being forced to go on the run from government operatives while desperately trying to find a cure for his ‘condition’ and only transforming into the Hulk when losing control due to being subjected to emotional stress or when being pushed over the edge.

Ang Lee’s Hulk which was released in the summer of 2003 after Marvel’s success of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man a year before, is a film that I’ve always had such a soft spot for. Unlike the misguided 2008 reboot and how the character of Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk had been treated within the MCU, this version takes a much more darker, depressing and sinister approach to one of Marvel Comic’s most popular superheroes. I felt going down the route of making it all dark and moody like what Nolan did with Batman really worked and so therefore, this movie really does not get near enough the love and appreciation that it deserves and kudos to Ang Lee for putting his own stamp on this. What follows below are the five main reasons why Hulk is so criminally underrated, demanding Marvel fans to give this film a second chance…


Danny Elfman’s Music

Whenever Danny Elfman’s name gets mentioned people often immediately recognise him for his close film collaboration with director Tim Burton. It’s no surprise then that it often gets forgotten or overlooked that Elfman has composed music for so many other films outside of Burton’s massive filmography, its just that Elfman has collaborated more times with Burton than with any other film-maker so its easy to see why this can get blotted out. Anyway, the music he produces and composes here is among my absolute favourites. Really tender during its emotional human moments but really dramatic sounding when it needs to be during it more heavier, CGI laden action set-pieces. This really is a superb score that not only really compliments the film but also ranks as one of my favourite ever film scores from Elfman. 

Danny Elfman


The Unique Editing

In terms of the editing process, what sets this film differently to the rest of the Marvel films so far mainly boils down to the film crew having wanted to really give this version of the Hulk an in-depth comic book feel via a split screen based on the multiple image sequences from the comics. With Ang Lee as a film-maker feeling inspired to translate the pages of this comic book world into a motion picture, he felt the best decision was to take the comic book layouts and come up with cinematic devices inspired by them that would work on screen. It just gives the film a more in-depth authentic look and feel, one that makes you feel you’ve really been transported and immersed much more within a comic book world bought to vivid life. 



Gamma Radiation Exposure

Originally, Bruce Banner is involved in a freak gamma radiation incident that contaminates his cells which turns him into the Hulk in the first place. In this film, the rules are rewritten a little where the accident caused on Bruce, played here by Eric Bana, unlocks the Hulk within him; thanks to his deranged power hungry father, David, played with sinister relish by Nick Nolte after he experimented on himself with cell regeneration and passed it on to Bruce through genetic inheritance. This works effectively well when it comes to creating fiction and conflict between father and son whom don’t see eye to eye with each other. I just really like how it finally unleashes the green monster within him instead of simply transforming into him. 



The First Transformation into the Hulk

In the later films, we’re not really treated so much to an origin story of what it was like for Bruce when he first transforms into the big, mean, green machine nor did I feel there was enough danger or turmoil for him to completely lose control and radically change into his superior alter ego due to unforeseen consequences. But here, not only do we have his father coming back into his life years after believing he was dead but also becoming increasingly aware that General Thaddeus Ross is growing suspicious of what he’s up to in his lab and having another business rival snooping around his workplace. These are all perfect reasons that justify why Bruce would get angry and let his darker  and more ferocious side finally take over.


Ang Lee’s Involvement and Dedication to the Hulk

Ang Lee’s main interest that lies within this movie is discovering what it is that really drives Bruce Banner and how to really bring the Hulk to life. He didn’t want to make the film campy in any way so instead his main intention was to make the film play out as a really serious drama while having bought in a lot of  grounded, down to earth realism which he felt was important when drawing the audience into this world and truly believing it. He was also able to communicate to the actors who the Hulk was, what he was doing,  as well as additionally the film’s impacting emotion and the character driven drama in every scene where there was interaction between the cast and the digital creation. His intention was for the Hulk to act out as another human actor rather than a cartoon character.

ang lee on set of hulk


5 thoughts on “Five reasons why Ang Lee’s HULK (2003) is so underrated and unfairly misjudged 

  1. I went into the article expecting to disagree with most points since I am not a fan of the movie, but you make valid arguments. I think the biggest issue is that overall the action isn’t what most people wanted or expected out of a superhero movie.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. From what I can remember (I haven’t seen it all in one sitting since the release), the final fight was shown in flashes in the clouds instead of a traditionally shot scene. While it is likely an homage to comics, it just like a big let down. On top of that, one of the few fights was Hulk fighting 3 hulk dogs – which for a superhero movie is not something most would expect.
    I will say that from what I remember, his run from the military in the desert was fantastic and the jumps / raw power shown have yet to be replicated with a newer iteration of a Hulk.

    Liked by 2 people

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