Before the MCU officially kicked off with Iron Man in 2008, comic book movies were something of a mixed bag. The 2000s brought us Sam Raimi’s beloved Spider-Man movies, the X-Men movies, but also… Daredevil starring Ben Affleck. There was also Ang Lee’s Hulk starring Eric Bana, which was confusingly followed a few years later by The Incredible Hulk starring Ed Norton.
While neither of the Hulk movies fared particularly well with critics, or at the box office – The Incredible Hulk made less than half of Iron Man’s takings, which was released in the same year – Ang Lee’s Hulk movie has the worse reputation of the two. Even in the five year gap between the two Hulk movies, CGI and VFX had improved enough to make a difference to how the Hulk himself looked.
Now, actor Josh Lucas (who played Glenn Talbot in Lee’s movie) has opened up about the “torture” that Lee put himself through while making Hulk, and in the post-production. “I’ve never seen a director be more tortured by a film than I feel he was with that movie,” Lucas told Den of Geek. “His vision was so clear. I just don’t think he had the technology available to do what he wanted to do, and I think it really broke his heart.”
“It was an interesting choice for Marvel to choose an auteur at Ang’s level, but if you look at Ang Lee, he has some personal connections to the Hulk. He’s a quiet, scientific kind of mind. He’s a very gentle soul who has this deeply powerful, creative, and overwhelming urge to create. Not just great art, but transcendent, difficult art. All of his movies, they’ve done that – Crouching Tiger obviously, Brokeback, each one of them. He poured his soul into [Hulk], and you could see that he was exhausted. It looked like he went to war.”
Lucas recalled one instance when the cast and crew were at Industrial Light and Magic. During an early screening of the post-production work, Lucas remembers Lee telling him; “this has been one of the most painful experiences of my life.”
According to Lucas, it appeared that the studio was influencing Lee’s vision; “At one point, we were walking off the soundstage at Universal and Ang had tears in his eyes. Lee said; ‘If I could be mean, I’d be a great director.’ You could tell he was sort of tortured by what he put himself through.”
Looking back, Lucas concludes; “I have nothing but the most profound respect for what he was doing. It was an amazing experience. I totally remember it being one of the most artful experiences I’ve had, and I think that’s kind of saying something. 2003’s Hulk stands up in odd ways. It’s flawed, obviously, but I love that movie. I love the attempt to show the flipping pages and all the different things that I haven’t seen done like that since. As great as the [recent] Marvel movies are, the artfulness of that flawed film remains a high mark.”
Check out our guide to the best superhero movies.