The Hulk Movie Tells a Story of Family Trauma, Romance, and Rage

By Jason Saldivar 

This review contains spoilers. Warning: if you haven’t seen/read the content yet and don’t want to know what happens, you may want to avoid reading further. 

The 2003 Hulk movie was directed by Ang Lee and released on June 17, 2003. It follows the story of Doctor Bruce Banner, played by Eric Bana, as an accident not only causes untold trauma to be forced to the surface, but also a dual story of family. Due to witnessing his mother’s death, Bruce has no memory of his childhood but despite not knowing of his own past, General Thaddeus E. Ross, played by Sam Elliot, remembers what Bruce’s father, Brian Banner, did.  

Bruce is working on a project at California University Berkley with Betty Ross, played by Jennifer Connelly, when an accident causes Bruce to be exposed to dangerous levels of gamma radiation. Bruce survives the lethal exposure due to the inherited altered genetics from his father, who was experimenting on himself to improve humans via altered genetics. Due to the exposure, Bruce’s altered genes react by transforming him into the Hulk when stimulated negatively via anger or his past trauma.  

Bruce’s father, played by Nick Nolte, initially wanted to cure his son when he was a child, but now wants to take that power back and is more than willing to put people in danger to achieve this, such as when he created Gamma Dogs to go after Betty. Despite Betty wanting to help Bruce, her father has other ideas after seeing him as the Hulk. Gen. Ross still holds a hatred for Brian, which extends to Bruce.  

Gen. Ross captured the Hulk and planned to simply hold Bruce in containment; however, Major Glenn Talbot, played by Josh Lucas, goes behind his back and gets higher authority to try and replicate what happened to Bruce for profit. Talbot’s interference leads to the Hulk escaping the military base and traveling across the Sahara Desert. Gen. Ross keeps escalating threats against the Hulk after Bruce escapes, from tanks, to attack helicopters, to jet planes. This ultimately results in a pilot attempting to use the upper atmosphere to deprive the Hulk of air as he held onto the jet. 

Hulk emerges from under a street in San Francisco and with the military arriving, it seems like another fight is underway. Then the Hulk is stopped by Betty, calming him down until Bruce has returned. With Gen. Ross less angry due to his daughter’s promise, Brian is allowed to see his son one last time. It was under pretense that Brian, after exposing himself to the same conditions as Bruce, has activated his altered genes and is able to absorb energy and matter.  

After Bruce rejects Brian to take his power, he rips into an electrical cable with the military activating the circuit to electrify him, but he just absorbs the electricity while Bruce is transforming, a fight ensuing in the skies after. The fight between father and son ends with Bruce giving everything to his father, overloading him to the point he was unstable and begging Bruce to take it back before an airstrike that Gen. Ross calls in detonates the Gamma Bubble that Brian became. Bruce is assumed dead, but we see a year later that he is still alive and helping people in a South American jungle, now having control of his powers. 

A lot of people didn’t like that this was not the “rage monster” Hulk that people, at the time, were wanting. Even now, this movie is sort of ignored by Marvel fans. I like the more psychological direction that Lee went with this rendition of the Hulk, though I don’t like the disconnect between Bana’s Bruce and Hulk since it was Lee that did the motion capture. Despite my dislike, the movie itself is a very good one that holds up in the current day. 

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