Bad Superhero Movie Showdown 2003: Hulk vs. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

I distinctly remember sitting in a Pizza Hut after seeing Hulk in 2003 and trying to wrap my brain around what I’d just witnessed. It wasn’t the feeling that I’d wasted my time, nor was it the feeling of pure elation that I’d felt after seeing Spider-Man the previous year. Instead, it was a kind of befuddled complacency. As a 14-year-old, I had no idea why anyone would make a Hulk movie like Ang Lee did with Hulk, but I guess I just had to deal with it.

Dr. Root Canal was not the most intimidating of villains.

Less than a month later, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was released and it didn’t elicit any kind of reaction from me that I can remember. Had I enjoyed myself? Had I even seen the movie? The movie plays like someone hazily remembering a different League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film, so I could’ve easily just dreamed up the entire thing. And because of this lack of response, I feel it’s justifiable to have Hulk duel League. What’s worse: bored confusion or pure nothingness?

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Round 1: Worse Hero

As Bruce Banner, it always feels like Eric Bana is wading through his own movie. Up to his hips in swamp water and bad narrative decisions, he trudges onward, raising the role above his head and doing his best to deliver what’s required of him. The biggest problem with this is that what’s actually required of him is never really nailed down. Is being the Hulk a tragic curse, or a really awesome way to combat all of the mutant dogs that the bad guys keep throwing at you? There’s definitely a way to balance this, but sadly, Hulk just shrugs it off and throws scenes and character motivations at us as if it’s saying, “Fine. Here. You figure it out.”

Eric Bana looking through the script for the first time.

On the other hand, we have League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which is filled with heroes, but includes not one that we care about. The closest we get to having a protagonist that we can get behind is Sean Connery’s Allan Quatermain, but it always feels like he’s the college guy at the high school party. He brings the air of “I’m better than this” with him through every scene, and it’s kind of hard to support a guy that looks like he constantly wishes he was on vacation.

“Another scotch, if you please. And make it a double this time.”

Loser: Sean Connery’s Quatermain

Bana might be remarkably inconsistent, but at least he wants to be there. He could score a goal if given the right material. Connery just wants to sit on the sidelines and drink Capri Suns until the game is over.

Round 2: Worse Villain

The older I get, the more I’m fascinated by Nick Nolte’s turn as David Banner. Playing a character seemingly made of clumsy rage and clumsier body language, it’s never hinted at for a second as to what Nolte should be doing. So I can’t say if his performance is good or bad. All I can say is whether or not I enjoyed it, and the answer to that is “Tremendously so.”

When your main villain is accompanied by his hench-poodle, it’s a red flag that you’ve gone wrong somewhere.

The League faces Moriarty, a villain that even the movie seems to forget about. Moriarty might be the worst casualty in League’s attempt to fit about twelve hours of story into 110 minutes, as he goes from being the Napoleon of Crime to “that guy that needs to be stopped.”

“Bland. James Bland.”

Loser: Moriarty

Nick Nolte has sheer Nick Nolte-ness to guide him through the weaker moments of Hulk. All Richard Roxburgh gets with Moriarty is a vague world domination plan and literally nothing else.

Round 3: Worse Side Characters

Whether it’s Sam Elliot as “Thunderbolt” Ross, or Jennifer Connelly as Betsy Ross, no side character in Hulk is given a fair shake. The most that can be said for them is that they’re all in the same movie together, and their scenes seem to be in the correct order.

“Two more of these and I’ll be ready for my scene, Mr. Lee.”

With Sean Connery as the bored League leader, guys like Captain Nemo, Mr. Hyde, and Mina Harker are reduced to their barest quirks. Sure, you learn their names by the end, but when they’re attached to CliffsNotes versions of themselves, you may as well just start calling them “Beard Submarine Sword Guy” and “Anger Issues Not-Hulk”, as that’s all they amount to.

L to R: Mr. Furious, Shoveller, Blue Rajah, Bowler, and the Spleen.

Loser: Hulk

Yeah, in League, you get Invisible Joke Guy and Previously Met Dracula Woman, but even they feel like fleshed-out characters when compared to the amount of clueless standing around that Sam Elliot does in Hulk.

Taking “phoning it in” to new levels.

Round 4: Worse Story

It’s not that Hulk has a lack of story. It’s that it has no idea how to get around to pulling its own story off.

On the other hand, League definitely has a story, but not once is the story inspiring or thrilling or even engaging on the most basic level. If you told me that the League script was somehow based on the Wikipedia entry for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I’d believe the crap out of you.

Loser: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

This movie is so utterly joyless. It does as much good for comic fans as a legion of dads telling them to go play outside.


Definitive Answer:

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Hulk is better simply because writing about it makes me want to re-watch it and try to solve the mystery that is its existence. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen wasn’t as painful to watch as Spawn or Batman Forever, but it’s so lacking in the department of “Make Me Happy, Even For A Second”, that I’d be fine with forgetting it ever existed.

Tag: Bad Superhero Movie Showdown

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  • I haven’t seen Hulk or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but now I suddenly want to watch Mystery Men again.

  • I am in the opposite camp. “League of Extrordinary Gentlemen” might as well be called “Public Domain Action Team” like a box of Dollar Store toys, but it was better than “Hulk”.

    • Thomas Stockel

      I’m not a fan of either movie but at least I found the Hulk vs the United States Armed Forces sequences entertaining. I can’t say the same for a single scene in League. And honestly I hated what they did with some of the characters compared to the comic, especially Mina. She was a far more interesting and compelling character in the comic.

  • maarvarq

    Australian reviewers Margaret and David like this version of the Hulk, mainly I suspect because it was “arty”.

  • Deneb T. Hall

    I know I’m in the decided minority here, but I didn’t think either film was really all that bad. Both definitely have their flaws, and I certainly wouldn’t call either of them a deathless masterpiece or anything, but they’re both interesting enough for what they are, even if that boils down more to ‘fitfully entertaining fluff’ than ‘oh wow, you gotta see this’. Goodness know, I’ve seen worse.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Have you read the first League mini series? It’s outstanding and when you compare it to the movie the latter really looks far worse in comparison. Moriarty is a far more interesting bad guy, and the battle between his sky ships and Fu Manchu’s kite men is awesome. His best line is said when he meets Mina Harker for the first time, an intelligent independent woman of the new era:

      “Lieutenant, kindly kill this lesbian for me, would you?”

      If you didn’t want to see Moriarty die before, you sure as hell wanted to then. :)

      • Deneb T. Hall

        I have, actually, and yes, I agree, it’s great stuff; I used to reread it constantly back in high school. However, it’s worth noting that LXG is NOT actually based on that. It’s based on the initial pitch Alan Moore made to Wildstorm Comics, back before he’d ironed everything out; I think he showed it to a friend in the movie industry and the friend went ‘Wow! Can we use that?’, and he said ‘Sure’, or something like that. (This was obviously before he got so grumpy about adaptations of his work.) Anyway, the point is, by the time the actual comic came out, LXG was well into production and it was too late to change it – so while I too would dearly like to see a ‘proper’ League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie (especially with all the weird directions the series has gone in since then), it really isn’t particularly fair to compare such expectations with what we actually got. It’s an alternate take on the concept rather than any sort of actual adaptation, and deserves to be treated as such.

  • ArmitageX

    I’d watch “League” on a week-long 24 hour loop before I sat through “Hulk” again. But that’s just me.

  • CaptainCalvinCat

    “This movie is so utterly joyless. It does as much good for comic fans as a legion of dads telling them to go play outside.”

    I disagree. I watched the movie, read the book and had fun watching and reading it. Then I ordered the first two comic books and thought “What an awful piece of shite.The artwork’s atrocious, the story is too violent, gory and generally unappealing – whoever should be taking the credit for the rewrite of the LXG Movie…. give this man a lot more money than he got. He salvaged a great concept.”

  • Xander

    Part of the problem for me watching LXG is I rented it the same weekend I rented The Italian Job, and I watched The Italian Job first. Watching the Nautilus going into Venice after watching the speed boat chase through the Venice canals just completely took me out of LXG, and I was enjoying the movie for the most part until then since I hadn’t read the first LXG comic TPB. (The first TPB was awesome and has been read many times; the second was read once and sold.)
    I enjoyed Hulk because it did mirror a bit of what Peter David was doing with the character at the time in the comics, which was a more psychological approach to him. Of course, the novelization of the movie by him completely blew away what I saw on the screen.