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.
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?
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.