I don't know who I am. I don't know what I'm... becoming. But I know one thing for sure: you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.
Dr. David Banner was a researcher for the U.S. military, finding ways to enhance soldiers genetically. Denied permission to use human test subjects, he began experimenting on himself, and later on his son Bruce, who inherited something from his father. Everything ends when Lt. Colonel "Thunderbolt" Ross discovers David's experiments, and Banner sets off the military base's (nuclear and green) self-destruct mechanism before something happens with him and Bruce's mother...
Years later, Bruce
Banner "Kenzler" (Eric Bana) is an emotionally repressed researcher at UC Berkeley working on using a combination of gamma radiation and Nanomachines for medical purposes; they're able to get the test animals to heal, but they keep exploding in cancerous growth. Adding to his stress are his co-worker and ex-girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), and Glenn Talbot, who's trying to buy Bruce's lab from Betty on behalf of her father, General Ross. Bruce is forced to Take The Bullet for a lab tech who got trapped with a gamma-ray emitter about to go off and nanomachines in the air, and... wakes up later completely normal. Well, better than normal; all of his minor aches and pains have somehow healed themselves. Still, somehow he survived when every frog who went through this exploded -- and Talbot, Ross, and the weird new janitor (Nick Nolte) are all very interested in what Bruce has done...
The film did well with critics but was ultimately a box office bust. It broke even and had a "sequel"/reboot made five years later. It was (in)famous for the Internet Backdraft that accompanied its release, especially when a full cut was leaked for download to much nerd rage. Surprisingly, despite the sequel taking the opposite track both films did almost exactly the same with critics and financially (though the reboot has a far higher Imdb rating), which may be a measure of how popular the character is in the mainstream. Nonetheless, the 2003 film is slowly becoming something of a Cult Classic in certain circles; whatever else you can say about it, it's certainly not a film people feel neutral about.
See also the game based on this movie.
- Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: A particularly strange example, as it's more along the lines of "Action Film Quiet Drama First-Two-Thirds-Of-The-Movie," followed by a final act that's almost entirely comprised of action. It's not entirely sure what sort of movie it wants to be (it's an Ang Lee film, after all), leading to common criticisms that it has too much action to qualify as a family melodrama, but not enough action to be a Summer Blockbuster.
- Angst: Boatloads of it.
- Archnemesis Dad: David to Bruce
- Artistic License Physics: Even if super-jumping is a power that the Hulk has in the comics, the jumps he make in this film just do not work. Something of that much mass would weigh a couple of tons, and yet he jumps like gravity is reduced for him. Gravity does not work that way.
- Beard of Evil: David Banner.
- The Cameo: Lou Ferrigno (the Hulk from the TV show) and Stan Lee (Hulk's creator) appear as security guards.
- Chewing the Scenery: David Banner, just before his transformation. Figurative and literal, as that page's image shows.
- Composite Character: David Banner's powers are a combination of the Absorbing Man and electrical elemental Zzzax from the comics.
- Developing Doomed Characters: The frequent reaction to the early scenes before the Hulk appears.
- Did Not Do Research: At the end, Bruce travels to Brazil, which is in South America, and you know that is like that because they're in the Amazon Forest, and they're talking Spanish!... except, no, in Brazil they speak Portuguese, not Spanish.
- Doing In the Wizard: One of the points where this film outperforms its successor, which fell back on hoary old I Love Nuclear Power. Bruce's nanomeds heal tissue in response to trauma, and the mutation Bruce inherited from his father's experiments keep them from going malignant. The good side of this is that Bruce came out of it with the body of a really healthy tween. The bad part is that they also respond to psychological trauma, so when he gets angry they just keep on buffing tissues until you get an big angry green WMD. And since he witnessed his father killing his mother while trying to kill him, he's got psychological trauma to spare.
- Every Helicopter Is a Huey: General Ross co-ordinates the far more high-tech Hulkbusters from one on at least one occasion.
- Freudian Excuse: Bruce and Betty both. The film could have just as easily been called "Daddy Issues: The Movie".
- Faux Symbolism: The movie often includes shots of lichens, which are supposed to foreshadow the Hulk because they're green like him.
- Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: Genetic tampering, nanobots and radiation.
- Healing Factor: What both Bruce and David Banner's experiments were trying to create; a secondary superpower of the Hulk.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Talbot is blown up after his attempt to kill the Hulk with an M2 fails miserably.
- Idiosyncratic Wipes
- Large Ham: Nick Nolte is clearly having fun playing a wacko. And he finishes a hammy speech (with plenty of gesturing) by literally Chewing the Scenery.
- Left Hanging: Betty's "dream" of when she was younger and her father left her (to deal with David breaking into the lab) with a soldier, who was doing something with her...
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Yes, the new janitor at Bruce's lab is his long-lost father David.
- Magic Pants: Except for one scene where Bruce ends up naked after calming down, appears at full effect (and in a homage to the comics, they're purple).
- Mythology Gag: "Puny human!" and Bruce's dad having his name in the TV series.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer made it seem like a regular action movie. Considering the Hulk takes 45 minutes to appear, it is far more focused on drama.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: It was General Ross' fault David was unable to cure Bruce.
- One-Winged Angel: Although David Banner gains his powers midway through the movie, they really kick in at the climax, robbing him of all human semblance (for the catalyst, see Chewing the Scenery, particularly that page's image).
- Oscar Bait: A rare superhero film example. Stands in stark contrast to most Critic Proof superhero movies including The Incredible Hulk. Though this pleased the critics, this formula for a superhero film did not work well at all for Hulk at the box office, where it made a record drop in revenue from first to second week. It was so bad that film franchise was rebooted after only four years.
- Not as Oscar Bait as you'd think. Both films have metacritic ratings around the 60's range, indicating mixed but positive reviews.
- Overclocking Attack: How Bruce defeats his father.
- Painting the Medium: Certain shots are framed in comic book panels.
- Parental Abandonment: David was imprisoned for his experiments (and killing his wife), and Bruce was taken away to be adopted.
- Parental Issues: The major theme of the film. Watch Hulk and then count how many sub-tropes from that page show up in some form.
- Professor Guinea Pig: Dr. David Banner resorted to using himself as a test subject for his Bio Augmentation research.
- Guinea Pig Family: David also used his son Bruce, who inherited some of his father's modifications. The film deconstructs this trope in how David is torn between actually trying to find a cure for his son and treating him as a test subject -- and indeed, the proof of what he was trying to accomplish.
- Sequel Hook: The scene in South America at the end, showing Bruce trying to help others and deal with his condition. Surpisingly, The Incredible Hulk film picks up on this plot point, and could in fact act as a sequel to the general elements of this film. The subsequent Avengers film calls back to this by having him in a similar situation, hiding and providing help to the poor in India.
- Signature Style: Critics and viewers alike had a better reception of the film if they were aware of director Ang Lee's other work, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which has many similarities: Scenery Porn, an abundance of Quiet Drama Scenes, a rather inspired(if bizarre) application of Wuxia, and Tragedy.
- Sins of Our Fathers: General Ross's hatred of Bruce arises from what David Banner did before being sent to prison.
- Smug Snake: Talbot.
- Stillborn Franchise: As the quote atop that trope's page shows, they had to follow this with a reboot.
- Strong as They Need to Be: The size also varies with the strength.
- Tanks for Nothing: Three tanks confront the Hulk out in the desert. The first one he flings away, the second he bashes the crap out of (after shaking out everyone inside), and for the third he bends the cannon muzzle so that it aims right at the gunner.
- Title Drop: Done by Bruce after he transforms back to normal, just after his fight with the hulked-up dogs.
Bruce: "My father sent them. He is my father. He wanted me to change. He wanted me to change into that mindless hulk."
- Voodoo Shark: For the Hulk -- the accident with Bruce's radiation experiments only triggered latent genetic modifications inherited from his father's self-experimentation in this version of the story. Also, "nanomeds".
- It makes far more sense if you actually pay attention to what the Nanomeds-radiation treatment does. They result in a healing factor that results in cell growth; because of the experiments Banner Sr. did on Bruce, his body adapts them into the Hulk transformation, rather than exploding.
- What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: Among other things, the nuclear explosion associated with the classic Hulk origin is alluded to by the nuclear self-destruct going off when David kills Bruce's mother in front of him -- the moment the Hulk was truly born.
- The ending also involves the the four classical elements, earth, air, fire, water. The absorbing man transforms into an electrical being and fights the Hulk in the form of a thunderstorm (air), then melds with a mountain (earth), and then turns into a watery being in the nearby lake (water). The Hulk, as a source of energy and heat in that scene, with a green fiery aura at one point, would identify with fire.