Ang Lee is a respected and beloved filmmaker. He won an Oscar for "Brokeback Mountain." He made one of the definitive domestic-life-is-a-nightmare movies with "The Ice Storm." And "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is just plain terrific. But there's one movie that remains something of a black mark -- or at the very least a weird outlier -- in his career. That's "Hulk," his 2003 comic book movie that didn't please critics or fanboys all that much. It's arguably his one outright failure, although it is funny how Lee's angst-y approach to David Banner was a precursor to the dark back-stories we have in superhero movies now. Apparently Lee still thinks about "Hulk" all these years later -- and at the strangest times. Like when he's watching "The Tree of Life."
Vulture caught up with Lee at the Gotham Awards Monday night, and they talked about the year's best movies. Lee had recently seen Terrence Malick's acclaimed Brad Pitt drama, and he had some thoughts about it -- some thoughts probably no one else has had:
"Most of [Tree of Life] blew me away," he said, although he confessed to a little bit of professional envy over the film's trippy special-effects interlude connecting the main story, set in the fifties, with the birth of the universe. "I had those thoughts in The Hulk, about the macro/micro stuff," said Lee, referring to his experimental 2003 comic book flick. "There are some locations [in Tree of Life] I even scouted before, so I see a lot of the elements I was thinking about in The Hulk. Some I put in, some I didn't. The non-drama part of Tree of Life was stuff I was thinking about when I was doing The Hulk. So I've been there. That's why that part didn't take my breath away, because I'd been thinking about similar things. I like to be surprised."
Yeah, seriously, Malick: Please be more original.
We kid, of course. Lee's a great director and, if anything, his comments ought to suggest that he still regards "Hulk" as the one that got away -- as opposed to thinking that he's criticizing "Tree of Life" harshly. And we can understand why Lee would be that way about "Hulk": It's a movie that feels ripe for rediscovery simply because people so hated it back in '03. Coming on the heels of his success with "Crouching Tiger," you can see how that might sting a little.
But, still, c'mon, Mr. Lee: The effects in "Tree of Life" are pretty amazing.