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The Hulk By Matt Singer
Ang Lee’s Hulk is certainly ambitious. It look and feels far different than just about any other comic book film or summer blockbuster in recent memory. It has a fully-CGI title character, comic book panel mimicking editing and visuals, and some pretty hefty themes for a movie that many people are going to because it’s about a big green guy who can break stuff. Walking out of the theater, I felt a slew of emotions, some of them conflicting, and now I am admittedly struggling to put them to paper. Let us hope I can divest them before they turn me into a giant monster.
The story is a hodgepodge of the Hulk mythos from almost forty years of comics, with additional material contributed by screenwriters James Schamus, John Turman, and Michael France. He comes from mixture of repressed anger and forgotten childhood torture and a lot of scientific mumbo jumble. After a laboratory accident, scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) finds himself turned into the unstoppable Hulk when he is provoked into losing his temper. The one significant addition to the film’s story that was not from the comics is the character of David Banner (Nick Nolte), whose career as a scientist decades ago provides some of the spark for the Hulk, and who returns to his son’s life to try to control his future. Banner’s fate also rests in the hands of his lab partner and love interest Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), her overbearing father General Ross (Sam Elliott), and Glenn Talbot (Sweet Home Alabama’s Josh Lucas), who is a professional rival of General Ross’ and an emotional rival for Betty.
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The addition of David Banner is an important and interesting one. In the comics, Bruce Banner created a bomb of immense power, and is then caught in its blast trying to save an innocent bystander who has wandered onto the testing range. His own device, his own desire to harness the power to destroy is reflected in the beast his weapon transforms him into. In Lee’s Hulk, Banner is researching in nanotechnology and gamma radiation, but it is in order to facilitate ways to regrow lost tissue and facilitate better healing capabilities in humans. Though he is caught in an accident, it is ultimately his father’s more sinister designs that yield the Hulk. This creates an interesting father-son dynamic, and certainly the themes that Lee wishes to talk about, but it also takes a bit of focus off of Banner as our hero. As a result, he is almost a bystander in his own movie. Also, while Nolte and Banner do a nice job of acting like father and son, their scenes together result in some of the weakest in the picture, and the way the David Banner plot line is resolved is unsatisfying.
The changes to the origin and the large cast have the result of complicating things that work best when simplified, a point that is reinforced when the Hulk really cuts loose and takes on the army as he leaps across the desert. The computer generated Hulk is not entirely seamless (he’s most obviously fake when interacting with real humans), but when he races along a canyon floor, swatting away rockets, he looks undeniably cool. Reports of his Shrek-like appearance are greatly exaggerated. The money on the effects was certainly well-spent, but there is too much screentime devoted to establishing the characters and getting into the movements of the story. The Talbot character doesn’t add a lot besides cliched love conflicts and a performance by Lucas is a bit too hammy for this picture. And though adding the elder Banner allows Lee some freedom in “legitimizing” the material, it adds several needless steps to the process of unleashing The Hulk, which is really the reason we’re paying to see the picture. Lee’s aping comic book panels through split screens or multiple images or jagged cuts are technically impressive, but don’t add a great deal to the final piece, though visually Hulk tends to take on the shape of a Sam Raimi / Steven Soderbergh directors’ team-up.
My feelings for the film were mixed, but I also admit that I would love to see the film again and chew over the ideas Lee and his writers are presenting to us about male aggression and military power, amongst other things. It is certainly a peculiar picture with unusual rhythms that will undoubtedly turn off a large portion of mainstream audiences; many of whom were unable to sit in their seats for the duration without giggling or throwing things at one another in my screening. I wouldn’t expect The Hulk to be one of the biggest hits of 2003; for the $150 million Universal reportedly spent, they don’t have a crowd-pleaser on their hands. They’ve made a very expensive, very beautiful, very difficult cult-classic to be.