The Hulk
"An odd mix of ponderous arthouse and action-packed blockbuster."

With Marvel fan-favourites Spider-Man, Blade and the X-Men all making their way to cinema screens over recent years, it wasn’t a big surprise that everyone’s favourite not-so-jolly green giant would be next. However, what did raise a few filmic eyebrows was the choice of the independently-minded Ang Lee as director. Having conquered genre after genre, critics everywhere where curious to see how the diminutive Taiwanese helmer’s transition from ice houses to popcorn central would turn out.

The answer, it turns out, is an underwhelming experience.

After gifted scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is accidentally exposed to a massive overdose of Gamma radiation, it awakens human-enhancing genetic tampering passed on from his father (Nick Nolte). Consequently, from then on, any time Bruce loses his temper he transforms into a 15-foot high green-beast with near limitless strength and invulnerability. Though his ex-girlfriend and fellow scientist Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) wants to help, her father; General Ross (Elliot) wants to stop him at all costs.

Though Lee admirably attempts to craft a character-centric story with multiple layers and thought-provoking depth, the end result is a mixed bag that doesn’t blend together and leaves you feeling, well, flat. Yes, it should be applauded for aspiring above the normal superhero flick, but the arthouse issues it tackles grate against the mainstream-aimed action and the real world created ends up undermining itself when events throw plausibility away like our emerald giant tossing a tank.

Speaking of the titular trouser-ripper, his realisation on screen is another aspect where Hulk lets itself down. While the transformations from Banner-to-monster (and vice-versa) and any interactions with people/objects are impressive, the only time the purple-trousered big guy looks authentic is when he is shrouded in darkness or covered by shadows. The finished product is miles above the worrying early shots debuted at the Super Bowl, sure, but it’s all too obvious that it’s a CGI creation taking centre stage. Suddenly, Lou Ferrigno in green body paint lifting objects in slow-mo doesn’t seem so naff.

On the other wall-smashing hand, where Hulk does succeed is in its attempts to tackle complex issues. Though bound to bore young children and irritate action-loving adolescents, Lee offers a pondering and cerebral exploration of dark psychological corners while probing interesting notions like dysfunctional father-son relations, emotional repression and science-versus-religion. While the 20-minute effects-heavy military-chase would argue otherwise, this is a picture that has much more in common with old pictures, such as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Frankenstein than it does Spider-Man or X-Men.

However, when it comes to visual style, Hulk couldn’t be any more comic book. Using split-screen, quick zooms, overlays, matching panels, transitional panels and just about every other trick, quirk and fade known to man, Lee captures the arty style of a graphic novel with such creativity that the editing equipment must have been nearly burned out. Complementing all this is an essence-capturing score from Danny Elfman that, according to Lee, was supposed to emulate “the sound of green”.

As for Eric Bana, it’s not that he’s bad (he’s not); it’s just that he’s not Bruce Banner. While he shows ability and never looks outclassed by veterans Connelly (soulful), Elliot (gruff) and Nolte (gruffer), the Australian isn’t the geeky scientist that Stan Lee - who gets his usual cameo - imagined all those years ago. Credit where it’s due, though, he does a nice line in internal struggle and his final words will send a shiver down the spine of Bill Bixby fans everywhere.

More a Greek tragedy than a superhero movie, Ang Lee’s latest is an odd mix of ponderous arthouse and action-packed blockbuster. Much like the title, Hulk certainly isn’t incredible.

Reviewed on: 22 Feb 2009
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Ang Lee directs summer blockbuster of the Marvel Comics scientist who turns green with anger.
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Read more Hulk reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2
Gator MacReady *1/2

Director: Ang Lee

Writer: John Turman, Michael France, James Schamus, based on the comicbook, by Stan Lee and JackKirby

Starring: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte, Paul Kersey, Cara Buono, Todd Tesen, Kevin O Rankin

Year: 2003

Runtime: 137 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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