Ang Lee’s “Hulk” a letdown
Although “The Hulk” is an ambitious effort with well-developed characters and exciting action sequences, it simply does not flow into a coherent film.
The big question coming into the film was how Ang Lee (director of a string of finely crafted art films including “Sense and Sensibility and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) would handle a big budget comic book adaptation.
The flaw of many action films is that they usually lack character development. Ang Lee overcompensates for this and denies the audience what they want the most. Lee takes Stan Lee’s version of the Hulk and attempts to pack in as much emotional angst as he can. He has re-imagined The Hulk as a tragic figure trapped by his own fate and the greed of others.
Set in Berkeley, Calif., scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is presented as a deeply repressed man, the product of DNA experiments and a traumatic childhood decades earlier from his scientist dad, David (Nick Nolte). He has repressed all memory of his first four years of life, believing that his parents died when he was an infant. Bruce is so emotionally cut off from others that even his relationship with girlfriend and fellow researcher Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) has suffered greatly.
Their lab experiments attract the unwanted attention of Betty’s estranged father, Gen. Ross (Sam Elliott), rival researcher Glenn Talbot (“Sweet Home Alabama’s” Josh Lucas) and a new night janitor who turns out to be Bruce’s father, recently released from prison.
A lab accident exposes Bruce to what should be a fatal dose of gamma radiation. But his Dad’s childhood DNA experiments not only allow him to withstand the gammas, but to awaken the “monster” within. Now when severely angered, the scrambled DNA turns Bruce into the Hulk.
Once this happens, “Hulk” becomes a series of grisly cliffhangers and battles, the most impressive of which take place in the Utah desert and above Frisco Bay between Hulk and Thunderbolt’s military. Gradually increasing in both scope and violence, they drive the movie to a massive closing climax.
“Hulk” represents a semi-successful attempt to fuse high psychological drama with mass audience thrills and spectacle. Even if it’s not completely successful, perhaps too dark for some, one could still argue that it’s the most ambitious comic-book movie since Tim Burton’s 1989 epic “Batman.”
Unlike the endearing CBS series “The Incredible Hulk” (1978-82), in which Bill Bixby’s Bruce steps off camera in favor of bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno in green paint, Bruce’s alter ego is now an entirely computer-generated entity (although it borrows from Bana’s features). The face is fully expressive, the body moves realistically, and the interactions with real people and objects are nearly flawless. But that being said, you know in the back of your mind that it’s not real.
Nick Nolte, coming off a fine performance in “The Good Thief” gives an entertaining, if over the top performance. His secretive, ex-con janitor with haunted eyes, makes David a vision of fury and shame. He reveals the truth and himself to Bruce at the precise moment when Bruce’s buried past comes crashing in on top of him.
The downfall of the film is that for a big-budget comic-book adaptation it feels very serious and humorless. The idea of the Hulk, and the appeal of its fantasy, comes from the satisfaction we all take in unleashing anger, as long as there are no consequences, (think pleading temporary insanity). “The Hulk” doesn’t give us enough of what we want: a giant monster tearing everything apart in a fit of intense rage. It takes 40 minutes to first see The Hulk in action. By contrast, the first half of “Spider Man” attempted to show the motivations and transformation of Peter Parker into Spider Man and ended up being the most entertaining part of the film.
IN THE END: “The Hulk” is too slow to get started and goes on too long. Much like Spielberg’s “AI” it is very ambitious and has some very exciting scenes. However the sum of its parts is less than the whole. This will be remembered as a decent but flawed film. Many expecting a faster paced action film might be let down. (C+ to B-)