Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 07/25/03 23:22:45

"Hulk annoyed! Not like it when he Ang Lee!"
3 stars (Average)

What are we going to do when we run out of Marvel comics to adapt? Spiderman, DareDevil and the X-Men have all kept us coming in and buying popcorn over the last couple of years, while every week there seems to be a fresh Batman or Superman rumour. So it was only a matter of time before Hulk got his chance to smash onto screen. And when Ang Lee joined the project it seemed to be a curious mish-mash of styles. It could have sucked. It could have been great. Truth is, it's somewhere in the middle....

Eric Bana is, handily enough, Bruce Banner, a struggling scientist working on the effects of gamma radiation and regenerative tissue. He shares a lab with on/off girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), forever throwing winsome glances his way. Her father, General 'Thunderbolt' Ross (Sam Elliot) is wary of Banner. He's worried that he's following in his father's (Nick Nolte) footsteps and taking experimentation one step too far. Also hanging around wanting to grab a piece of Bruce's research and Betty is Glen Talbot (Josh Lucas), also working for the military.

Unbeknownst to Bruce, his father is not dead, and actually experimented on him at an early age. So when Bruce is accidentally blasted with gamma radiation, he isn't fried, but devleops a rage problem where when he gets angry he becomes a big, green Bruce all-fighty.

Like all recent and decent superhero flicks, 'Hulk' starts off by setting up the background of the character and his eventual transformation into the titular hero. 'Hulk' has an interesting difference in that he isn't a wounded vigilante, taking on the criminal underworld because he feels he has to. Instead he's an uncontrollable ball of chaos, unable to hold back or trigger the transformation himself and is prisoner to his nature.

So Hulk is a different character and soon finds himself a victim of himself and of the military interference. Yet, despite this intriguing 'Frankenstein'-esque set-up, why was it, half-way through I realised my total indifference to this movie? Instead of siding with the monster-who-doesn't-want-to-be, I just shrugged and thought "Well, what can you do? That's life".

Lee's slow-burning introduction doesn't help. Lee slowly lets the characters talk, talk and talk some more, just hinting at the fury that's to come. I'm all for character development, don't get me wrong, but there's a difference between that and just being plain boring. It's a suffocatingly dry style filled with ambigious dreamscapes and metaphorical shots of rocks and moss. It's all very pretty but it doesn't actually get us anywhere. We want a monster on the rampage flick, Lee wants to give us that and a character study. What we get is a messy collision of the two. Maybe he's just the wrong director for the job. He's got the imagination and the skill certainly, but sometimes directors are just not suited for a particular film.

Sure, we can wax lyrical about the use of editing (wipes, split-screens, scenes branching into another) but after a while it stops being entertaining and just makes you wonder who bought Ang the '24' DVD box set for Christmas. It's a shame that the pacing isn't as quick as the editing style demands it to be, and that Lee didn't pick out on some of the more stupid plot elements. So Bruce's father was fired as a scientist and thrown in prison for thirty years? Ok, I'm with you. But when he gets released he gets a job at the SAME research lab where his son now works and NO ONE recognises him? Er, what?!

Bana tries his best to garner some sympathy for Bruce, but his part feels severely under-developed and dull. Connelly also gives it her best but is reduced to giving off mournful stares for the majority of the running time. And with dialogue like "I guess it's just my inexplicable obsession with emotionally distant men," you've got to hand it to her for almost making it seem natural. Likewise, Elliot and Nolte both seemed to have wandered in, in search of a better movie and just plain drunk, respectively.

But hell, who cares, it's HULK we've come to see! And credit where credit's due, Lee gets him spot-on. Some of the time. When he's creating carnage in the lab and laying the smackdown on some tanks, the Hulk is nothing short of amazing. But then there are some awful close-ups of his face when he's jumping through the air and he looks like Shrek on steroids. He's a curiously weightless creation, too - he just never feels like he's a giant. It's almost too effortless when he picks cars up. And to get to the tank smackdown you've got to suffer the dark, badly-edited brawl with the mutant dogs first. Firstly, it's too dark to work out what the hell's going on and secondly whose great idea was it to have the Hulk fighting mutant poodles?

Add to that a ludicrously overblown and confusing finale that'll have you remembering 'Dreamcatcher' with a shudder, and what you have is something to be equally admired and equally derided.

You've got to admire ambition, I suppose. Lee wants to make a superhero flick about a rampaging beast combined with an earnest drama about father/son relationships and the anger inside all of us. It tries valiantly to be a tragic study, but fails and will instead have people whining "why couldn't there be more stuff like the tanks?". And indeed why couldn't there? I was sick of Bruce having arguments with his father, and wanted to see him turn green and big and SMASH STUFF! It's ironic that the final scene had me actually quite looking forward to a sequel, where the background stuff can be forgotten and the action can take centre-stage, as the majority of the film had left me thinking "no thanks". It's not as dreadful as 'DareDevil', but whereas 'Spider-Man' came sprinting out confidently, 'Hulk' stumbles on trying to find his legs. Better luck next time, hopefully.

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