Presented by: Universal Pictures. Directed by: Ang Lee. Written by: John Turman, Michael France and James Schamus, from
a Story by: James Schamus Based on a Comic Book Created by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Running Time: 138 minutes. Film Review by: Todd Kornick (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Hulk (dropping the historical The) is director Ang Lee’s overwrought
vision of Marvel Comics’ green antihero, an interesting if unsuccessful
attempt to give the base material a visceral jolt it ultimately cannot
bear. Before opening day, television ads gave viewers a sneak peak
at the hulk’s digital image, sparking debate over how the film
would fare based on the appearance of its computer-generated hero.
The monster’s appearance is less of an issue now that Hulk is
out there, overshadowed by a brooding plotline too busy evoking Oedipus
and Hamlet to generate the least bit of fun or frivolity.
Computer effects wizards at Industrial Light and Magic did a good
job of rendering a realistic-looking hulk who raves and stomps and
leaps convincingly enough across the screen. Thematically though, the
hulk is Ang Lee’s baby, not so much a character as the violent,
spontaneous growth of a bad seed sown by ego and reckless ambition.
Lee revamps a story familiar to fans of the old TV show (Bill Bixby/Lou
Ferrigno in the title role) or the Marvel comic (Stan Lee and Ferrigno
share a cameo scene in the first few minutes): after exposure to gamma
radiation, scientist David Bruce Banner becomes a destructive green
monster when he loses his temper. Hulk splits the TV show character
along both good/evil and son/father lines. David Banner experiments
with starfish to learn the secret behind their ability to regenerate
damaged limbs. His military benefactors won’t let him use human
subjects, so David tests on himself and destroys his lab in defiance.
Cut to the future: David’s son carries dad’s mutation as
he performs gamma research with ex-girlfriend Betty Ross, who has her
own problems with “emotionally distant men.” One of these
men is her father, the driven General “Thunderbolt” Ross,
who pulled the plug on Bruce’s father years ago and might be
interested in David’s research should it be of any military value.
A lab accident exposes Bruce to gamma radiation which reacts with
his altered chemistry. David resurfaces as the lab janitor, wild-eyed
and wild-haired from decades in a military prison. He tells Bruce of
his paternity and hints at his potential, which is finally unleashed
after forty minutes of vague exposition. Bruce hulks out and destroys
the lab, attracting serious military attention.
David appears more unbalanced with every attempt to gain control of
his son. With Bruce’s DNA, David hulkifies three stray dogs to
track down Betty Ross, who Hulk protects by exploding the dogs against
tree trunks. Next, David exposes himself to gamma rays and is able
to channel any substance he touches.
Throughout the first half Bruce is plagued by a series of unfinished
nightmare sequences involving his last memories of mom and dad. Later
he realizes that David murdered his mother to protect the secret of
young Bruce’s birthright.
In the last act the army captures Bruce for tissue samples to produce
their own hulking super-soldiers. As the hulk, Bruce escapes and leads
his pursuers on a cross-country chase sequence in which he bats around
expensive military hardware like a kitten with mice. In San Francisco
Hulk is lulled back to human form by the sight of Betty. Back in captivity,
Bruce is confronted by his father again. Following a speech where David
rails against the military industrial complex, Bruce transforms a final
time and David gnaws on a high voltage cable to become the searing
current inside. Father and son clash in a battle that leaves both combatants
dead to the world. Sequel anticipation sweeps in to fill the void when
we see a blonde-bearded Bruce in a South American rainforest dealing
with paramilitaries and suggesting they not make him angry.
The story is gripping for the brief intervals of straight action with
immediate goals in mind, like when Hulk protects Betty Ross from some
mutant dogs or swats down helicopters in a canyon. In these scenes
the FX is mesmerizing and seamless. Lee uses an original editing technique
of wipes and split screens to create living comic book panels. The
effect is great even if it seems like an afterthought to distract the
audience from so much unresolved conflict.
I was distracted from the action by big questions of what, how and
why, which Lee barely addresses in vague, moody scenes that left too
much to the imagination. For example: What did David Banner create
in his lab? How would he know it could turn his son into a Hulk? We
see it manifest in the child in one scene where a young Bruce internalizes
his rage at a schoolyard bully; his skin shows a brief green flare-up.
Why David goes to such lengths to dominate his son is never really
explained. A weak explanation is offered later when David lays on Bruce
a furious diatribe against the military establishment, but it comes
out of screenwriting nowhere and is a poor antidote to the moody posturing
that has gone before.
An insane father who would sacrifice his son as a guinea pig for military
science is simply too flat and mean a contrivance for this story to
bear out. Frankly, it’s a waste of Nick Nolte, who does his best
to evoke something resembling a human being. Eric Bana, as Bruce, looks
rightfully clueless as someone who can only find out the hard way that
something very bad has happened to him.
As the film’s center the father-son conflict should be the most
defined and focused part of the movie. Instead, it’s the weakest
link. A more focused script would have fleshed it out as a take on
Frankenstein. A more enjoyable movie might have abandoned it altogether.
Betty Ross’s own tension with her father has potential as a
subplot, but comes off underdeveloped and unnecessary. General Ross
is equally as driven as David to control the Hulk.
To lighten the mood Lee could’ve added a few more touches of
humanity to hulk’s character. In between the bellowing tantrums
I wanted to see more of an emotional interior to the beast. During
the dogfight scene I so wanted Hulk to carefully lift the car and place
it on the cabin roof for safe keeping.
Ang Lee is the director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a better
story for the kind of character study of passion restrained and out
of control that Lee tried to cram into Hulk.