In May 1962, a new type of hero emerged. Unlike any other superhero at the time, the Hulk was a manifestation of fear, whose power was fueled by anger and rage, and if uncontrolled, could single handedly destroy all of mankind. An original creation from Marvel stalwarts Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Hulk was born and reborn, undergoing a series of transformations over the years including an unforgettable five-year stint on television starring the late Bill Bixby and bodybuilder, Lou Ferrigno. Now, for the first time, the Hulk makes his way to the big screen. He’s bigger than ever, he’s greener than ever, and you still won’t like Bruce when he’s angry. Thanks in part to Academy Award winning director Ang Lee and producer Gale Anne Hurd, this interpretation of the Hulk has incredible style and detail.
The story follows in the footsteps of a young scientist on the verge of a medical breakthrough. Bruce Banner and his associate, Betty Ross (also his ex-girlfriend), experiment with gamma radiation in an effort to heal wounds rapidly. Although employed by the government, their work has caught the attention of the private sector, specifically Major Glenn Talbot, an executive for a technology corporation interested in capitalizing on their discovery. Despite his attempts to lure them away, Bruce and Betty continue their research with fervor. But tragedy strikes. When a routine test goes sour, Bruce is exposed to a massive amount of gamma radiation, an amount that should have been fatal.
But following the accident, Bruce is surprisingly healthy. Left alone for observation, he is visited by a ghost from his past: David Banner, his father. A warped old scientist, David has other intentions for his son and knows a thing or two that Bruce does not. Coaxing the inner rage out of his son, he forces Bruce to transform into the Hulk, wreaking havoc on the laboratory and causing the military, under the command of General “Thunderbolt” Ross (Betty’s father), to conduct an investigation. Suspecting Bruce’s involvement, Ross has Bruce confined to his home. Meanwhile, David continues to provoke Bruce repeatedly, even sending an odd assortment of rabid dogs after Betty. Although the Hulk comes to her rescue, she winds up contacting her father out of fear and concern for Bruce.
Bruce is then committed for his own safety; however, when control over the matter is turned over to Glenn Talbot for research purposes, the inner Hulk is once again stirred. This time, no one can contain him. The Hulk escapes from the facility only to be pursued by an onslaught of military tanks and helicopters. Having exhausted all possibilities and fearing a large amount of human casualties, Ross brings in his daughter to calm the Hulk down. Her appearance alone is enough to soothe the Hulk. Recaptured, Ross and his daughter attempt to help Bruce overcome his inner demons by arranging a meeting with David Banner. But little do they know the consequences of their good deeds.
Ang Lee’s Academy Award winning “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was well refined and stylistically very impressive, emphasizing the grace and beauty of martial arts. It was a landmark achievement in that genre. Here, Ang Lee makes another remarkable directorial decision – manipulate the movie to be more like a comic book. To do so, he incorporates state-of-the-art technology to divvy up the screen into comic panels, popping them up in layers, splitting them in half, and zooming out of objects in a rapid sequence. This takes comic films to a whole new level. It’s a feast for the eyes, as if you are turning the pages of a comic book yourself.
One of the biggest areas of concern going into this picture was the supposed artificial look of the Hulk. Some said he looked too cartoonish, that his movement was not fluid, and that it’s impossible to make a character that is green with purple pants look real. Despite all of the criticism, I was very pleased with the Hulk’s screen time (only 4-5 appearances). A lot of work went into making the green earthier and in some of the close ups, particularly when he is immobile, he looks sensational. Yes, there were a couple of moments when he looks rubbery or computerized, but overall, I was not bothered by it.
The original comic storyline was a much darker portrayal of isolationism and the cold war – Banner was a nuclear physicist working on a “dirty bomb” to be used in combat when his experiment is sabotaged by a Soviet spy and he winds up irradiated with a lethal dose of gamma radiation. In an ironic twist, Bruce becomes what he despises – a non-intellectual brute who thinks only with his fists. But Lee’s rendition is a little lighter, a reflection of the current political climate. Bruce is still a physicist, but rather than working on weapons, he’s working on a medical cure. Also, his exposure to gamma rays is the result of an accident, not sabotage, and in a sadistic kind of way, he actually enjoys being the Hulk.
Focusing on the emotional side of Bruce’s transformation, Ang Lee creates a tragic, sentimental piece, a la “King Kong,” rather than a generic monster on the rampage type of film. It hones in on Bruce’s childhood, his upbringing, and the mysterious details of his father’s past. I loved the background, but moving forward, felt that David Banner’s character was out of place, at times unnecessary. Of particular notice, David Banner was made as a carbon copy of El Chivo, the Mexican guerilla in Alejandro Inarritu’s “Amores Perros,” replete with the scraggly gray hair and beard, the mannerisms, and even the canine entourage.
I was more impressed with Sam Elliott’s Thunderbolt Ross. Elliott encapsulated everything I imagined when reading the comic, commanding an on screen presence much like the animated Hulk himself. With the patented “I don’t think you’re going to like me when I’m angry” line, Eric Bana delivers solidly as Bruce Banner, part brilliant scientist, part nerdy bike rider. But his emotional quotient was downplayed, as if he casually transformed into this monster, woke up, and had breakfast without worry or concern. Even Jennifer Connelly (Betty Ross) seemed a bit reserved when you consider that her ex-boyfriend was now this big, green monster. There were very few screams, tears of remorse, or emotional reactions to anything that was going on. And it was a bit of a disappointment when you consider that the Hulk is a story built and powered by emotion.
When it comes to directorial style and flair, “The Hulk” breaks the mold. Using beautiful segues to tie comic scenery into widescreen celluloid, the film boldly goes where no comic film has gone before (although it’s sure to spawn many copycats). The special effects used to bring the Hulk to life were not too distracting, although the tumultuous relationship with Bruce’s father was. Looking beyond the presentation, looking beyond the greenness of the Hulk, one is left with an unfulfilling story that plods through a series of repressed memories and psychotic spells. Will the typical moviegoer care? No. When you weigh the good with the bad, “The Hulk” is a great popcorn movie, strong enough to dominate the mean, green box office machine.