The full theater experience is starting to lose its magic for me. Shoved into a dark room that looks bigger than it really is, surrounded on all sides by banjo-playing mouth-breathers who talk, answer cell phones, ignore their screaming kids, and noisily stuff their faces during the film is bad enough. The projectors with bulbs turned down lower to save money, the usually sub-par audio and complete lack of supervision over the equipment (when, say, the film goes out of focus or hits a bad splice, chopping the image in the middle) – and complete lack of caring when you complain – even more aggravating. But when you intentionally go to see something that you’ve been anticipating and it turns out to be a long, tedious affair with unconvincing special effects crammed into the center of it, well… that’s Hollywood for you.
“The Hulk,” as any red-blooded American geek can tell you, is about a man for whom anger-management courses were invented. According to the classic Marvel Comic, Doctor Bruce Banner was hit hard with Gamma Rays during a military experiment, which unlocked his id, unleashing it as a giant, angry property-destruction-machine (sometimes gray, sometimes green). In the movie, this is pretty much the same thing, except that the writers worked really hard to make this seem plausible, adding an extra level of mad-scientistship on the part of Banner’s loose-cannon father. Now, the gamma rays, instead of being a mere plot device, are actually a trigger for something that was already present in Banner’s bloodstream, thanks to the monkeying around by dear old dad. So now the usually repressed and distant young Doc has a reason for being repressed and distant – angry, he tends to destroy things. Or, okay, everything.
In the big-budget powerhouse, Banner is played by Australian pretty-boy Eric Bana (much more impressive in Chopper, btw), in love with pretty Betty Ross (played emotionlessly by Jennifer Connelly), daughter of the bigwig General Ross (Elliot), former nemesis of Banner’s scientist father (Nolte in present-day). Those are the major players. With the folks established, the audience just has to sit back and wait for the cool effects and devastation that the TV promos have been showing us endlessly. Joke’s on us, though – there’s a looonng wait involved. And when Bana/Banner finally does Hulk out, the effects are no more convincing than they were on the small-screen hawking Mountain Dew.
When approached by the studio suits to direct this effects extravaganza, Ang Lee replied “I don’t know how to make a superhero movie, but I do know how to make a Greek tragedy.” So that’s what he did. And apparently, according to sources as valuable as Ain’t It Cool News, the studio guys freaked out – because that’s exactly what he delivered. It’s almost as if Lee resented having to put the big green guy in there at all. His appearances feel almost grudging, but by the time he really gets to rip loose, the script is a mess, nothing makes any sense and, judging by the fidgeting and running up and down the aisles, even the kiddies were bored with the whole thing. There was more entertainment watching the polyester-clad thugs in the lobby shake down little girls for their cell phones before admitting them into the advanced screening.
The problems – and there are a ton of them – lead back first to the script by John Turman, Michael France and James Schamus. They knew pretty well how to get to the Hulk, but once they had him out, they didn’t know what to do with him, or how to motivate each scene to logically piss off the usually-reserved (now obsessively-struggling to be) Banner so he could go all green and bumpy again. Some of the beats leading up to this are completely ludicrous. Plus, it’s been well established that bullets just bounce off our green meanie, no matter how many you shoot at him, yet that doesn’t stop our military from just firing at him continuously. Plus, the madder he gets, the bigger he gets, so you’ve got a building-sized Hulk knocking down buildings by the time he’s finished. I realize this is the point, but a little logic would have been nice.
Another problem is the visual style of the movie. I know a lot of fanboys will be plotzing and swooning at the numerous –and endless- split-screen effects designed to give the frame a comic-book look, not to mention all the digital zooms from one small image to a large one that serve as transitions between, well, shots. Then there are the wipes, dissolves, and raping of the 180-degree rule that tends to leave viewers – at least this viewer – disoriented as to where exactly I should be looking, or what I’m actually looking at. This is a busy movie – the frame is never still – the images are, for the most part, but they’re being shoved off to one side or another, flattened, letterboxed, split, spun, etc.
And the direction had to have been something like, “Please deliver your lines as slowly as possible.” Which resulted in every actor staring for long periods of time, and dialogue stretched to forever. Very earnest performances, but you really felt like everyone was adrift (except for Nolte, who was all over the place and whose character made very little sense to begin with). After two or three deadpan scenes, I was getting pretty annoyed that Connelly’s character was getting down on Banner for being “emotionally distant”.
Somewhere in the middle of “The Hulk” is a big, dumb, noisy movie trying desperately to get out. You get a cool tank-swinging set piece in the middle, followed by a cooler helicopter battle (in which things are smashed to pieces but you hear “I’m okay!” on the radio, just to keep that ol’ PG-13 rating intact), but you’re subjected to a lot of angst in the meantime. At this point, it would be pointless to quibble over the cartoony look of the main character. By the time he shows up, you’re dying for some color.