Ang Lee's Hulk Reviewed


Dan has been quite a fan of the new Hulk movie, directed by Ang Lee. He's been meaning to take Erin and I for some time, and the urgency increased after we walked out on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Not that he should feel responsible. He wasn't dragging us, kicking and screaming, into the theatre...

Anyway, Tuesday evening, he paid, and I went, and I'm pleased to say that it got the taste of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen out of my mouth once and for all.

The movie follows the successful Marvel formula, and I noticed strong similarities in the opening credits and opening scenes between this movie and Spiderman. Like Spiderman, Hulk is more intelligent than your average action flick, featured mild-mannered (almost wimpy-looking) heroes encountering genetic-changing accidents and running amok. One difference: while Spiderman gets a little angsty about power and responsibility and helping the helpless in New York City, Hulk is a lot more straightforward: Hulk big! Military afraid! Military shoot first! Hulk dodge! Hulk smash! Good time had by all!

The story flashes back to the 1960s, where David Banner (a nice tip of the hat to the 70s television series), military scientist, is refused his request to test his regenerative experiments on human subjects, and so experiments on himself (because he's a scientist, and that's what scientists do). Things go awry when he realizes he's passed on his modifications to his newborn son, Bruce. When the military asks questions and yanks his funding, he runs amok (in non-Hulk form), and sets the military base's nuclear reactor on overload. Flash forward several years to where son Bruce Banner leaves his adopted parents and heads for college, where he unwittingly takes up his father's experiments and suffers an accident that triggers the genetic modifications his father passed onto him, bringing the Hulk about.

Let's get the negative points out in the open, first. The movie is about fifteen minutes too long. However, it has so much plot that I have no idea what I would cut to make up the difference; the action scenes, probably, but they look so good! The weakest part of the movie is Bruce Banner's final confrontation with his psychotic father. This is the emotional climax of the movie (which is, oddly, set apart from the physical climax of a moment ago when the Hulk took on the U.S. Air Force), and it doesn't work, possibly because the computer graphic effects go on overdrive, here. What started out as an intense confrontation between two excellent actors goes into the realm of pure animation, and that detracted (however slightly) from the effect of the scene.

But this movie is directed by Ang Lee. At the very least, you know it's going to look good. Whatever flaws there might be in the script are hardly noticed as you see the Hulk creature flying through the desert in scenes reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There is an artistic feel to the film that is beautiful to watch, and rarely gets annoying. The one artistic touch that doesn't quite work is the excessive use of split screen. Intended to evoke parallels to the comic, there are few scenes where this really comes across as particularly effective. There is very little transfer of action from one panel to another; quite often, it's just two different camera angles on the same scene -- not what I expect from a comic book, and ultimately distracting and annoying.

Fortunately, there isn't a single poor performance in the movie, and the script is on key. The characters may be thickly drawn, but they are characters, and the tension between them is real. Also, despite some negative reviews, the Hulk itself is quite good.

In designing a new Hulk creature (one more in keeping with the comic books), the movie finds itself in the shadow of the television series. Few will dispute that Lou Ferrigno's Hulk is darn near definitive and, by comparison, the CGI creature looks very cartoonish -- but given that this is a movie about a comic book, this should hardly be surprising. The CGI creature manages to convey a good range of emotions, and I especially liked the fact that Ang Lee's Hulk's use of force was entirely non-lethal. As far as I can tell, despite helicopters falling out of the sky and tanks being smashed into each other, only one character dies as a result of Hulk's carnage, and that's by his own hand. The Hulk is even quick-witted enough to jump on a fighter jet just in time to prevent it from smashing into the Golden Gate bridge. This gentle giant aspect of the Hulk is, in my opinion, the Hulk's key characteristic, and I'm delighted to see that this was kept for the film.

The total package is well worth your time and an $8 admission fee. I give Ang Lee's Hulk four stars out of five (****).

One thing about the Hulk creature's intelligence and ability to smash heavy objects and not kill people -- has anybody ever tried to tell Bruce Banner that? I don't know the comic series that well, but what I remember of the television series, he seems convinced that the Hulk is a monster of blind rage. It may be a monster, and it may be full of rage, but it's not blind.

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