If you're a producer who is going to do a movie about a powerful character
lifted from the pages of a comic strip, one who is more intimidating than
heroic and therefore would be in need of sensitivity and understanding, you
might sign director Ang Lee to the job. After this Taiwan-born 49 year old
proved his acumen with a story and its characters in the oh so English drama,
"Sense and Sensibilities," he's been one of the go-to guys when you want the
work of a master story-teller.
The craft in presenting the back story of "The Hulk" -- of his humanity, his
relationships, his problematic past and his genetic gift -- is, if anything,
sensitive, but just a bit overdone and prolongued. It seems like hours
before we get a look at the big boy we all come to see in this action movie.
Talk about developing a character from whole cloth or, in this case, from pen
and ink, this effort needs to be ranked among the valiant.
We start with a scientist, David Banner (Paul Kersey) who, for years, has
been studying how one might go beyond the limitations of ordinary human life
in the lab and, ultimately, to create a superhuman. When his outlandish
experiments are discovered, and he's banned from the lab, he uses himself as
a guinea pig, injecting a serum to alter his DNA. This starts a process of
gene change that's not exactly under control.
David Banner fathers a son, Bruce, whom he sees him as an extension of his
laboratory experiments. Furthermore, he's passed on his genetic
modifications to the boy who, growing up, senses a strangeness that disturbs
his dreams, his memory and his ability to completely relax.
Bruce's inheritance has led him toward science and, when we see him as an
adult (Eric Bana, the voice of a friendly shark in "Finding Nemo"), he's busy
in his lab with girlfriend, Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), also conducting
experiments concerning genetic mutation. We see one experiment go wrong and
this is followed by a runaway machine that emits gamma rays. Bruce, in
attempting to rescue his lab helper, is exposed to a full shot of the deadly
particles. Only, he doesn't die.
Instead, the gamma rays have fueled the potential growth mechanism that's
been stored in the cells of his body, another being that's been residing
within him just awaiting the right excitation to become animated. All that's
required now for its total realization is a bit of emotional stimulus, like
This guy is all about anger, power and the satisfaction of besting those who
imperil him. This guy doesn't just go postal, he embodies brute force and
immediate regeneration. He's his father's son without wanting to be.
This digitally morphed creature is designed (by CGI house, ILM) for super
strength and sensitivity of expression beyond pure rage. Closeups will have
you crying and wanting to coo at him, "everything's going to be all right,
Brucey." Where it goes wrong and reveals its two-dimensional concepts, is
where he springs around the lower atmosphere as though super strength
includes bouncing levitation. The figure becomes toy-like at such times, but
the story brings you back to his insubstantial universe.
If anything locks you into a zone of familiarity once the genes explode into
angry-Bruce ("The Hulk"), it's the acting earnestness of Jennifer Connelly,
lab assistant, girl friend, daughter of Bruce's dangerously powerful nemesis,
General "Thunderbolt" Ross. Connelly, so impressive in "A Beautiful Mind" became a
favorite actress of mine when I saw her capability for noirish mystery in
"Dark City." To me, she can do no wrong.
Nick Nolte as the latter day father David Banner, on the other hand, is
another story. Why do they write such over the edge dialogue for this guy?
If there's anyone who can't connect on a plane of simple humanity, it's him.
His theatrical tendency leads his interpretation of the evil scientist into
doing him like a 1920s exaggeration of madness and melodrama.
The admirable Sam Elliott seems to be trying to live up to his "Thunderbolt"
image in almost every line, another bit of off-putting obviousness that
exhausts itself into a more docile and understanding character in the last
act. And, what's a comic strip movie without a little homage? Lou Ferigno,
the first "Hulk", is brought onscreen in a brief cameo as a security guard.
All good comic strips have, within their basic framework and superhuman hero
some message for humanity. Here we have the caution against the ego consumed
scientist playing god. Do we have a timely warning for the clone labs here?
Geneticists, biotechnologists, take note.
It make you wonder if they considered renaming him in the face of "Bruce,
Almighty," inviting derision. Then, too, doesn't his green 3-dimensional
animation design invite comparison to that good fellow, Shrek? But, having
said that, it must be added that the attention to detail in the facial
animation is pretty outstanding and may set a new high mark for the CG
Despite the negatives which ultimately overbalance the film, there are
moments when Ang Lee's talent succeeds in creating taut expectation. During
these moments the audience is rapt and silent, in the grip of suspense. The
trouble is that pacing and fascination are too often lost in the repetition
inherent in a two hour and eighteen minute running time. So are the serious
messages concerning repressed memories, the horrors of mutation, sinning
parents and defenseless children.
Despite the Hulk's destructive combat with advanced military machines,
weaponry and law enforcement, the real war seems to be between the human
story Lee tries so hard to create and the underlying interest of the studio's
thirst for action and colorful destruction to satisfy their youth market.
Well, that's who's coming to the theatre for this one.
~~ Jules Brenner