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Hulk (June 22/03)

Ang Lee's Hulk is really two movies: one concerned with familial relationships and haunted pasts, and another featuring a big green guy smashing things and soaring through the skies. The two never really connect, and that disjointed feeling (combined with a storyline that would have trouble filling a 60-minute TV show, let alone a two and a half hour movie) turns Hulk into the first really bad comic book movie since its re-emergence over the last few years.

The film opens with David Banner (Paul Kersey) working feverishly to complete his work on some experiments involving genetics, but he's soon shut down by a grizzled military man named Ross (Todd Tesen). Thirty years later, Banner's son Bruce (Eric Bana) has picked up where he left off, though it's clear that Bruce isn't quite as determined as his father was. Things take a change for the worst, however, when Bruce is inundated with gamma radiation as a result of an experiment gone wrong. But much to the surprise of Betty (Jennifer Connelly), his lab partner and former girlfriend, Bruce isn't killed; rather, he emerges from the ordeal better than ever (his bad knee is no longer bad, etc). It isn't long before Bruce notices a somewhat troubling side-effect, though: he becomes a large green monster that likes to smash things whenever he becomes angry.

The chief complaint of Hulk among its detractors is that there's no joy in the movie; unlike Spider-Man and X-Men, there's not a whole lot here to get excited about. Apart from a sequence that sees Hulk fighting three mutant dogs, the film's tone is decidedly downbeat and oftentimes threatens to rival Ordinary People for father-son angst. Lee's remarked in a number of interviews that he had never read the comic before shooting the movie, and that much is fairly obvious. It's almost a full hour before Banner transforms into the Hulk, with a hefty dose of sorrow and pity working its way through the leads. The script goes to great pains to show how conflicted Bruce is, both in his work and in his personal life (but mostly in the latter) - the problem is, though, he's just not a particularly interesting character. But he's practically Michael Corleone compared to his father, who (as portrayed by Nolte) is shown to be an intense and very insane force in Bruce's life. That's all well and good, but we never really find out why David is so determined to finish his research. And Nolte goes for the gusto, which could've been a good thing, but his performance comes off as over-the-top since we never find out what's driving the character.

But aside from inconsistencies within the script, Hulk fails in its action sequences - a sure sign that Lee was absolutely the wrong choice to direct the film. The most glaring fault of the movie's visual look is Lee's overuse of split-screen, which he's repeatedly said is supposed to be reminiscent of a comic book's pages. But it just doesn't work, as Lee inserts this device into the most inappropriate moments - including a shot of a helicopter landing shown from three different angles. This technique is put to far better use in Brian De Palma's flicks and even on the TV show 24. And then, of course, there's the Hulk himself - who's been brought to the screen using only computers. While I will admit that Hulk's facial expressions are surprisingly detailed and effective, his movements suffer from that same jerkiness that seems to plague all CGI creations. Watching him lurch around, it's impossible not to think of the original King Kong; though that movie is obviously far better than Hulk, it's interesting to note that both films utilized a new technology that was still in its infancy. The special effects in Hulk are glossier than that of those in King Kong, but they're no more effective.

But Hulk's real downfall comes at the end, when the movie turns into an all-out CGI-fest. The last 15-minutes or so are completely incomprehensible and disorienting, it's impossible not to wonder what the heck Lee was thinking. Up until that point, he had made a movie that was (at the very least) watchable - so the transition to over-the-top visual histrionics, a la Batman and Robin, is baffling (putting it mildly). And the film is left wide-open for a sequel, in a scene that is admittedly more entertaining that much of what came before it. Let's hope the reins are handed to someone more suitable for the material, should that come to pass.

out of

© David Nusair