The Hulk, 2003
Starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte, and Sam Elliot
Directed by Ang Lee
The earth trembles as something collides with the ground from above. Trees shake, puddles ripple, and something with the vocal chords of a T-Rex decides it's time to vent. The Hulk steps out of the shadows, rears back his head and bellows, "PANTS! TOO! SMALL!!!!"
Hulk, the latest Marvel comic made into a film, is a truly unique (and by unique, I mean occasionally messed up) ride through the subconscious of one Bruce Banner, played with grim resolve by Eric Bana. Now, in all honesty, I liked this flick. I liked it a lot. But that doesn't mean everyone is going to like it.
It's primary selling point as a summer movie is the fact that it's an action flick. But we have to remember it's an action flick made out of a comic book. Ang Lee took this literally, and makes frequent use of dual shots on the screen, multiple panels of action, and so forth. It has the novelty of not having been done before, or at least this creatively. Lee doesn't let you forget that it's a comic book put on the big screen. Hulk's predecessors, Daredevil and Spider-Man wasted no time jumping into the origins of their respective title characters, right after the opening credits. X-Men didn't bother with origins because all the heroes and villains are born mutants, and that is their origin. Hulk, however, requires a bit more back-story. Or at least, it does now.
The credits begin with someone assessing and extracting the genetic traits of various animals for their strongest attributes. A Starfish loses an arm and re-grows a new one, while the clipped tip grows a whole new body. A lizard's tough skin and resolve against toxins are also taken, and made into a wonder-serum. The first of a few alterations between the comics and the film story begin right here: Bruce Banner of the comic pages has only the gamma bomb to thank for his Un-Jolly Green alter-ego. Here, the good doctor's father is to blame for the majority of his genetic jumbling. No sooner does David Banner take the serum than we find out he's going to be a father.
Little Bruce Banner is seen as an infant in a crib. His daddy takes away his pacifier, and not only does the boy begin to cry, but his skin takes on a few patches of green-tinted skin. Poppa notices this, and ponders. Dramatically cued science notes reveal that his greatest fears have come true, and something must be done. As is the way with all mad scientists, he is cut off from his program, and decides to pay back his superiors by nuking the entire lab with gamma radiation. Also, something so horrendous happens to Bruce that he represses the events of it for thirty years.
Bruce is shown next as a teenager, going off to college from his adopted mother. She says he's unique and has some greatness locked away deep inside. She isn't just whistling Dixie, here. Flash forward another ten years or so to the adult Bruce, who is almost constantly troubled with nightmares. As he shaves and tries to forget about the dreams, we see in the mirror that his eyes momentarily turn a shade of green.
All this accomplishes one thing: It sets up Bruce Banner as not only a man with bottled up emotions, but also defines him as a man with deeply repressed rage. He's just broken up with the beautiful Betty Ross, played by Jennifer Connelly, who admits that she's drawn to emotionally distant men. Here we have a duo of three-dimensional, fully fleshed out characters. And it only took twenty minutes of back story to get there...
An accident in the lab later, and Bruce is exposed ground zero to a bevy of gamma rays, and later wakes up in the hospital, fit as a fiddle. The down-right creepy Nick Nolte, playing Father, pays a single visit to Bruce in the hospital, and nearly gives him a heart attack when he reveals he's his dad. Banner Sr. obviously didn't have time to buy a comb since he was released from military prison, as his whacked-out hair has almost as much character as he does.
General Ross, played by Sam Elliot, brings new meaning to the term absentee father figure. If I didn't know better, I'd say he were in a competition against Nolte's Banner in the Father's-the-Heartless-Bastard-of-the-Year category. Banner Sr. is cruel and selfish, Ross Sr. is cold and unconcerned with his daughter's feelings. Banner's father is very eccentric and wild-eyed, while Ross's poppa is so straight-edge and by-the-book that you could get a paper cut shaking his hand.
These four characters sadly monopolize the personality of the movie, because there are other supporting characters as well that are almost entirely two-dimensional. Josh Lucas, playing army snot Glen Talbot, comes across as a violent idiot. On no less than three occasions, he deliberately provokes Banner, thinking himself a match for the monster within. He's proven wrong.
The movie takes its time getting to the actual green behemoth, and so have I. When he makes his debut, the Hulk is nothing short of Incredible. Lee spent the better part of an hour getting the audience to believe that there could be a monster lurking in Bruce Banner, and when he finally shows up, it is truly a great payoff. The Hulk flails and bellows with uncontrollable fury, smashing everything in his way.
Here's another twist on the Hulk of the comics: Originally, the angrier the Hulk got, the stronger he got. Now, he gets bigger too. It's a miracle that his pants can stretch as well. At his largest, the Hulk stands at least ten, if not twelve feet tall, and nearly that wide across. It makes his battles against the army that much more amazing as he picks tanks apart and uses them as blunt objects to swing with. Something else no less spectacular: The Hulk doesn't kill a single person. The nameless-henchmen union must have paid it's dues in movies past, because every last soldier to go up against the Hulk is shown groaning and alive after the conflict. Even the men inside the tank that gets thrown at least a mile crawl out and wave that they're okay.
The movie has its weak moments, such as the last human conflict between the Banners. It smacks far too much of an off-Broadway pissing contest, and at this point, both Bana and Nolte are using their lowest, gravest voices. Also, on the relationship side of things, Bruce never once utters the L-word, and Betty mentions it once, straining, talking to someone else. Of course, considering the fact that he's supposed to be an emotional septic tank, perhaps it's a good thing.
The movie has its share of explosions, strange special effects concerning mutation, and of course, the cameo by Stan Lee and Lou Ferigno. Good for them. All in all, I enjoyed it a great deal, but it will probably prove disappointing to the target audience of young teenagers. I give the Hulk a 7 out of 10.
Check out our Smashing Hulk coverage.
Check out the official Universal Studios Hulk Movie site.
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