Scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is a brilliant researcher working with cutting edge genetic technology – with a nearly forgotten and traumatic childhood. His ex-girlfriend and colleague Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) resigns herself to remaining an interested onlooker. During an early trial in his ground-breaking research, Bruce heroically saves a life but in the process, his body absorbs an abnormal dose of gamma radiation. He begins to feel some kind of strange presence within, and to suffer from blackouts. Meanwhile a massive creature leaves a path of destruction in Bruce’s lab and home. Only Betty and Bruce’s long-missing father David (Nick Nolte), realise that Bruce is involved. Until Betty’s dad, General Ross (Sam Elliott) discovers the link between young Bruce and the man Ross put away 30 years earlier.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The two personalities are deeply at odds, and I’m not talking about Banner/Hulk. Ang Lee’s film of the Marvel comic character (via a popular tv series) tries to fuse a valid human drama onto the comic book escapade, but instead of making it gel he makes it long. In the first act, we learn about Bruce Banner’s scientist father, David, and gather that his genetic experiments on himself impacted on his then unborn child, Bruce. This lengthy establishment section drags the film out beyond its natural length, which for a comic book-inspired science fiction/creature feature fantasy is probably 95 minutes. The comic book genesis is carried through in the credits and the frequent multi-frame imaging. So nothing the writers can do alters the fact that we are in comic book territory, and we should probably have stayed there in thematic terms, too. The serious grown up issues are simply incompatible with the effect-laden hulking concept; we start noticing the falsifying that is employed for cinematic purposes. Such as how Bruce Banner’s clothes get ripped apart as he expands – except for some tight fitting blue shorts. The hulk effects themselves are uneven, and admittedly, it is a huge challenge, especially when the hulk has to jump huge distances. As for the film’s messages, the only moral for the subject matter is ‘don’t mess with nature’ which is a little worn by now. There is perhaps an additional message (possibly inadvertent but maybe not) about the thick-headed stupidity of the US military which wants to solve everything by shooting it. But of course this has a solid tradition in all B sci-fi movies. Although Bruce/Hulk is no superhero al la Bruce/Batman, there is a nasty, greedy baddie who is after the special genetic powers of the hulk for commercial reasons. This element provides a second level of conflict – the first level is with the military who try to kill the hulk. Eric Bana is as good as the role allows, clearly capable of leading man material; Jennifer Connelly’s character and performance is reminiscent of A Beautiful Mind; Nick Nolte is gritty as the mad scientist with a guilty conscience about his son; and Sam Elliott is steely as Betty’s father and the symbol of the military. (Hulk co-creator Stan Lee and TV’s Hulk Lou Ferrigno play small cameos as security guards, just for a giggle.) Danny Elfman’s hulk-size score and the vocalisations here and there, suggest the filmmakers were really reaching for an epic scope and feel, escalating the intra-family tensions as the dramatic device on which the story is built. I can’t help feeling the film would have worked better as a smaller scale drama, with that basic idea worked up, to the exclusion of the big shoot outs and special effects. It’s infected with the current Hollywood virus; studios just can’t make decent B pictures anymore. Every pic has to be an A picture, even it’s only got B picture elements. So they add A list stars – but that doesn’t elevate the material. A good B picture is a worthy thing and there should be more of them.
Review by Louise Keller:
There is no question that this comic book character is a tough one to nail to the screen, and Ang Lee’s ambitious Hulk disappoints by trying to be too many things to too many people. The challenge is to marry Bruce Banner’s realities and to allow his tormented Jekyll and Hyde persona to morph seamlessly and credibly into a monster without allowing it to become a cartoon cutout. The result is patchy, and while size in this day and age always seems to be the big criteria, big doesn’t always necessarily mean best. There are three writers credited for the screenplay, which might account for the varying approaches to the telling of the story. First, there’s the human story, which is far too lengthy and relies heavily on flashbacks to establish and reveal key plot points. We may accept Betty’s loyalty and devotion to Bruce, but a few sparks in the relationship could have ignited some emotional excitement and made us care a little more about them. Casting is spot on with Eric Bana convincing as the repressed, thoughtful Bruce Banner who conceals his inner-most anguish, and Jennifer Connelly as the compassionate Betty (who has more than just A Beautiful Mind to support here.) But the best thing in the film is Nick Nolte’s crazed scientist, whose rough and unpredictable persona haunts us with its dark and obsessive menace. Nolte is splendid, and his gravely voice holds our attention every second, as we hang on to his every word. (His genetically improved dogs are rather wonderful, too.) Of course the transformation from man to hulk is the moment we have all been waiting for, as eyes contort, muscles bulge, clothes rip and the massive green monster is revealed. The effects are extraordinary and there’s no question that the ILM ‘wizards’ worked meticulously to paint 100 layers of skin for veins, blemishes, hair and winkles as well as creating over 1,000 different muscle shapes for the range of movements required by the Hulk. Co-ordinating the action with the CGI is no mean feat, although I worry that some of the scenes of the Hulk flying the air makes him look somewhat like a giant frog making gigantic leaps. There’s also the occasional danger of mistaking him for that friendly green animated giant, Shrek. But the action scenes come into their own in the last half hour with an extraordinary sequence involving army tanks in the desert and several helicopters in a spectacular but barren vista. I did enjoy Danny Elfman’s eclectic score which enhances many scenes, and although I like the notion of using split screens throughout to emphasise a comic book feel, its execution becomes more of a stylised detraction. Perhaps if the running time had been callously slashed with the emphasis resting on the comic book transformation, Hulk might have been more of a trip.
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Mixed: 2 (Andrew, Louise)
ANG LEE INTERVIEW
CAST: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte, Paul Kersey, Cara Buono, Todd Tesen, Kevin O. Rankin
PRODUCER: Avi Arad, Larry J. Franco, Gale Anne Hurd, James Schamus
DIRECTOR: Ang Lee
SCRIPT: John Turman, Michael France, James Schamus (Story by James Schamus; based on the Marvel comic book character created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Frederick Elmes
EDITOR: Tim Squyres
MUSIC: Danny Elfman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rick Heinrichs
RUNNING TIME: 138 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 26, 2003