Marvel Comics is on quite a roll. After this year’s well-done renditions of Daredevil and X-Men and last year’s megahit Spider-Man, Marvel has produced another enjoyable adaptation of one of its popular, though not one of its most complicated, characters in Hulk. Even those not familiar with the Hulk’s lore will be entertained by director Ang Lee’s version despite the parts where you wonder what Lee was trying to accomplish.
Dysfunctional Family Feud
PG-13 for Violence, disturbing images, brief partial nudity
In the original comic, Dr. Bruce Banner was trapped outside saving an innocent bystander while a gamma bomb was detonated, thus giving him his powers and his split personality. In the movie, writers John Turman, Michael France, and James Schamus go a step further by making a four-year-old Bruce the unwitting guinea pig for his father’s military experiments. The elder Banner has been trying to accelerate cell regeneration through gamma radiation, but when his animal test subjects die, he starts experimenting on his son despite strict orders from his superiors not to use human subjects.
Banner’s “experiments” are abruptly shut down and little Bruce is taken to foster parents after a horrible family experience that leads him to suppress his memories of his original parents along with his anger. But he still has nightmares about his early years.
The adult Bruce (Eric Bana) is also working on cell regeneration with his ex-girlfriend Betty Ross, who dumped him because she could not get close to him emotionally. Their experiments have attracted the attention of Glen Talbot (Josh Lucas), who wants to use their accomplishments to crate an army of super -soldiers who can heal themselves in battle. Talbot is the sinister figure Who Is Obviously Up To Something, and his propositions are rejected by Betty and Bruce.
In an homage to the comic’s origin, an innocent assistant is trapped in a chamber just when lethal gamma rays are about to be sent his way, so Bruce uses his body to shield the poor assistant. Instead of killing Bruce, it gives him perfect health. But the gamma rays have only awakened the monster dormant in Bruce, and when Bruce’s father (Nick Nolte) tells him what he has become, it makes Bruce so angry that ol’ Green Skin finally makes his appearance.
The first hour is devoted to setting up the characters and their motivations, and while it isn’t too hard to follow the melodrama, it does delay what people will come to see: Hulk smashing things. This is the great necessary evil of a movie that is introducing a franchise, especially one based on already existing characters from another medium, so there you have it.
But when the Hulk finally shows up, the movie makes up for all the character setups that got hard to follow with their scientific doubletalk. It is a story Hulk creator Stan Lee(who has a cameo as a security guard) would be proud of.
Lee has taken an artsy approach to the project, making the screen appear as if it were a comic page brought to life, complete with split screens similar to the television series “24”, drastic multiple angle shifts, and scenes than transition one to another through creative wipes, zooms and dissolves.
You wonder if Lee is using these techniques simply to show off, since some split screens and dramatic angle shifts don’t do anything to add to the flow of the film. But it’s not distracting either, and you have to give Lee credit for not making this just another paint-by-numbers comic book adaptation. He wants us to take this story seriously, mainly by making the Hulk’s origin much more palpable. Maybe he goes too far, because much of the humor traditionally found in Marvel’s books is missing. Most of the movie’s few laughs seem a little forced.
Like in Universal’s monster movies of the 1930s, the Hulk becomes the unabashed star. He doesn’t just grunt or growl like Lou Ferrigno (who also has a cameo, by the way) in the TV series form the late 1970s. He also doesn’t shout broken sentences like “Hulk mad!” from the comic books. This Hulk is created just for this movie to stand on his own, and what a wonderful lug he turned out to be. He’s a big special effect who also becomes a tragic hero, a victim of other people’s dubious intentions.
Paint it Green
The effects work so well in Hulk because they back up very strong characters throughout the movie, despite their sluggish development. The most complicated is Betty’s estranged father (Sam Elliott), an army officer who only wants to protect humanity from the dangers of the Hulk. And Connelly is an actress who only gets better with each new role she gets. Her performance is by far the best of the movie, not because of the fear of being upstaged by the copious CGI effects, but because she’s playing a woman who could be the only force that could control the big green monster.
Many fans were upset by the low quality of the effects seen in early trailers, but rest assured, the final product more than makes up for it once you get through the lethargic first hour. You get to see Hulk smash a lot of stuff without killing anyone, so what could be more fun than that?