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Hulk (PG-13)
Universal Cinema
Director: Ang Lee
Producer: Avi Arad, Larry J. Franco, Gale Anne Hurd, James Schamus
Screenwriter: Michael France, James Schamus, John Turman
Cast: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliot, Nick Nolte

Rating: out of 5

Hulk Smash! Indeed The Hulk does smash through every expectation of it as a movie.  What makes The Hulk so special is its uniqueness even within the comic book genre. Director Ang Lee and Company have transcended the stereotypical adventure by creating a psychological thriller, romance, Greek tragedy, and action film all rolled into one.

The Hulk chronicles the adventures of Bruce Banner (Bana), an emotionally troubled scientist whose inner rage transforms him into a mindless creature of incredible strength. Fellow researcher Betty Ross (Connolly) provides the beauty that calms the most savage beast, while her father General Ross (Elliot) is concerned about his daughter’s interest in Banner for reasons unknown to anyone but himself. General Ross knows that the adopted Banner is conducting the same type of research as his real father, the deranged David Banner (Nolte). The film’s stylish but overlong opening credits explain the kind of work his father was doing. David Banner experiments on himself and passes on his mutated DNA to his son by accident. David knows that the world will not tolerate a unique creation like his son. His father’s hopes and fears of creating a human with regenerative capabilities and superhuman strength are realized when an accident at the lab exposes Bruce to gamma radiation, activating the beast within him.

All this science experiment gamma radiation stuff is total mumbo jumbo. The movie explores the true origins of Bruce Banner’s power—his deep-seated emotional problems. From the very beginning the movie hints around at Banner’s troubled past, slowly unveiling more and more of the truth until revealing a secret that would make the most well-balanced person more than a little disturbed. Eric Bana handles Banner’s inner conflict just like the character does; by ignoring it. He remains completely focused on his work, shutting out all emotions including his love for Betty.

She still feels compassion for Bruce even after his condition is revealed, partly because she is drawn to emotionally distant men like her father, another all-work, no-play kind of guy. Betty clearly always wants to do the right thing and Connolly uses every moment of screen time to its fullest, conveying that the right thing is not always easy. She’s able to emote more with one facial expression than other actresses are with pages of dialogue. General Ross, like his daughter and all great villains, is convinced that he is doing the right thing and, just like Bruce, he is completely incapable of displaying his love for Betty. Sam Elliot plays him just like that, a total straight shooter with duty first and all other priorities a distant third. David Banner, on the other hand, is just plain nuts. Nick Nolte is given entirely too much time to mug for the camera and the subplot about David’s quest for superpowers represents a needless tampering with the source material.

Part of The Hulk’s uniqueness even within the comic book world stems from his powers being a curse. Bruce Banner is a well educated, extremely intelligent guy, but when he transforms into the Hulk all the muscles grow except the one that matters the most. Worse still, when he awakens from his berserk rage he has only a shadowy recollection of the actions taken by his alter ego. This dichotomy of Bruce as the superego and the Hulk as the id is duplicated in the pacing of the movie. During the first half the movie is slow and clinical, featuring many scenes of experiments in the lab; even the psychological exposition is dealt with in a more detached way. The Hulk dominates the second half, delivering non-stop action.

In addition to its dark psychological undertones The Hulk has some truly original cinematography going for it.  Constant usages of split-screen make The Hulk appear as if a comic book has been recreated on the silver screen. The film adroitly transitions from one scene to the next by zooming in and out, using wipes, or any number of other film tricks. Best of all, The Hulk looks good. He looks just like Eric Bana except bigger, angrier, and greener, and he seamlessly interacts with his environment. The Hulk swaggers after manhandling opponents and takes down his enemies in some rather unusual ways, imbuing the Hulk with a little personality. Jennifer Connolly also demands attention in every shot she’s in, with her large, deep green eyes and thick black hair, every time she has a close-up the cinematographer has made the right decision. Accompanying the view at just the right times is Danny Elfman’s note-perfect score.

Ang Lee and Company swung for the fences on this one and made it to third base. The movie is unevenly paced. Too much slowness at the beginning and too much mind-numbing action at the end, coupled with the David-Banner-total-waste-of-time subplot, prevent The Hulk from being as perfect as a movie can be. The whole jumping through the air with the greatest of ease was appropriate for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but somewhat farfetched for The Hulk. The Hulk is definitely different from many other movies like it and most of the original ideas it introduces are good. Let us hope Hollywood can tolerate more unique movies like this.

—Woodrow Bogucki


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