Following the successes of three Marvel comic book adaptations, the Incredible Hulk finally arrives on the big screen, but with many added pressures. It is at that point where there is bound to be a comic book movie failure; the bubble is destined to burst at some point. Furthermore, this movie is about a gigantic green guy who barely speaks and runs around smashing things.
However, if there is anyone that could pull of a movie like The Hulk, it is Ang Lee, who last directed the highly praised action-drama Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Lee obviously knows how to blend action and drama together into an effective package, and he uses his talent here, creating a dark and tragic tale about family relationships, suppressed anger, and, of course, a gigantic green guy who barely speaks and runs around smashing things.
Unlike the other comic book adaptations of late, The Hulk is almost entirely dark; there are very few jokes, and very few one-liners. The movie is serious and more a drama than an action movie, which places itself on the far other end of the spectrum from 2001's Spider-Man. Spider-Man was funny and relatively light-hearted, with lots of bright colors and the nerdy depictions of Peter Parker as he tries to win the heart of Mary Jane. The Hulk is not funny, but is serious, brooding, and most of all does not include any of the simple character interactions that movies can do quite easily to fool audiences into thinking that it is doing something great. No, Lee and the screenwriters have gone the difficult route and presented a story of a man suffering from a tragic past, whose interactions with everyone, including the woman he loves, are stifled at best. It doesn't help that after a horrible accident, he turns into a gigantic green guy who, for good reason, can only be deemed as a threat to national security. Oh, and his father is not exactly sane.
There are many things that make The Hulk sensational, but most noteworthy must be the acting. Eric Bana stars as Bruce Banner and he does a good job as a man with serious issues. Lee relies heavily on facial expressions in this movie, both from its actors and its CGI character, and Bana works well to fit that criteria. Connelly also puts her Oscar-winning experience to good work as Betty Ross. However, the real star of the show is Nick Nolte, who turns in an absolutely stunning performance as David Banner, Bruce's estranged father. Nolte, who admittedly does appear identical to how he did in his mug shot last year, plays the perfect psycho, a rival to Jack Nicholson in Batman. Nolte's character is deep, tragic, but best of all, insane.
Furthermore, where Lee has easily raised the bar for character-driven comic book adaptations and essentially has turned The Hulk into a powerful movie a step up from typical comic book fare, he still pays homage to what this movie derived from, but not through comedy or cheesy jokes, but through screen transitions and editing. The transitions in The Hulk are absolutely awesome; they fit perfectly within the confines of the movie and the comic book world.
Of course, all of this is well and good, but what about the Hulk? How is he?
The CGI Hulk, of course, is the make-it-or-break-it element of the movie. As deep and rich as the movie is, a movie is only as good as its main character, and basing a movie on a "person" that doesn't even exist is risky to say the least. Surprisingly, the CGI Hulk looks much better on film than he did in the previews, where he appeared as a poorly-created cartoon character. The Hulk still does not look real, as the creation of a completely believable CGI character is still a few years off (Gollum of The Lord of the Rings comes close), but he is acceptable. The only real problem comes not from the limitations of computer graphics specifically but from the way the graphic designers decided to portray the massive green guy. In other words, he is massive and times looks bloated; whether the look of the Hulk is similar to that in the comic book is irrelevant, as the Hulk could have been made to look a little better had the designers decided to keep him a little smaller and slightly more slender. Nevertheless, the CGI Hulk works well enough within the movie.
All that being said, it is now time to tackle the negatives of the movie. Unfortunately, there is a tradeoff for the dark and brooding dramatic storyline that unfolds, and that is that The Hulk is very limited in its action sequences. It takes at least a half an hour for the Hulk to first appear on screen, and much longer than that for anything that can truly be considered a good action sequence to take place. For some people, an all-around good movie like The Hulk would suffice, but for many summertime audiences, especially the younger ones looking for the same comic book action that they found in Spider-Man and X-Men, this film will fall short. It is not inherently an action movie, and at a running time of 135 minutes, some types of audiences will become bored. I remember hearing one boy around the age of ten remark that The Hulk was really long - and that was only 45 minutes into the movie.
Still, the only real pitfall of the movie is the ending. Where the rest of the movie is smart and makes sense, the ending makes little, if any, sense. Ang Lee seems to have booted out the screenplay in this final chapter and just replaced it with a bunch of stupid special effects that make little sense and are hardly explained. The comic book villain of the movie - who is hardly developed as a super villain (and from what I understand is not even close to the true origins of this character) throughout the film - suddenly becomes really strong and zaps himself and the Hulk to some lake in the middle of nowhere. They duke it out, a big bubble forms, the lake is turned to ice, and by this time, the screen is just a jumble of dark images that bear little resemblance to anything entertaining or interesting. This has to be one of the worst endings to a movie in a long time.
Regardless of the ending, The Hulk is a good piece of work. Interesting enough, having not been a fan of the comic books, I found the Hulk and even Bruce Banner's character the least interesting of all of the characters. Nick Nolte's definitely takes top billing, as does that of General Ross (Sam Elliott) and the dilemma that he gets himself into, as he is torn between the love for his daughter and his devotion to his country for ensuring that the Hulk is contained.
The Hulk is a good movie, but it may not appeal to as widespread of audiences as Marvel and Universal Pictures would like. At this point in the summer, people do not want heavy dramas, especially when they are expecting comic book action. Still, if people look past their expectations and open up, they may realize that Ang Lee has succeeded in turning a comic book into a truly powerful piece of film.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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