The Hulk

| June 25, 2003 | 0 Comments

Don’t get Nick Nolte angry. You won’t understand him when he’s angry. And you might not understand what the hell just happened in The Hulk either.
Enough about how realistic the CGI is (and it’s pretty impressive, especially during the close-ups and a spectacular shrinking Banner sequence near the end). Suspending your disbelief with the Hulk is less about accepting the special effects and more about accepting that a 15 foot green behemoth can spring from a normal sized man. If you can’t wrap your head around that, the movie will come off as camp (which it sometimes does), but that’s neither the fault of the director, Ang Lee, nor the production itself. Comic book movies are based on comic books, and we all know how outrageous those can get. So drink some saltwater and go into Hulk with an open mind and you’re sure to walk out…well, not exactly satisfied, or even blown away. Mostly confused. And a bit bewildered. And maybe disappointed.
This is not your typical comic book movie. Well, wait. In some ways it’s the ultimate comic book movie. In a lot of ways it’s more akin to a classic horror movie, in the Frankenstein/King Kong mode. And, as should have been expected, it’s definitely an Angst Lee movie.
The Bruce Banner in this film is less conflicted about the rage of the Hulk inside of him than he is about the emotional history of his forgotten childhood. There are few moments in the film when Banner discusses his inner Hulk, and they are all already in the previews. In fact, Banner doesn’t discuss much at all, which forcess the normally charismatic Eric Bana into the tough, introspective role of tortured fuddy-duddy. He exists primarily in his own head, and rather than hear him talk about himself, we see muddled flashbacks or hear tortured conversations from third parties about what’s wrong/what happened/what to do with him. Most of those conversations involve Betty Ross, played by the ever-gorgeous Jennifer Connelly, fresh off her Oscar success and relegated to the Fay Wray girlfriend role. Throughout the movie, Betty struggles to protect the distant man she seems to love (when the movie begins they’ve just broken up) from both her father, General Ross, whose over-the-top Cold War attitude comes off passable only because Sam Elliot’s flashback-stand-in is infinitely worse, and his father, David Banner, a mad scientist gone off the deep-end after years of captivity. Nick Nolte blusters and rages in full Ted Kaczynski mode as a man both tormented and invigorated by the monster he created in both his son, and himself.
Family strife abounds in this film, as in all of Ang Lee’s movies, from his trenchant 70s domestic drama (The Ice Storm) to his feminist action-fantasy (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and the director does not shy away from those themes even as he showcases his green CGI body builder. But Lee’s ace-in-the-hole/stroke-of-genius is the visual style of the film. He has made a conscious effort to at least make the film look like a comic book even though it doesn’t often feel like one. Much like Fox’s pulse-pounding 24, Lee uses split-screens and wipes and pinhole cuts to move the action along, and the resulting effect makes it feel as though you are reading the panels of a comic. It’s a fantastic move, and it helps keep the movie light when it is often otherwise being weighed down by psychobabble and bombastic military speak.
At the heart of the movie are family relationships. Bruce and his father, Betty and hers. Both Bruce and Betty are missing some information about their intertwined childhoods, and the movie makes us wait for what we basically already know: Father Banner is a mad scientist with a criminal past and Father Ross is a war hawk buffoon with a vested interest in wiping out dangerous freaks of nature. As the movie progresses, General Ross begins to thaw, for little apparent reason, and David Banner goes deeper and deeper into psychosis, until he ultimately transforms into something at once preposterous and inexplicable yet oddly majestic. With the final showdown of Hulk, Lee has at last managed to capture the supreme hyperbole of comic books. The movie’s ultimate failure is not the result of his botched-but-admirable attempt, but the realization that film, as a medium, no matter how powerful and realistic special effects have gotten, still isn’t quite capable of overcoming the pure inventiveness of human imagination.
Well, that and his determination to squeeze The Hulk’s square action-fantasy frame into the rigid, emotionally turgid circle of a relationship drama.

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