THE HULK (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, June 20, 2003
For nearly two decades, the enigmatic path to Hollywood set upon by Marvel Comics' hottest properties had been one plagued by misfortune. Be it the web of legal issues locking up production of SPIDER-MAN or the "studio shuffle" that besieged DAREDEVIL early in its development, the comics' publisher had been forced to traverse a number of major obstacles on that bumpy road to the big screen.
Even the jade giant was not immune to the mind-numbing gridlock that is the studio system. Enjoying a stable home at Universal Pictures since the 1977 debut of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno live-action television series, the development of a Hulk feature film had been stunted by both creative and budgetary constraints. It wasn't until Asian filmmaker Ang Lee wowed American audiences with his low-budget, high effects martial arts epic, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON winning an Academy Award for 2000's Best Foreign Film in the process that the studio breathed new life into the project. Now, almost 10 years after development officially began, THE HULK is enjoying its big screen debut.
Gifted scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) has dedicated his life to working with cutting edge genetic technology in an effort to repress a painful childhood. His ex-girlfriend and research partner, Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), works by his side shielding her love for him behind their "all-important" research.
In true comic book fashion, this already strained relationship is further put to the test after Banner is exposed to a deadly dose of gamma radiation, unleashing his "monster within" and transforming him into the Hulk a destructive, impossibly strong being whenever he is agitated. After the creature's first rampage, Betty's father, General "Thunderbolt" Ross (Sam Elliott), his team of military commandos and rival researcher Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) are called out to stop the monster at all costs. And while Betty seems to be the only one searching for a cure, she discovers that the answer may lie with the shadowy figure lurking in the background, Bruce's father, David (Nick Nolte).
In crafting THE HULK, Lee has taken the same approach as his comic book adapting predecessors mainly, reworking the material in his own image. As such, the director and his writing/producing partner James Schamus have gone to the root of the character an origin that has evolved over the course of 40 years and come up with a story committed to its source, yet realistic (as realistic as a 15 foot green monster can be) by today's scientific standards. As a result, the Hulk's live-action origin story plays out in a way reminiscent of both the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics of the '60s and the Peter David run of the '90s. As an added bonus, a majority (but not all) of the film focuses on the Hulk vs. the military (again, in honor of the book's early days) as opposed to the Hulk vs. a supervillain (a product of modern day storytelling).
The Hulk faces off against some easy prey.
© 2003 Universal Pictures
Lee's tribute to the comic extends well beyond the storytelling and into the actual look of the film. Aside from the subtle use of primary colors (the Hulk's purple pants and Banner's yellow walled home, for example), the filmmaker employs a visual technique rarely seen in film but made popular by television's 24 the use of split and multiple screens. By breaking a particular scene into a number of "panels," Lee is able to capture one moment in time from several different perspectives all while maintaining an almost comic book feel to the story playing out onscreen.
And as for the much debated look of the all-CG Hulk, when played out on the small screen the character does in fact look as if he were plucked right out of a Playstation 2 videogame. But the Hulk seems to have found a home up on the big screen. Be it the fact that animators managed to finesse the imagery up until the very last minute or the fact that audiences get swept up in the story (becoming less critical of all the "bells and whistles"), the CG renderings feel appropriate within the context of the film. In fact, a number of close-ups on the character's face look as if a live action actor could have performed them emotion and all.
Where the film suffers is in Lee's quest to create a psychological realism the actual drama behind the Hulk. The final reveal of the role Banner's father played in his "Hulking" creation is a long time coming, and the hero's repressed memory gets unlocked by audiences long before it is unlocked by the hero himself. As a result, a good deal of talking head moments could have been shaved from each of the film's three acts including the entire final battle, which perhaps would have been better served in a sequel.
Coming from a film background grounded in the real world, Lee manages to apply a CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON sensibility to his interpretation of THE HULK one that combines psychological drama with all out action. With a running time of over two hours, the film does suffer from a number of slow moments - however, what Lee and Co. have managed to create is truly a Hulk for the 21st century.
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Mania Grade: B
Reviewed Format: Wide Theatrical Release
Stars: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte
Writers: John Turman, Michael France, James Schamus
Director: Ang Lee
Distributor: Universal Pictures