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   THE HULK (2003) 

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CAST
Eric Bana
Jennifer Connelly
Nick Nolte
Sam Elliott
Josh Lucas
Paul Kersey
Cara Buono
Todd Tesen

DIRECTED BY
Ang Lee

PURCHASE


DVD




Time: 137 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action/Drama/Science Fiction/Comic Book


All comic book super heroes are not created equal, though they are all expected to reap huge numbers at the box office. THE HULK, much like DAREDEVIL, features one of Marvel Comics B-List stars and it shows in this bloated blockbuster that has little suspense or a lead character one can root for. The uneven pace, perfunctory action sequences and alternately over-the-top (Nolte) and leaden (Bana) performances make watching this film more of a chore than a delight. How a top-notch visual and emotional director like Ang Lee could turn out dreadful pulp like this is a mystery I will be pondering for years to come. Knowing very little about the mythology of the comic upon which this film is based, I have no idea how close to the original source this version is. For the fans sake, hopefully not very.

While not a total loss, I have four major complaints: 1) Lack of a compelling lead character. It's hard to feel anything for Bana's Bruce Banner, since the story and his performance give us nothing to connect to. He's a brilliant scientist, who apparently had a bad experience in his childhood, but can't really remember what happened. You'd think that would compel a person to delve into the mystery of one's past. But, no, not Bruce. He happily accepts his repressed nature, despite the fact that it cost him his relationship with the lovely and intelligent Betty (Connelly). Banner is a passenger in his own story, reacting to the information other people bring him. Not exactly interesting or heroic behavior.

2) The film is way too long for the plot. Instead of adding depth, the filmmakers just make the action sequences twice as long. While that might be fun for the testosterone brigade, if you've seen one helicopter crash you've seen them all. Perhaps if the mayhem had a point or at least was treated with some levity, it would translate into excitement for those watching. I'm aware that the best part of this character, at least when he's green, is the fist-pounding destruction he yields against his enemies and believe that quality has a place in the story. It just shouldn't be the whole story.


"You're making me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

3) Which brings me to the creature. While the green monster's acting was quite sincere and believable, his physical presence withing the framework of a live action film was not. It's like they merged Eric Bana with Shrek. The transformation from man to beast was poorly done and the finished product looked like a cartoon. While everyone has a problem with the fact that his pants stay on (unlike the rest of his wardrobe), I'd like to know, after they've been stretched to 10 times their original size, why they didn't always fall off when he returned to his puny human status. I digress. The creature constantly changes size, when compared to the humans around him, throughout the picture which was also a distraction. I believe the Hulk was always the same size in the comic, but I could be wrong.

4) Last but not least...no good bad guy. Both Josh Lucas and Sam Elliot try to fill the arch-nemesis shoes, the former as an overly ambitious businessman and the latter as the military man who brought down Bruce's father. Unfortunately, we've seen these characters before and these gentlemen bring nothing new to the roles, which are far from multi-dimensional. Plus, Lucas is too sweet looking to pull off vicious. I'm sure he enjoyed being cast against type, but come on, those blue eyes and dimples aren't going to scare anyone. I suppose, we're supposed to see Bruce's father as the ultimate evil in this case, yet Nolte makes David Banner more pathetic and demented than truly corrupt. Sure, he experimented on himself, passed the genetic mutation on to his son, destroyed their happy home and then, after reentering his life, attempts to kill him, yet that still doesn't make him a the type of villain you love to hate. David Banner's character is clearly driven mad by his experiments and it's hard to loathe the mentally ill.

With that being said, all these issues would have been overlooked if the character of Bruce Banner/The Hulk took a more active role in the film. Yes, he turns green and smashes things, but he's reacting to the mean-spiritedness of others. He needs a cause greater than trying to escape a life of imprisonment by the military. Something that would give his human side a greater chance to emote and his monster side a deeper reason to wreak havoc. Something bigger than himself, a quest that propels the story forward and makes us cheer for his success. As it stands, we wait, like Bruce, for the action to come to us and as the old saying goes, a watched pot never boils. The only person whose career won't be harmed by this mess is Jennifer Connelly. Her character is the only one who behaves like a human being. She gives the film honesty, heart and intelligence. You believe she really cares for Bruce and wants to help him with his rage issues. Her presence gives the film the weight Ang Lee was clearly trying to achieve.

Lee tries to merge the cinema and comic worlds with some screen tricks that are initially interesting, but get annoying quickly. For a man who brought such visual sumptuousness to the screen in CROUCHING TIGER and SENSE & SENSIBILITY, I'm surprised at how flat and boring the cinematography was here. Clearly he was going for an over-saturated, minimalist, quick-cutting style, and though it looks somewhat comic bookish, it actually makes the production look cheap, which I know is not the case. A theater experience that leaves you deflated because you know it could have been something so much better. I'm sure there are worse super hero to screen adaptations, but I've seen none so disappointing.



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