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HULK

2003, dir. Ang Lee
138 min. Rated PG-13.
Starring: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliot, Nick Nolte.

Review by Noel Wood
I promised myself that I wouldn't open my review of Ang Lee's adaptation of THE HULK with any Kermit the Frog "It's not easy being green" references, but I really couldn't think of a better way to start the review. So there you go. Your obligatory Muppet Mope Moment. I could go into some big long thing about the correlation about being an outsider and all that, but I'm sure everyone gets that because it tends to be the central theme to pretty much all comic book stories. Such is why so many comic book fans are attracted to the stories, because they themselves are outsiders and blah blah blah what the fuck am I babbling about?

Okay, since many moons ago, since I first saw the trailer for THE HULK, I had a feeling. I had a feeling it would suck. Oh, I wasn't alone in this feeling. Lots of people felt this way. The Hulk looked, well, fake. That's about the best way to describe it. On top of that, it's so hard to develop a character like The Hulk into a single film, because the character is so complex and the story is so huge. Needless to say, I was less than optimistic. Sure, SPIDER-MAN ruled, and both X-MEN movies were kick ass, but I was pretty sure I could file this alongside DAREDEVIL on a list of duds.

After seeing THE HULK (or SHREK II: ANGER MANAGEMENT), I'm still torn. I can't decide if I like it or not. I didn't love it, for certain. I didn't hate it, to be sure. There were elements of good and bad (mmm, mmm) all over it. Maybe the best thing to do is to make a list of things from this movie and weigh them out as I go. Maybe that will be the easiest route. Then I can weigh the pros and cons and make a decision. Maybe by the time I'm done writing this review, I'll know whether or not I enjoyed the movie. Or not. At least I can say that in the process I dragged you all down and forced you to witness my spiral into madness.

    

1. The Split Screens. I don't care if it's been done before. I liked 'em. At first, they annoyed me, because they seemed to be a lazy storytelling technique. But I soon realized that they were pretty good at establishing that true comic book feel. There were some neat scenes too where they had two split screens merge into one or showed two different perspectives on the same scene. I thought that was kinda cool.

2. CGI Hulk. Yes, he looked fake. I had come to expect this, and, yes, I was right. But It wasn't the movie killer I had expected it to be. THE HULK is a fantasy, and some suspension of disbelief is in order to begin with. There are some scenes where he looked utterly ridiculous, and some where he blended in well. In particular, when he was rolling around in the sand, he looked better, because he wasn't a glistening shining bright-ass green color. It was kinda cool that they made The Hulk look a lot like Eric Bana. Which leads me to...

3. Eric Bana. Eric Bana does a decent enough job in the role of Bruce Banner. He ain't taking home the Oscar or nothing, but he wasn't terrible. He plays angry well enough, which is pretty important when you're turning into the Hulk. And I think it's kinda neat how "Bana" sorta sounds like "Banner".

    

4. Romantic angle. Eh. Jennifer Connelly's Betty Ross has amazing chemistry with a big mass of computer-generated green beast. It's too bad her and Eric Bana's Bruce were as compatible as Drew Barrymore and Tom Green. I didn't see a spark, and honestly, couldn't figure out exactly what their romantic status was supposed to be.

5. Backstory. Enough is enough. This movie sets up waaaay too much of it. The David Banner experimenting on himself angle is a good road to go down for the movie, but they spent way too much time trying to develop some nonexistent symbiosis between the two. It's 45 or so minutes before we even see the Hulk appear, and then there's another half hour or so of setup and exposition before he comes back.

6. Absorbing Man. My biggest problem of the entire film. Why the hell did they already blow this angle? The movie could have easily ended a good 20 minutes before it did. THE HULK should have been the story of Bruce Banner's transformation into the monstrous Hulk, and should have just been him vs. the Army. The movie should have ended in San Francisco after he reverts back to plain old Bruce. The extra battle with his father should have been saved for a sequel. In fact, David Banner should hae just been part of the backstory here. He didn't need to be in the film at all, except as a flashback. They should have saved Nick Nolte's character for the sequel. Maybe do a little teaser at the end or something, but there was no need to have him be a major character, much less a supervillain. Which leads me to...

    

7. Nick Nolte's performance. Dear. God. I realize that Mr. Nolte has never been known for his subtle performances, but for a second there, I thought I maybe was watching Shatner on the screen or something. Jesus, man, this guy put on one of the most overacted performances since Gary Oldman in THE FIFTH ELEMENT. When the Hulk first encounters his father, then bounds out of the science lab to create more offbeat shenanigans, Nolte utters a "Myyyy Bruuuuce!" that is sure to win him a Golden Raspberry.

8. The Rosses. Jennifer Connelly and Sam Elliot appear in the roles as the Ross father-daughter tandem. Connelly, as Betty Ross, is one of the best comic damsels in recent film history. She's more than just some distressed chick who screams a lot like Vicki Vale or Mary Jane, she's got a brain on her and is actually well-written. Sam Elliot, as Thunderbolt Ross, is abso-by-god perfect, even if he looks nothing like he should. But Sam Elliot rules in everything, so this should be no suprise. The eyebrow casting here is also a nice touch. Good choices for these roles.

9. The battle scenes. Okay, here is where I was pleasantly suprised. What looked like ass in the trailers translated very well in the big picture. The idea is to suspend disbelief, which is a lot easier to do once you get in to the story than when you're given a minute or two of footage tucked between commercials for Coca-Cola and Pantyliners. The scene where he battles the tanks in the desert is, well, nothing short of badass. When he hurls the tank 100 yards, yeah, it kinda looks fake, but it sure is cool. It's a comic book movie. I mean, how realistic do you expect an 11-foot tall green gamma-radiated monster to be? When the Hulk pulls off the tank's turret and smashes the tank, it rules. When he taps the turret against his palm as if he were a keystone cop, i smiled.

    

10. The Hulk's Characterization. They nailed him. He's not in control, but he's conscious of his intents. When he lands on a fighter plane to keep it from crashing into a bridge, it's the one subtle indicator that he's not such a bad guy after all. They managed to work in a "Puny Human", although in a dream sequence. Other than that, Hulk was pretty much a mute. I'm assuming they'll go with an evil grey Hulk storyline if they do a sequel, so maybe he'll become more articulate at that point.

11. The tone. Yeah, the Hulk is a dark story, but this movie is downright humorless. It really was so dry of a tone that I started getting uncomfortable with it, and I don't think that was Ang Lee's intent. As a result, people started looking for humor in things that weren't intended to be funny. My theater let out some laughs at unintended intervals. Yeah, the Hulk is a serious comic and all, but it's still a comic, and your audience is looking for a fun movie. I kind of liked the psychological aspects of the movie, but there was almost too much of it.

12. Talbot. Way too one-dimensional of a villain, and although he wasn't supposed to be comic relief, I kept thinking he was because of how generic his character was. It sure was cool when he died, though.

    

13. The end. The epilogue, or as I like to call it, the Trailer for Hulk II. Okay, so they worked in the line. We all knew it was coming. Did you have to subtitle it? If I were making the movie, I'da left it at "You're making me angry". Let the last line speak for itself in the foreign tongue. Yeah, I'm getting nitpicky here, but I'm just sayin'. They already blew the end of the movie by tacking on the Absorbing Man story, and this was just icing on the cake.

14. Lou Ferigno and Stan Lee. One of the best cameos ever.

Okay, so weighing all that out, I'm still kind of hard pressed to tell you whether or not I liked it. On one hand, It was way better than I expected. On another, it was way worse. This movie was about the same length as X2, but it felt like it was twice as long. There was a good 30 minutes of story I coulda done without.

I try not to compare THE HULK to other comic book movies, because it is much different than something like a SPIDER-MAN or a DAREDEVIL or an X-MEN, but you can't help but compare it. I think for the most part, on a comic book movie level, THE HULK succeeds. On a regular movie level, it does not do so well. Those who didn't follow the comic will be alienated. Even those who watched the old Bill Bixby series will miss out on a lot.

    

I think the more I think about THE HULK, the more I like it. And at the same time, the more I think about THE HULK, the more I think it could be better. It's a strange paradox that I somehow do not feel like exploring any further at the moment. Perhaps I'll just go back to watching music videos. They're less taxing.

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