Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Ultimate Superhero List 6: "Hulk (2003)"

Unleash the fury!
Unleash the melodrama!


      Hulk is the 2003 adaptation of The Incredible Hulk comic book series, which thanks to a less than stellar fan reception is not tied in really with 2008's The Incredible Hulk or The Avengers. The film is directed by Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and is written by John Turman (Ben 10: Alien Swarm), Michael France (Fantastic Four) and James Schamus (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The film follows Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), a scientist who, after gamma radiation mixes with a chemical formula implanted in him by his father David (Nick Nolte), turns into the Hulk whenever he gets angry. As his friend and former lover Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) tries to help him, Bruce finds himself hunted by Betty's general father (Sam Elliot) and military contractor Talbot (Josh Lucas) as he himself deals with his father returning after years in prison. Oh, and occasionally there's a Hulk.

That game has awful graphics...wait...
Hulk Smashed

      Say what you will about Ang Lee's take on the Hulk, this is at the very least a pretty interesting film to watch unfold. A few years before Christopher Nolan would make dark and gritty cool for superheroes (Ok, just Batman), Hulk is a film more interesting in making a good drama than a superhero movie. And honestly, with the Hulk especially, that could work. Granted, it doesn't, at least not entirely, but Lee certainly cannot be faulted for trying. There are a lot of things that work. The cast is excellent, for the most part. Bana is the weakest of the three recent Hulks, but then again, he's the only one to deal with becoming the Hulk for the first time and he doesn't do all that bad, even if he is a little whiny. And yeah, Lucas is mostly here to be a dick, but Talbot is always a dick, so a weak characterization is forgiven. The best are Connelly and Elliot. Connelly truly seems to care and fear Banner and Elliot seems truly conflicted with going after him and it works nicely. The action scenes work nicely too, showing a massive scale of Hulk destruction... even if it's letdown by pretty bad special effect, often making the Hulk look, as you've probably heard by now, a bodybuilding Shrek.

Daddy Fearest

      The problems with the movie really arise with Nick Nolte as Bruce's father. Not that Nolte's bad, though he's not great, but that the character is one of the most bizarrely forced elements of any story I've ever seen. The big problem with the film is that it is very melodramatic and is pretty damn boring. The film is nearly two and a half hours long and most of the drama is created from Banner's issues with his father. That's right, the drama does not come from Banner learning to contain the Hulk, but from the Hulk having daddy issues. How interesting. Add to that an impressively convoluted "scientific" explanation of how gamma radiation turn Banner into the Hulk and the ill-conceived attempts at realism are complete. Even worse is , despite how his influence weighs heavy on the entire film, Nolte is missing for long stretches of the film. And that's even after he gains the Absorbing Man's powers. Yep. And it all leads up to a grossly over-extended finale. The film goes a whole half-hour longer than it should have just to wrap you stuff with Bruce's father. And it all comes down to an outright baffling final fight, where Hulk beats his father in a away you need to see to believe. 

The Verdict

      Hulk is an admirable attempt to create a serious drama out of the Hulk. Ang Lee gives the film a distinct visual style and the whole thing is interesting to watch. The cast and action are also solid too. However, the whole movie is brought down by having the drama bizarrely come from the Hulk having daddy issues and not from Banner actually being the Hulk. What ends up as an intriguing idea becomes a bloated, boring film bending over backward to fit Bruce's father into the plot and all ending on one of the most baffling final fight's I've ever seen. It's not a total loss, but there's no real reason to go looking into the Hulk's past. Hulk (2003) gets 3 stars out of 6.

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