**/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B-
starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas
screenplay by John Turman and Michael France and James Schamus, based on the Marvel comic
directed by Ang Lee
by Walter Chaw The first in a troika of films to focus on rage as the catalyst for physiological change (the others being Danny Boyle's brilliant 28 Days Later... and Stephen Norrington's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which counts Mr. Hyde among its gentlemen) this past summer, Ang Lee's Hulk is a plodding dirge about the sins of the fathers that struggles mightily between the requirement to awe and the desire to mean something. Its story of repressed memories of abuse and reconciliation amounts to not-much when the tortured protagonist seems supremely capable of suppressing his rage, only losing control when jolted with a cattle prod or when his girlfriend is menaced by a trio of mutant hounds. An oh-so-subtle suggestion--embedded in a dream within a flashback--that emotionally distant Bruce Banner (Eric Bana in full zombie mode) may have abused his ex-girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) speaks to a canny chronicler of dysfunction in Lee (The Ice Storm) struggling with the demands of a film with a ridiculous budget and a level of expectation in the same stratosphere. When Betty nonsensically offers, "It must be a combination of the nanomeds and the gamma radiation," Bruce responds: "No, it's something deeper." Alas, it's not.
The story finds scientist Bruce Banner turning into a giant, angry, green hulk when enraged (pleasing both Gen-X'ers and comic book geeks: Lou Ferrigno and Stan Lee make dry cameos early on). (Ang) Lee spices the stew with a mad scientist father (Nick Nolte), a snarling general (Sam Elliott), and a lapel-full of references to sources as diverse as T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men," Vertigo, King Kong, Cronenberg's The Fly, and The Right Stuff. None of it is enough to bolster what is essentially the tired "slow-revealing dream" plot punctuated sparely with a few disjointed, if nifty, CGI-heavy action sequences. The attempt to elevate this material into the question of genetic damnation is noble, but neatly defeated by a conclusion first aimlessly bombastic, then cynically engineered for the requisite open-ended opportunity for franchise.
The Hulk animation itself is lovely to behold, able to generate a range of emotions that appear beyond the reach of his human alter ego. Along with Lee's unembarrassed use of split-screen comic panel wipes, the virtual Hulk represents the only heart in the piece; Nolte's frenetic gas huffing and electrical-wire chewing the only vitality. Moments impress (Jungians, take heed: the first appearance of Hulk is in Banner's subconscious, cloaked in shadow behind a literal door)--most of them carefully engineered to distract from the cynicism fuelling the picture. The ultimate confrontation between Bruce and his dad (and why anyone would put the two of them together at that point is something I like to call "unforgivable contrivance") is resolved not with forgiveness but with rage. That Lee seems to offer forgiveness as a possibility in a graceful fantasy in the midst of a lake-bottom battle (as well as the possibility for summary execution in the tears of a lover) suggests, again, a smart filmmaker put at the reins of a stupid film.
Hulk is a disappointment, its thoughtfulness translating as a leaden rehashing of the obvious and a few pop psychology observations (in Lee's defense, he seems aware of the datedness of his dialogue in scoring a scene of Bruce's childhood home with an homage to Miklós Rózsa music from Spellbound (dissolving into Herrmann's score for Vertigo--the latter cleverly drives the film's San Francisco scene)) feeling too much like time-passers between the appearances of the CGI star. At the heart of what's wrong is Bana: non-descript and uninvolving, the instability of his fire within is understood rather than demonstrated, making the picture less about a tragic, possibly genetic, affliction ruining a promising life than a dull milquetoast finally growing a pair. Like the two "smart" blockbusters preceding Hulk this summer (X2, The Matrix Reloaded), without a strong centre, the film's pretensions fly apart in the gyre of special effects and discombobulated storylines engineered to please fetishists and the otherwise narratively undemanding. And all of Lee's obsessions with flight, treetop battles, and little boys (and girls) lost can't hold this patchwork contraption together. Originally published: June 20, 2003.
by Bill Chambers Within the Deleted Scenes rider of the Hulk DVD, Bruce Banner delivers a speech about the fundamental difference between nanotechnology and human biology that begs to be reinstated. On the one hand, it's quintessential Lee-Schamus, a précis on healing ("Part of life is death, is forgetting, and, unchecked, it's mutateous... Basically, to stay in balance and alive, we must forget as much as we remember") as starkly perfect as the family and enlightenment speeches you'll find in The Ice Storm and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, respectively; on the other, seeing that a philosopher lurks beneath the surface of Bruce alongside the Hulk demystifies Betty's attraction to such a drag. I can think of a hundred moments from the finished film more expendable than this one, but such is the fruitless blessing of DVD, the ability to play armchair editor. Universal issues Hulk in separate widescreen and fullscreen editions, with FILM FREAK CENTRAL receiving the former (and preferred) for review. The picture is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with nary a flaw save some edge-enhancement; clarity is actually an improvement over the theatrical prints, as the details of the climactic nocturnal showdown are easier to discern on DVD. Dialogue is also a little more pellucid than it was in theatres, although the swell 5.1 Dolby Digital mix doesn't quite live up to one's expectations of a Gary Rydstrom track--I could've lived without the interactivity of the first disc to accommodate DTS, the sound format in which Rydstrom shines brightest.
For instance, ten behind-the-scenes vignettes are accessible during Hulk with the "Hulk Cam" activated. (Chaptering forward will leapfrog you to the next Hulk Cam option, relieving you from another full viewing of the film.) These 1-2 minute sketches focus on whatever their surrounding scene entails, but that doesn't make them any less redundant when placed next to the supplements of Disc 2. "Superhero Revealed: The Anatomy of the Hulk" is a revolving interface with links to almanac-style tidbits fictive and factual about the title creature's physical attributes, while the block of Deleted Scenes (running seven chapters/five minutes, and also notable for a bizarre extension of Lou Ferrigno's cameo), cast & crew biographies and filmographies, and a solid, if low-key feature-length commentary from Lee round out the first platter. It might not be a good thing that I understood the film better after Lee's yakker, which sheds light on the film's recurring image of a closed door ("The crew thought I was insane shooting so much footage of the boy under the table") and clarifies the pseudoscience behind the modified origin of the title character. Additionally, Lee remains tickled by the serendipitous events of the shoot, such as the casting of a little girl who hated the ice cream in front of her so much that she happened to cry on cue in a diner flashback.
Disc 2 includes several featurettes that are cumulatively depthless but contain pockets of interest. Starting things off is "Evolution of the Hulk" (16 mins.), a rundown of the green giant's storied past in print and other media that's nearly identical to the one found on Buena Vista's cartoon "Hulk" disc, save for the failure to mention illustrator Jack Kirby's name even once--a shameful omission that seems calculated to reinforce interviewee Stan Lee's reputation as a glory-hog, given the Marvel-heavy slant of these docs and (Stan) Lee's current lawsuit against his erstwhile employers. "The Incredible Ang Lee" (14 mins.) shows the director in a motion-capture suit for the third or fourth time in this package, a sight that somehow never gets old--he's really quite good at playing the Hulk, and the praise he earns from cast and crew in intermittent testimonials appears genuine. "The Dog Fight Scene" (10 mins.) and "The Unique Style of Editing Hulk" (6 mins.) are arguably the most comprehensive docs of the entire package, the four parts that comprise "The Making of Hulk" ("Cast and Crew" (6 mins.), "Stunts and Physical Effects" (6 mins.), "ILM" (6 mins.), "Music" (6 mins.)) the least--the first two are sufficiently emblematic of the production and its challenges besides. Meanwhile, artists Adam Kubert, Tommy Ohtsuka, Salvador Larroca, and Katsuya Terada were commissioned to interpret the second Hulk-out from the film in their distinctive drawing styles, the results of this pointless but mesmerizing exercise compiled for "Hulkification," a multi-angle feature that bests any of the more promotional ROM content. Originally published: November 8, 2003.