directed by Ang Lee
(Universal, 2003)

Hulk is a movie about a comic-book character who gets mad, turns green and smashes things. But the film, unlike the comic, is long and thoughtful -- precisely the opposite of what comic-book lovers expected to see.

It might have been a welcome relief. But Hulk approaches its subject at a snail's pace -- the title character doesn't even appear for the first 42 minutes of the film, and that first block of time spends far too much time on dry science and confusing flashbacks.

The movie also introduces a complicated subplot beginning in 1966, before protagonist Bruce Banner was even born. Banner's father is reinvented as a mad scientist of the radiation age who alters his own DNA -- and, in turn, passes mutated genes along to his son -- in an attempt to perfect the human body. Decades later, Banner is following a similar path, and his old mutation messily collides with a new one during a laboratory accident.

Far too enlightened in the 21st century to ground the creature's creation in the testing of a devastating new bomb -- the origin described in Stan Lee's 1962 comic -- the movie Hulk has its genesis in experiments in genetic mutation and radiation. But director Ang Lee apparently had fewer qualms about showing horrific experiments on animals; while I'm sure none were actually harmed in the making of the movie, the graphic lab scenes must have raised a few red flags at PETA.

The computer-generated Hulk is a mixed success, although it looked far more credible overall than I expected. Eric Bana is also good as Banner, both the reserved scientist and the tormented victim of his own experiment. Jennifer Connelly provides eye-catching and empathetic support as his romantic interest, fellow scientist Betty Ross.

There is a handful of villains of varying degrees. The shallowest is Talbot (Joss Lucas), a money-motivated entrepreneur who seeks to cash in on Hulk's genetic enhancements. More three-dimensional is General Ross (Sam Elliott), who heads the military's efforts to catch or kill the beast, and who is also Betty's father.

And then there's Banner's dad, who starts the film as a mustached Paul Kersey, returns mid-flick as a ragged and haggard-looking Nick Nolte and occasionally becomes a computer-generated special effect. His obsessive qualities are only slightly over the top to begin with, but spiral out of control towards the end. This is a character and subplot that needed serious reconsideration before Hulk hit the screen.

Ang Lee attempts to capture the feel and flow of a comic book with various split-screen effects that work well in many cases, but are sometimes distracting. However, his Hulk is too slow-moving to hold the interest of your average smash-and-flash comic-book movie, and too cartoony for your more serious film fan.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 24 January 2004

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