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Hulk
Reviewed by Martin Thomas, © 2003

Format: Movie
By:   Ang Lee (director)
Genre:   Comic Book Action
Released:   June 20, 2003
Review Date:   June 17, 2003
Audience Rating:   Rated PG-13

Dear son,

What a lucky break that your birthday would fall on one of the weekends you come stay with me. As it also turns out the movie HULK opens that Friday, so I'm gonna start off our birthday extravaganza by picking you up early and taking you to the very first show of the day. You are gonna be the luckiest 11 year old in your class!

Being a film critic, I got to go to an early screening of it and I just know you're gonna think it's "rad"!! (Do you kids still say that?) It'll suck you in from the "patented" Marvel opening credits sequence with the FIGHT CLUB-inspired flight through the microcosm of the human body all to the orchestral stylings of Danny Elfman, just like in SPIDERMAN and the X-MEN movies. I imagine some people will call it repetitive and uninspired... but hey, if it works why change it? Especially when it's so... um, "dope" (?).

It's funny. If you go back and look at all those old Marvel comics I gave you (assuming your mother didn't throw them out like she was always threatening to), you'll notice how many of those superheroes got their powers from radiation: Bruce Banner was caught in a gamma radiation explosion and turned into the Hulk; The Fantastic Four were pelted by cosmic radiation during a spaceflight; Daredevil was hit across the eyes with a radioactive isotope; Spiderman was bitten by an irradiated spider at an open demonstration of radiation; Even the X-men. Some of them are mutants because their parents worked at nuclear facilities.

Back in the 60s so little was known about the long-term effects of radiation that it seemed plausible that a healthy dose might give you the power to stretch like a rubberband or stick to walls. Of course, if Peter Parker ever were to attend his high school reunion he'd discover that most of classmates died in their mid-twenties from leukemia.

...I'm sorry, son. That was my "sardonic wit" your mother was always complaining to the therapist about. I'll try to 'chill' on it....

In the recent movies they've rewritten all these characters origins so that their powers now stem from altered genes. I suppose Genetics are the unknown science of the moment. The "Chemical X Dou Jour," if you will (back in the 80s it was toxic waste — be glad that you missed all of that).

Personally, I don't mind that they don't adhere strictly to the comic book text. Comics were never meant to be anymore than shorthand to begin with. The important thing is that they don't change the heart of the story. Plus, I think the movies tend to fix some of the obvious flaws. Not only is it more fitting that Spiderman generates webs from his own body, but if Peter Parker was smart enough to invent a web fluid he could just patent it and become a millionaire, right? And the X-Men look better in black leather flight suits because, let's face it, a grown man looks ridiculous wearing yellow.

HULK also manages to not stray to far from it's source material. Just like in the comics, your hero is Dr. Bruce Banner. (Eric Bana) He's still a geeky scientist, this time working with his sexy scientist girlfriend, Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) on a top secret project, when he's caught in an accident that turns him into a raging misanthrope.(You can ask your mother about that word!).

It's a decent premise that has the potential to be turned into a great sci-fi/horror epic... or at least it was back in the 80s when it starred Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis and was called THE FLY. Now that was one of the best of the best... and if HULK is derivative of that then it's a... um, good thing...?

Well... Okay, so there's no Goldblum and Davis. Big whoop. The cast here is not too shabby either.

The movie is directed by the highly-celebrated Ang Lee, who also directed CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (which I know you said was "so gay" when they started walking out on the tree limbs — trust me, one day you'll see it as graceful and sublime... if you ever stay awake long enough). He has a very sober take on the whole thing. Between the solemnity of the actors and the very tense, almost oppressive score by Danny Elfman it takes awhile before you notice just how half-hearted and sometimes non-sensical the dialogue is.

I mean, there's much talk in the beginning about Bruce and Betty's relationship and Bruce's emotional constipation (don't laugh, you) but very little to back it up. You almost get the impression he's just really upset about... being adopted. It just seems silly after a while. It's not like being adopted ever bothered you.

...Oh, you didn't know you were adopted? ... PSYCHE!!!!! Haha! Gotcha good that time, homeboy!

*Ahem* Despite the somber tone, Ang Lee also chose to ever-so-often split the screen in 3rds or 4ths so that it resembles comic book panels. This sounds like a cool effect and might've worked perfectly in DAREDEVIL or DARKMAN. Here it's just inappropriate and makes you question whether to take all the ‘seriousness' seriously, y'know? It's just SO unsubtle, and admittedly you shouldn't expect subtlety from a movie about the Hulk (duh!), but Lee was the one who chose to start this off as angst-laden dark drama, not me.

When you're old enough to I can't wait to show you this low budget movie Eric Bana starred in called CHOPPER, so you can see what a great actor he truly is. Unfortunately, seeing him first in HULK will make you conclude that they only hired him because his last name sounds like "Banner" and his face is generic enough that it was easy to make the Hulk look like him.

Jennifer Connelly (you remember, she was the really sexy girl in THE ROCKETEER and the really sexy girl in... a lot of other movies your mom never would let us finish watching) clearly deserved her Oscar of a few years ago, as she was the only who able to wrestle a human-like performance out of the script.

At the core the movie is really about the antagonism between the two lead's fathers: General 'Thunderbolt' Ross (Sam Elliot, who barks all his lines) and Dr. David Banner (Nick Nolte, who growls all of his). In fact, almost every misstep of this movie centers around Nick Nolte.

After thirty years of lock-down in a military penitentiary, David Banner emerges as a full-blown Simon Bar Sinister-grade mad scientist. This guy's sneaking around making Hulks out of his son and his French poodles while spouting gibberish I wouldn't be surprised to find out Nolte ad-libbed himself. I won't SPOIL the movie by telling you what he does at the end. However, when there's a lull in the middle, completely out of left field he turns himself into the $^&%# Absorbing Man!!! I kid you not, kiddo! I know that to an 11-year old that sounds cool but I thought it was the most retarded thing I've seen all year.

There's absolutely no tension to the film except waiting for the revelation of just what atrocity Bruce's father committed that he can't remember. When it's finally revealed it is a truly shockingly tragic event, which, as a father hurt me at the core...

...or at least, it would've been if Nick Nolte hadn't just five minutes before turned into the $^&%# Absorbing Man!

BUT HEY, all that's just from an adult perspective. You're an 11 year old kid. You don't care anything about dialogue or plot or blah-blah. All you really want to see is a realistic 3D-computer generated Hulk tossing tanks and leaping across the desert. Well, my little man, you are indeed in luck because the Hulk himself gets a lot more screen time than you've seen in the trailers and he blows stuff up real good.

As for looking realistic... well, um... Even if you saw this movie from across the street with cataracts there would not be one frame of it where the Hulk looked real, especially when there's another human on screen with him. For all of ILM's much vaunted "CGI magic," they never quite get the Hulk to focus his eyes so it always seems like he doesn't know he's in the shot. It also doesn't help that they can't decide if he's 10ft. or 20ft. tall (I refer to it as 'Woody Woodpecker syndrome'). It's like periodically swapping out King Kong with Mighty Joe Young.

The 3D animation of Gollum in LORD OF THE RINGS:THE TWO TOWER set a new industry standard. An impossibly high standard? Perhaps. But you figure the Hulk should at least look as good as Yoda in STAR WARS: EPISODE II or the characters in FINAL FANTASY, right? I mean, it's not like SPIDERMAN or THE MATRIX: RELOADED where the switch to CG characters is obvious but just a minor effect to sweeten the action. The Hulk himself is the main character here (I'm pretty sure his name is in the title) and yet most of the time he doesn't look anymore convincing than Shrek... except with a lot less personality.

The "fun" of the Incredible Hulk (whether TV show or comics) has always been empathizing with Banner's rage or living vicariously through the Hulk's. But in this movie Bruce Banner's only triggers to transform come from situations a normal man would just deal with (like being picked on by a crippled guy) and the Hulk acts less like a rampaging monster and more like a bewildered bear the entire time. His first outing is an interminable fight against a pack of fellow computer-generated, Hulked-out French poodles (I know you think I'm joking) — and it's only the fact that it's filmed in the dark so you can't tell what was happening that'll keep you from screaming, "Who cares?!"

But listen to me — "Who cares?" You do! As an 11 year old (or younger) boy, this movie was tailor-made for you. Forget everything I said, I'm just gonna enjoy it through your eyes and we're gonna have the most fun we've ever had. Yessiree, you won't be forgetting your twelfth birthday anytime soon, pardnah. Then after the movie we'll... uh... um....

...oh....

...Oh no... No! No! no....

Aaargh! I'm so stupid... stupid....

*sigh* Son, I'm sorry, I — I can't take you to see HULK.

No, no, I don't have other plans. It's just that.... Well, I just realized that on Friday it'll be your birthday and you won't be 11 anymore, you'll be 12! I know it doesn't seem like much, but between now and then you'll have a few new life experiences; Learn some new things; Your brain will grow and new grooves will start to form in it....

Simply put: When you turn 12 you will be too mature for this movie.

I know you think I'm over-exaggerating, but remember how I ruined DAREDEVIL for you by yelling about how the characters weren't believable and gagging at the dialogue? (Again, I apologize for getting us kicked out of the theater.) Well, after seeing HULK I'm now thinking, "Hey, DAREDEVIL wasn't all that bad." I mean, there were at least a couple of laughs in it, the special effects were pretty good and, most importantly: After 90 minutes it knew it was time to wrap it up.

Son, HULK is almost two and a half hours long!

That means that even if your battle-axe of a mother let me pick you up early and I took you to one of the midnight screenings on Thursday night, you'd still be 12 years old long before the movie was done... and you'd hate me for it.

I'm sorry, but I don't see you enough that I can afford to have you displace that much anger my way.

Look, I'll make it up to you somehow. Tell you what, I'll... I'll go ahead and buy you the Hulk Playstation game, okay? It's pretty much the same thing with a less convoluted plot.

...Just, um... let your mother know that next month child support payment is gonna be a little late.

XOXOXOX

—Dad

P.S: No need to tell her about the adoption joke, though.


RevolutionSF contributor Martin Thomas is a retired comic book artist living out his remaining years hosting two movie review TV shows down in Austin, Texas. See him online at thereeldeal.com.

 
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