I had a lot of reservations going in to see The Hulk, and not all of them centered on the validity of doing the big green guy in CGI. I've just never really been a fan of Ang Lee. I know I'm supposed to be in love with him, but hey, I don't have much use for David Lynch either, so go figure. I wasn't a fan of Ang's before The Hulk and I'm still not a fan afterwards, even though I think he's managed to make this particular film a solid and entertaining success.
Yes, I was wrong. As it turns out the Hulk bears very little resemblance to Pete's Dragon. Still, I'm almost certain he very nearly broke into a pot-smoking musical number while gazing at the loveliness of Jennifer Connelly. But then we've all been there. In point of fact, ILM has done a superlative job of bringing the Hulkster to life. He's big. He's green. His pants are on more than one occasion purple. Yeah he's CGI, but it's good enough that he actually feels like a creature that's been fully realized. Next to Gollum, who remains light-years above any other non-living creation to grace any screen, the Hulk is the best CGI work anyone has done on film yet.
Now forget all that. The effects are good. Let’s get down to the story. Sweet lord is there a story. In fact I think there's far too much story. I saw at least 10 places in the first half of the film where I could have said the same things Ang Lee said, but cut a good 20 minutes of ponderously tedious developmental sequences right out of the film. The idea here, is that Bruce's crazy father did some experimenting on himself, and passed more than a little of what he did right on down to his offspring. Things get crazy. Dad goes nuts. Bruce gets adopted and grows into an EXTREMELY emotionally repressed, but also exceedingly brilliant scientist. Good for you Bruce! Good for Eric Bana too, who does such a wonderful job of playing up those repressed emotions that I could see him being perfectly comfortable as the world's greatest Vulcan since Mr. Spock. Note to Jolene Blalock: Grab a pen and paper, or one of those PDA's they write so much on in the future, and take a few suggestive notes.
Bruce grows up, meets the only super model scientist on the planet, Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) and falls in love. But he can't get close. He's closed off. Eventually they break things off but Bruce and Betty keep right on working together... uncomfortable though that is. That's good news for us, because that means the rapidly shrinking Ms. Connelly is still around when things go bad in the lab, giving her plenty of opportunity to show off just why she's one of the best actresses in Hollywood. Did I mention I'm in love?
Mostly though, this is a film about family. Both Bruce and Betty must come to grips with their very different, but very turbulent relationships with their parents. Director Ang Lee is desperately trying to make a lot of deep and meaningful points here, the chief being that it is Bruce's repressed memory that makes him what he is, but the movie itself just never quite gets there. Instead, Ang just blows it all up. That's absolutely because Bruce's father just doesn't make sense. Nick Nolte does a fantastic job of playing him. He brings a lot of depth and funky growling noises to the character. He snatches hold of each scene and makes it his own every time he's on camera. But the thing is, he's basically just a wacko. His relationship with Bruce, for all the time Ang tries to spend making something deep and disturbed out of it, is in finality just psychotic dementia.
On the other hand, Betty's relationship with her Dad, General Ross is well played and good and permanently changed. This is a movie less about a monstrous creature named Hulk and more about family life. In the end, I felt like I'd spent 138 minutes exploring Betty's relationship with her Dad, General Thunderbolt, with a lot of silly Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk filler stuffed down in between. Frankly, that's actually what I'd expect from a typical flick by Ang Lee. A movie that takes so many side trips into the HOV lane that by the time it gets back in the center the audience is left asking "Where were we going again?"
The first 40 minutes or so is the worst offender, with lots that could have been said more succinctly and with less time wasting fuss and muss. The only real crowd pleasing highlight there is a cool, but totally out of place cameo by Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno. Just hang on though. Once the Hulk gets to Hulking things get better. The action there is just fun and well filmed. Getting to the nitty gritty is a little tough, but Ang has done some wildly creative things with editing to frame it all up. You'll love the scene changes. They'll keep you interested even when The Hulk is dog paddling around in the shallow end.
Claims to the contrary, I don't think this is any kind of art film. It is however the closest thing I've seen to putting a straight up comic book right on the screen. Credit for that goes to a lot of creative work in the editing room; not because of anything special these filmmakers have done with the story. But heck, this is a lot of flat out fun. Hulk smashes things up. Tanks go flying. Throw in some heart, some emotion, some love. All the pieces are there, the action is wild and fun, the actors are just superb. Hulk is good enough that it's not likely to disappoint. The trailers really don't do the CGI justice. See it on the big screen. Relax, enjoy. Even the hulk dogs are guaranteed to deliver a vigorous good time.
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