Film Review © 2003 by Trip Reynolds
Directed by Ang Lee; Screenplay by Michael France, John Turman and James Schamus; Produced by Avi Arad, Larry Franco, Gale Anne Hurd, and James Schamus; Executive Produced by Kevin Feige and Stan Lee.
Starring Eric Bana (as the tortured scientist with "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" tendencies, Bruce Banner), Jennifer Connelly (as the beautiful, smart and somewhat vague, Betty Ross), Sam Elliott (as Betty's father, the by-the-numbers, General "Thunderbolt" Ross), Joshua Lucas (as the manipulative, back-stabbing, get-rich-quick Major Glenn Talbot), Nick Nolte (as Bruce Banner's brilliant, risk-taking, and self-absorbed father, scientist Dr. David Banner), Cara Buono (as David Banner's wife, Edith Banner), Paul Kersey (as the young, brilliant, risk-taking, and self-absorbed scientist, David Banner), Stan Lee (who actually co-created - with illustrator Jack Kirby - the original "Hulk" comic book in 1962, in a cameo role as a security guard), and Lou Ferrigno (the original green-skinned, muscle-bound "Incredible Hulk" from CBS television series that aired from March 10, 1978 to June 2, 1982, in a cameo role as a security guard),
It's finally happened. Computer animation that truly heralds the transition from using real "humans" in film to "animated humans" in film. "Final Fantasy" from 2001, was perhaps the first film to make a bold step in this evolution, but "The Hulk" truly pushes the envelop by merging CGI seamlessly with live action. One day dead actors like John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley will be "acting" in films again - and you won't be able to tell the difference from their original "living" films. Oh, we can imagine the disclaimer now: "The following film contains computer generated images of Elvis Presley, used with permission of the Presley estate." [Elvis is still dead. Elvis has left the room!"]
"The Hulk," is an exciting film, with a script which, surprisingly, is closely based on Stan Lee's original Marvel comic book hero/villain with the "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" tendencies. As with the comic book, Bruce Banner is working on an experiment that goes afoul of protocol. Although Banner is able to save a co-worker, he becomes trapped and receives a full blast of what was believed to be deadly (gamma) radiation. Banner survives and soon realizes, as in the comic book, that when he gets mad he transforms - becoming much larger, extremely powerful, driven more by instinct than intellect, and green. And there seems to be no limit to his power. Here is where the film is far more accurate than the television series.
In the comic book, which I've been reading and collecting since 1962, the most disturbing aspect of the Hulk is not that he turns green, and not that he's so powerful. It's worse. People fear the Hulk because the madder the Hulk gets - the stronger the Hulk gets! It's just that simple. However, while the Hulk is truly "Mr. Hyde" without limits it's wrong to consider the Hulk a bad guy or a good guy. The Hulk is truly the physical representation of emotion. If you treat him nice, he harmlessly reverts back to his alter ego, Bruce Banner. But if you piss Bruce Banner off, or worse, if you piss the Hulk off, expect the complete annihilation of whatever you hold dear, including your own life.
Readers of the comic book have seen the illustrated images of the nuclear-impact-like destruction caused by The Hulk. You knock him down, he gets madder, he gets up and knocks you down - and every time it's harder, and harder, and harder, ad infinitum, until The Hulk no longer sees you as a threat or he gets bored - but you cannot win against a continuously enraged Hulk who's constantly getting madder. The CBS television series never presented a faithful portrayal of the Hulk. Instead of a character who's supposed to get stronger the madder he gets, and invulnerable to being shot and wounded, CBS gave audiences a green-skinned version of ABC-TV's cybernetic "Six Million Dollar Man (which preceded CBS' "The Hulk" and aired from January 18, 1974 to March 6, 1978)." Look, they did exactly the same "slow motion" stunts. In the comics, the Hulk could only be wounded (by gun fire and related armaments, etc.) during the early days of his metamorphosis, but as the years of gamma radiation continued to geometrically evolve his genetic structure the Hulk became invulnerable.
In addition to the animation, the best thing about this film is the on-screen presence and acting by Nick Nolte as scientist David Banner, and Sam Elliott as General "Thunderbolt" Ross. These seasoned actors give credibility to all of their scenes and give more drama to the story. Although capable in their own rights, nevertheless, all other players - including the CGI "Hulk" - appear as support players to the intensity of Nolte and Elliott. This is not a complaint, but an acknowledgment to two very capable actors. Despite his daughter's ardor for Bruce Banner, Ross commands his cat-and-mouse pursuit and capture of Bruce Banner/The Hulk only somewhat reluctantly and, more importantly, with by-the-book grim determination. Major Glenn Talbot's conniving pursuit of the "secret" of how Banner's becomes The Hulk is appropriately brief and capsulated, but the film's climatic battle between Bruce Banner's Hulk and his father's own gamma based alter ego was not executed effectively. Their pseudo-epic battle evolved into a vague, ethereal special effects presentation. Film's ending should have been better. However, the final establishing shot and dialogue clearly setup the sequel. "The Hulk" will be back.
Film is skillfully directed by Ang Lee.
Film has an evenly paced running length of 138 minutes, but would benefit if trimmed by 18 minutes.
Recommendation: See this film. Own the DVD. Worship it. (I'm kidding about the worship.)