Since when did movies need to be 140 minutes long to get across a plot as simple as the one painstakingly presented in “Hulk?” You’ve got an angry scientist working on experiments under the military’s supervision. He becomes his own lab rat, unexpectedly has a child, and passes on the baggage. Child then has visions but doesn’t remember anything about his past. Where did he come from and who is his father? Fast forward through 140 very long minutes and we’re finally walking out of the theater. (It doesn’t help that every Marvel movie now competes for the best intro title sequence; always flashy and decorative, although useless in terms of plot information.)
“Hulk” is the most inspiring of the recent Marvel movies, but definitely not the greatest. The movie has much to say and desperately wants to go in so many directions that director Ang Lee can only show all of them at once using a variety of fancy camera fades and wipes. The transitions start off interesting and fresh but soon become tedious, redundant and obstructive.
Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) may be the Hulk, but the movie isn’t about him as much as it is about his screw-lose father (Nick Nolte), a scientist whose illegal experiments on his own body have been passed down to his son. Unintentionally following in his father’s footsteps by also becoming a scientist, Bruce finds himself having more frequent nightmares and more suppressed memories of events from his childhood he isn’t able to remember. His former girlfriend, Betty (Jennifer Connelly), is still close to him, although they are clearly just friends and co-workers.
While working on his latest project, one of those lab accidents occur where doors automatically shut, sirens go off, and the heroin looks in horror through the big glass window. The accident exposes Bruce to what should be a fatal dose of gamma radiation, but his dad's mutating gene protects him from the gammas. After the exposure, the radiation mixes with the gammas to start a chain reaction which turns Bruce into the Hulk. But the movie’s slow pace doesn’t allow us a good look during Bruce’s first transformation because it has to be 140 minutes long. So our first look is only a short clip, which quickly turns into another nightmare and flashback sequence, only to then take us back to Bruce waking up in his bed the following day.
Conveniently, nearly every character is somehow related to another; pure bliss for lazy moviegoers. Betty’s father, General Ross (Sam Elliott), is in charge of the operation to capture and fill-in-the-blank the Hulk. Kill? Exploit? Profit? Rehabilitate? We’re not sure because all of these options are outlined. Then there’s the always smiling Talbot (Josh Lucas), Betty’s ex-boyfriend, who actually confesses in straight words, “You will make me rich.” Most other villains maintain some kind of facade, but Talbot gets to the point as the obvious overly-jealous ex.
None of the characters are likable or easy to sympathize with. We think Betty still likes Bruce, yet she shows absolutely no emotion when he’s hauled off to be killed, exploited, or profited by. Then again, how can we expect Betty to shed more than three tears (I counted) for a guy whom we can’t even like. Speaking in a low mumbling voice, Bruce never gives us a reason to root for him. Every scene he’s in with his father is nothing but yelling and bickering. Near the climax the father starts mocking his son which got a few confused sounding laughs from the audience. As Bruce and his father continued to spit at each other, I patiently waited for Bruce to say, “Thanks Dad. If it hadn’t been for that mutant gene you passed on to me, I wouldn’t have survived the explosion that turned me into the Hulk, when I should have exploded like all those test frogs.”
I never expect Oscar-level acting in comic-book movies, but the combination of both under and overacting doesn’t mix well; there’s no middle ground. Josh Lucas, Sam Elliott, and Nick Nolte lead the scream team, while Bana is ironically the one-dimensional character. Lou Ferrigno (the original Hulk) shows up as a security guard in a duo-cameo with Stan Lee, a pair more interesting than Bruce and Betty.
Aware I’m in the minority as one who doesn’t like “Hulk,” let me say that my reasons vastly differ from the other dissenters. I for one loved the special effects and the work put into bringing the Hulk to life. His scenes are great, but combined they make up less than 30 minutes of the movie.
Rich in color, although not too bright, the Hulk is a massive creature with the growl to go with the suit. His fight scene with three mutated dogs is crafty and artistic, and his final showdown against the military forces is a worthy climax up until the real climax which is dull and a waste of special effects, but I will get to that later.
Loyal readers of my reviews know I can’t resist but to comment anytime movies put real aircraft to use. In “Hulk,” we see the hardly known F-22 Raptors take on the green giant, even though I’m sure almost every shot of the real planes is pure CGI. And yes, Raptors can reach the borders of our atmosphere and peak into outer-space. Like I said, the action scenes get no complaints from me.
But of course even the few great scenes have their flaws. There’s a scene where we see the Hulk jumping mountains one by one as he defies gravity and floats weightlessly in the sky. I do mean weightlessly because at one point we see him literally free-fall from outer-space only to make a dolphin-size splash into the San Francisco Bay. I think a tidal wave would have been more appropriate, one the size as those on display in “Deep Impact.”
An intimate moment occurs when Hulk transforms back into Bruce, but his clothes got so stretched that he found himself naked upon returning to normal. This happens at night in the rural forest where only his love interest can see him. However when in broad daylight and in front of thousands of armed soldiers, returning to human means keeping his boxer shorts, how convenient for his dignity’s sake. The sometimes nudity issue (all depending on the strength of Banner’s underwear elastic) is a major flaw because it is problem when a film can’t be consistent on a detail as big as the Hulk’s clothes.
As for the editing, major flaws exist here too. In one scene, Betty asks her father, “So how long are you going to keep him sedated?” He quickly replies, “For the rest of his of natural life if we have to.” But in the very next scene Bruce is walking around fully conscious without explanation.
I never expected to list Ang Lee as a negative. The brilliance he brought to “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” is nowhere to be seen here, mainly because our eyes are too busy darting from screen to screen, picture in a picture inside another picture. The proof that this technique was overly used is evident during one of the bad guys’ last scenes. It is more comical than serious thanks to the unnecessary use of freeze-frame.
The final scene takes place on a lighted stage, where thousands of armed soldiers monitor the conversation between Bruce and his father. Keep in mind that in previous scenes we see the Hulk throw tanks, tackle fighter jets, and self-heal his own wounds. I doubt keeping Bruce in a pair of handcuffs will do much for keeping him confined. But the father wants to see his son for one last time, so the General allows the two to meet wile reassuring himself that another thousand or so armed soldiers will somehow be adequate security.
This is when the yelling starts and drama continues to unfold. But it eventually leads to a closing shot after a less-than-spectacular final CGI showdown between the Hulk and a character I won’t reveal. Hopefully, all the story and background information has been covered because I expect a sequel and I want more of what I came to see, the Hulk in action. I do appreciate the special effects, they work, and without them, the movie would be a complete mess. I’m going to make a prediction: If there is a sequel, people who wisely chose not to see this movie will have no problem following the second, unless of course it is just as jumbled up as the original.
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