Until recently, Marvel
Comics have never been able to work on the big screen in the way that their
chief competitor DC has. DC had the Superman movies and the
Batman movies, but any attempt to start a franchise on the Marvel
superheroes never quite caught on. This is changing in the last few
years, with The X-Men, Spider-Man and Daredevil all getting
splashy big screen adventures that were both popular and critically
The Incredible Hulk is arguably the biggest
character in Marvel's repertoire (only Spider-Man could deny that
point.) So it was rather inevitable that a film version of The Hulk
would be next to grace the multiplexes. But that is the only
unsurprising thing about the making of the movie. First of all,
instead of hiring a director known for his action films, they hired Ang Lee,
a director known for stately art films (The Ice Storm, Sense &
Sensibility, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.) They hired a
relatively unknown star to portray Bruce Banner (Eric Bana of BlackHawk
Down) and surrounded him with Oscar-caliber actors in the other major
roles. Jennifer Connelly gracefully sidesteps the clichéd elements in
the character of the love interest Betty Ross. Nick Nolte gleefully
chews the scenery as Banner's brilliant but insane father. Sam Elliott
portrays button-down dignity as Ross' father, a general in charge of
capturing and perhaps destroying the man his daughter loves.
screenplay is quietly thoughtful and surprisingly deep for a story of a man
who when he is angered becomes a 15-foot-tall, super-powerful extension of
the human id, destroying all that gets in his way. In fact, in this
exploration of Banner and the Hulk's genesis, the monster does not even
appear until about halfway into the film. The Hulk, which is created
by computer effects, is generally impressive, though shots from afar tend to
be a little jerky and unreal.
But honestly, as strange as this may be
to say, the monster is somewhat secondary in The Hulk. It is
more an exploration of two fractured parent-child relationships, and how the
failures of those basic connections sabotage the children's ability to
relate to others or themselves. By the time, in the last half-hour or
so, when Banner is tortured to the point where he reveals his darker side,
the power and destruction that he unleashes on evil government figures seems
not so much a cathartic action sequence. Instead, it feels like an
unfair and mean fate placed on a man who is trying desperately to keep
himself together in a world spinning out of control. Much like King
Kong, the end of The Hulk shows an innocent beast who is placed
into a strange circumstance, where all he wants is to be left alone and
maybe be soothed by the beauty.
If there is one complaint to make
about the film, it is that perhaps director Ang Lee goes a bit too far in
his attempt to portray Bruce Banner's story as a Shakespearean tragedy.
Although it does inform the film with an amount of emotional heft, it robs
almost all the light-heartedness and humor from what is after all, a comic
strip. While Lee's films are well known for their somber tones, if
he'd look back at his earlier film The Wedding Banquet, he'd remember
it is possible to make serious points and still have a sense of fun.
The Hulk is a very good film, but it could lighten up a bit. (06/03)
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Posted: July 6, 2003.