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Hulk (2003)
Rated PG13

Starring: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, and Nick Nolte

Rating:
***
out of
*****

Last summer's successful Spider-Man set off a wave of comic-book adaptations this year, including Daredevil, X2: X-Men United, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Hulk.

Bringing Daredevil to the screen required little more than putting Ben Affleck in tights. The Hulk was a much bigger challenge to bring to life on celluloid. The 1970s TV series simply painted bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno green and gave him a bad wig. Now, in the days of CGI effects, that approach simply wouldn't work. So, the 2003 version of the Hulk is completely computer -generated. Of course, there's the small matter of a script and a decent storyline, but computers can do anything, right? In the case of Hulk, the special effects are certainly special but the storyline may have benefited by being a mini-series instead of a two hour and 20 minute long film.

Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is a scientist working with ex-girlfriend and fellow scientist Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) on experiments involving altering the DNA in living creatures to expedite the healing process. In a freak accident (in these movies, are there ever run-of-the-mill accidents?), Banner is bombarded with gamma radiation. Ordinarily, this would have killed him. However, Banner had been genetically altered by his father, David Banner (Nick Nolte). The addition of gamma radiation into the mix gives Bruce Banner the unfortunate side-effect of being transformed into a large, green creature whenever he gets angry.

Hulk is not a traditional comic-book hero movie. It has more in common with classic monster movies, like King Kong or Frankenstein. The scenes that feature the Hulk smashing up military hardware, fighting mutant dogs, or smashing San Francisco gave me the feeling I get when I'm watching a good Godzilla movie. It was fun to watch and cathartic in a twisted kind of way. I was cheering when the Hulk picked up a tank turret and started to beat another tank with it. The special effects, including the prematurely maligned, computer-generated Hulk, are spectacular. I was much more impressed with Hulk's visuals than I was with The Matrix Reloaded's retreaded bullet-time effects.

Even the acting, which is usually not a strong point in comic-book films, is superior, due no doubt to Ang Lee's directing. Eric Bana, who was so good in Chopper, plays it much more subdued here. Still, he brings a believability to Bruce Banner, especially when he confesses to Betty that he likes the feeling he gets when he changes into the big, green guy.

So what didn't I like about Hulk? It's a movie that simply tries to do too much with the time it's allotted. The back story requires almost an hour to set up and when the action kicks in, it doesn't last long enough. When the movie "feels" over, there's still almost half an hour to go. I admire Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Ice Storm) and what he has tried to do with the subject matter. The editing, with its comic book-like use of panels and never-predictible morphs from one scene to the next, is exemplary. While the movie may be overlong, it's certainly never boring. It just doesn't feel right. The climax comes out of nowhere and feels like it belongs in another film.

That said, Hulk is not a failure. In fact, I appreciate the intelligent approach Ang Lee and his collaborators took when they tackled this project. Perhaps, if there is a sequel, it will benefit -- as did X2: X-Men United -- from the lack of a need to set everything up ad nauseam. Unfortunately, the rather cool response to the film at the box office may prevent a sequel from ever being made. That, in my opinion, would be a shame. I want to see more of the Hulk smashing stuff.

Trivia: Ang Lee performed the Hulk himself using motion capture technology. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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