'Hulk' is smashing good time
By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service
|THE HULK (Rated PG-13) Three stars (Good).
Thanks to director Ang Lee's imaginative filmmaking, we enjoy the creature's over-the-top attitude and boisterous outbursts, even if the film is a touch too long and a touch too gloomy. Starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte. Directed by Ang Lee. Universal Pictures, 138 minutes.
So says young scientist Bruce Banner, a genetics specialist whose temper tantrums go way beyond the pale. Because of a bizarre molecular mutation, he turns green and develops muscles on top of muscles, until he's the size of a truck. And then he starts pounding and smashing and ripping and roaring.
He becomes "The Hulk," and thanks to Ang Lee's imaginative filmmaking, we enjoy the creature's over-the-top attitude and boisterous outbursts, even if the film is a touch too long and a touch too gloomy.
Unlike its lighthearted Marvel cousin, "Spider-Man," this $150 million movie explores a surprisingly dark Freudian tale. There is much pain, anger and sense of betrayal standing between Banner (Eric Bana) and his estranged, psychotic father. The elder Banner's reckless experiments planted the hulk seed in Bruce. Dad is played by Nick Nolte, who may have been cast based on his infamous police mug shot, because he maintains the disheveled Malibu look throughout the film.
Added to the mix is a poignant bittersweet romance. Banner's love for fellow scientist Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) resonates with other memorable "Beauty and the Beast" tales, from "King Kong" to "Shrek."
The buzz on "The Hulk" was poor following early looks at the big green guy in advance trailers, starting Super Bowl weekend. But the trailers apparently involved incomplete and unsatisfactory computer images the creature in the completed film is far more impressive and expressive. One thing's for sure he's a heck of a lot larger than fans of the old TV show will recall. (TV's Hulk, actor Lou Ferrigno shows up in a cameo, looking downright small.)
The Hulk is so large, it's hard not to be distracted by his ability to keep on his pants. How can a guy wearing size 40 slacks at the most still be wearing them when his waist has swelled to the circumference of a Volkswagen?
Eyebrows initially were raised at the choice of Lee to direct "The Hulk." The filmmaker behind "Sense and Sensibility" and "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman" would seem an odd choice for a comic-book movie. (Yet, his wonderful "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is, in some ways, an Asian equivalent of a Marvel adventure.) Any worries were groundless, because Lee has fashioned a film more loyal to comic book styling than almost any before.
Lee's experience with more conventional dramas guarantees convincing performances and fleshed-out characters. That's what happens with Bana and recent Oscar-winner Connelly. They play their characters honestly, with no attempt to go for the campiness that often typifies comic-book movies. (Nolte is less restrained, as the troubled father, but baritone-voiced Sam Elliott makes a convincing military general.)
Typical of the beginning episodes of comic-book adventures, "The Hulk" spends nearly an hour setting up its story. The Big Green Anger Machine doesn't erupt until at least the 50-minute mark.
But once there, the result is exciting, sometimes loony and sometimes touching (thanks to the surprising, sad emotion generated by the frustrated Hulk).
At 138 minutes, a few judicious cuts might have helped. Even more, some humor to balance all the "sturm and drang" would have been nice, too.
Still, The Hulk serves as the summer's most extravagant reminder that a temper is a terrible thing to lose.
Rated PG-13 for graphic cartoon violence and partial nudity.