Hulk (2003), Run-time 138 mins, Cert 12A.

Director - Ang Lee.

Writers - John Turman, Michael France & James Schamus.

Starring - Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte, Josh Lucas & Sam Elliot.

 

Premise - Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is a scientist working on using Gamma radiation to heal injuries at an accelerated rate, aided by his one time lover Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly). After an accident where he saves a colleagues life, but takes a usually lethal dose of Gamma radiation a man shows up saying he's Bruce's father (Nick Nolte). Shortly after Bruce gets so enraged that he transforms into a huge, ultra-strong Hulk. Now on the run, Bruce must find out how his father ties into his altered state and also avoid being captured by Betty's father, General Thunderbolt Ross (Sam Elliot).

Hulk is a massive departure from the recent glut of comic book movies to hit the big screen. The Hulk is not a super hero in the strictest sense; he doesnít fight evil or hold up any specific values. His powers arenít even seen as a blessing, they are more of a curse. A curse that serves as the crux for the entire film. At its heart Hulk is a character driven tragedy, almost Shakespearean in its themes and subtexts.

Those looking for a fix of explosive wall to wall action would be better served looking elsewhere. Hulk does offer action, but itís mostly in the films second half, and is certainly not the films main selling point. Rather director Ang Lee (insert Ďdonít make me Ang Leeí joke here) offers up a dialogue heavy first half that introduces us to each character and explains their various motivations. Dialogue heavy and exposition stuffed the first half may be, but it never grows tiresome thanks to the great acting, great writing and Leeís masterful direction.

Leeís direction on this film is quite unlike anything I have seen before. Playing on the comic book roots of the source material Lee plays each scene out like the panel of a comic book. Scenes wipe into each other and split screen is used frequently, itís a technique that is hard to explain, but it is incredibly effective. Itís almost like watching a comic book coming to life. Itís used particularly well in the films opening minutes as we are whisked through a quick flashback of events in 1966 that have heavy repercussions throughout the remainder of the film.

Lee is no stranger to directing character driven films, The Ice Storm and Eat Drink Man Woman being prime examples of great character driven movies. That he can take this and weave it successfully into a summer blockbuster is incredibly impressive. A large amount of the film is given up to the two father-offspring relationships. Bruce and his father are distant, as Bruce thought his father was dead. When he turns up again it stirs deep repressed emotions and memories. Eventually leading to him releasing his anger, which of course manifests itself in the form of the Hulk.

This is a deep and complex relationship that has no business in a summer blockbuster, but itís there and it works. Betty and Thunderboltís relationship is similar in that there is distance between them, but in their case the distance is through choice. Betty has never really agreed with her fatherís army methods and has grown apart from him. They are brought together by Bruceís condition and whilst there is grudging respect between them, there is little trust. Again, itís a refreshing change from the cardboard cut out characters and wafer thin relationships normally dished out by summer fodder.

The only character to be short changed by the film is Josh Lucas as Talbot. He is nothing more than a standard one-dimensional villain with no real depth. He is simply evil, with no explanation given for his motivations. Talbot is the closest thing to an out and out villain in the film as all the others (David Banner & Thunderbolt) have shades of grey to them. Thankfully Talbotís screen time is short and it has to be said that he does have a nice pay-off thanks to Leeís glorious direction.

From an acting stand point the film is practically faultless. Little known Australian actor Eric Bana (see Chopper now!) plays Bruce Banner and fits the role perfectly. The conflict is evident all over his face; the inner turmoil is right there in his eyes, amazing work. Jennifer Connelly builds on her Oscar success with more brilliant work. She is the rock for the unstable Bruce/Hulk character. She is apparently the only thing capable of bringing Bruce out of his rages, Connelly shows great emotion.

The two fathers have also been perfectly cast. Sam Elliot is wonderful as Thunderbolt Ross, with his impeccably trimmed moustache and spotless uniform. He is loyal to the Army and makes decisions that may not be popular, but he feels that they are the right thing to do. Elliot was born to play this role it would seem.

Nick Nolte looks a real mess in this film, but it works. He is dishevelled and unshaven with long matted hair. He has the appearance of a madman, which for the most part he is. He may have loved his son at one point, but the pursuit of his goals has long since clouded this. He now sees his son as nothing more than a means to realising his ambitions. Nolte may overact slightly at some points of the film, but he largely pulls it off, having some engrossing scenes with Bana, the two share some great chemistry.

The action that Ang Lee has created for this film is really quite impressive. The Hulk is a huge strong character, almost invincible. He can pick up tanks, throw them about and use them as baseball bats. He can jump for miles and land on the back of fighter planes. He can punch through walls and jump through whole levels of buildings. Realising such a larger than life character was no easy task. Itís a task that Lee and ILM have pulled of almost flawlessly.

It was obvious from day one that the Hulk was going to have to be an all CGI creation for this film. Sure, painting Lou Ferrigno (who has a cameo in the film with Stan Ďthe maní Lee) green may have worked in the TV series, but for the kind of action, movement and environment immersion that the movie would require CGI was clearly the only option.

Ever since The Fellowship of the Ring came out ILM have been toiling behind WETA Digital in the CGI stakes. WETAís work is incredibly realistic and is at a quality that Lucasí brigade have yet to emulate. Hulk presents the pinnacle thus far of ILMís work, but it is still behind WETAís Gollum creation.

Thatís not to say that Hulk is unrealistic, for in close up he is very believable. The emotion that ILM puts on the big guyís face is really impressive. We feel for the Hulk character when he is being hunted in the Desert thanks largely to a combination of the character work done by Lee in the first half and the animation done by ILM in close ups.

Itís in the wide shots that things are a little shaky, and itís the same complaints that were levelled at Spider-man, the movement is just a little off. But, how do you animate a 15 foot green giant? Not an easy task I would imagine and what ILM have achieved is very good, and the problems didnít take away from the movie for me, I just sat back and enjoyed.

Comic book purists may be upset at the films changing of Hulks origins. In the comicís Bruceís father was not The Absorbing Man as he is portrayed in the film. Also, in the comic Banner is not turned into The Hulk by a lab experiment gone wrong, but by a Gamma bomb blast. I can see why this was changed as large weapons testing is not something that goes on much these days (that we know of!), to keep the film in the present day a change was needed and the way the film handles it is not too different from the comic in itís essence.

I really hope that there is a sequel to Hulk and that Ang Lee again helms the movie. I would love to see Banner attempting to cure himself, perhaps being hampered by The Leader, or Abomination. If you like your action flicks to have a bit of beef on them, to explore characters and relationships then you will find much to enjoy in Hulk. If however you are an action junkie who canít wait for their next fix then I would probably give it a miss, you will become restless.

 

8()/10.

Poster Quote Ė Hulk smash puny box office rivals!

If you enjoyed Hulk then try Ė X2, Unbreakable, Batman.