What do you get if you cross a jellyfish, starfish, sea cucumber and a whole lotta Gamma radiation? Why, a big hulking monster, of course!
David Banner (Nick Nolte) is a dog-loving shaggy dog of a mad scientist for the US Army who tests his bizarro-goo on himself. There’s apparently no effect, but when Banner’s wife gives birth to a son, right away David can see that something’s (jelly)fishy. Cut to thirty years later and little Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) has been taken away from his parents for reasons he can’t remember, yet unknowingly he’s followed his father’s footsteps and became a scientist himself. He works closely with Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), who recently broke up with him because he’s “emotionally distant”. Awkward!
“That’s Bruce, he’s like that, he’s… bottled up.”
Um, I think we get it, the dude’s got issues, he’s astonishingly passive-aggressive… I see what they’re trying to do, but even the most patient moviegoer will be getting antsy by then. There’s nothing wrong about 45 minutes of set-up per se, but it’s more tolerable when you actually care about the characters. But here Banner is such a blank, and his ex-girlfriend is so bleary and oh so worried… Their not-quite-romantic relationship is iffy, like something out of a self-conscious soap opera. And then you got his daddy who’s an asshole, and her Army General daddy (Sam Elliott) who’s an asshole too, and there’s a young blond male bimbo (Josh Lucas) who’s quite the asshole himself, and the filmmakers clearly have a scientific procedure fetish, but I don’t. Enough with the computer screens and test tubes!
Eventually Banner’s full transformation does occur, and boy is it ever underwhelming! We’re supposed to be witnessing all-out rage, but what we’re actually seeing is a lot of CGI. Good CGI, I guess, but still fake-looking and certainly not scary or exciting. We see Hulk break some stuff, later he fights some “Hulk dogs” but it’s so dark that we barely see anything, then there’s the big desert scene where he’s chased by the army and he bounces on sand dunes as if they were trampolines, and there’s some sorta enjoyable cartoonish mayhem… But it’s no better than the much cheaper old-school “Hulk” TV show with Lou Ferrigno in green body paint. Maybe the problem is that Hulk’s super, but he’s not a hero. He’s a monster, somewhere between Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde, King Kong and Beauty’s Beast, but with hardly any of the pathos of those classic creatures.
“Hulk” might be one of the dullest Marvel flicks, but at the same time it’s nice how director Ang Lee recreates comic book framing for live action filmmaking, making virtuoso use of split-screens, zip-flash pans and wipe-out cuts. At its best, this is a film that goes for purely visual storytelling. The cinematography has that particuliar “Hulk” tone – even in the early lab scenes the shots have a greenish hue. So it’s a well-made picture, but it’s just no fun. To give you an idea, you know how all the Marvel flicks have cameos by Stan Lee? Well something’s wrong when that’s the high point of the film!