Neither abject failure (ie. “Daredevil”) or rousing success (ie. “Spider-Man”, “X2”), “The Hulk” will probably go down as the black sheep of the recent flock of Marvel comic adaptations but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Unlike some of their other properties, the “Hulk” movie was always going to be one which would be a tough sell to audiences due to the very nature of the hero’s story.
Many thought the property was too kiddie or simplistic to be stretched out into a full-length film and so acclaimed Director Ang Lee was brought onboard to flesh it out and add some depth – Lee seems to have done his job too well. With the exception of its rather unique comic editing style and the fact there’s a lot of CG action for about a third of its runtime, “Hulk” plays like an almost Victorian-era English tragedy – a Jekyll & Hyde story of repressed rage and a father trying to play God (cue the ubiquitous Oedipus reference). Its long, slow at times and VERY serious (no humour whatsoever) and yet a rewarding experience overall.
The ‘Hulk’ itself doesn’t appear until an hour into proceedings – what precedes that is an interesting little drama about Bruce and Betty, what their fathers did to each other, and of course the events that bring on the Hulk emerging. All of it is handled with time and care, and yet despite there being little action going on the first hour moves surprisingly fast. Some elements such as the rivalry with Talbot (Lucas) feel tacked on, but otherwise there’s some interesting character drama here about parentage and how people’s passions consume everything.
Acting wise the cast is solid all across the board – Eric Bana leaving a decent impression as the tortured ’emotionally distant’ Bruce, although he lacks the chops of the beautiful Jennifer Connelly whose just so good at this job she makes the whole acting process look easy. Sam Elliot turns in a likeable supporting turn, Josh Lucas sadly feels underwritten and flat in his role as a rival, but a wild-haired Nick Nolte gives it all a great go as Bruce’s somewhat insane scientist father (I think it helps that we all think of Nolte as a little insane anyhow). Bana and Connelly play off each other well, and even her subplot about her relationship with her father (Elliot) is handled quite effectively. Stan Lee & Lou Ferrigno have a clever little cameo too. It all lends a sense of credibility to what is admittedly a rather wild concept.
Helping keep the pace up, Lee uses one of the most inventive editing styles you’ll ever see in a film but the gimmick is overused and tiring after a while. A combination of clever wipes, split screens, foreground/background merging and so forth give the action a clever comic book feel. Some have made comparisons to the style used on “24” but this goes WAY beyond that in terms of technique and even ingenuity. The opening titles are also just as creative with it not only setting up the story but cleverly working the credits into the action. Danny Elfman’s score, much like “Spider-Man” is quite suitable and works well but there’s no theme or tune that sticks in your head.
Now we come to the big issue – the Hulk itself. Does he look about as convincing as Shrek? Well sadly – kinda. There are various scenes where you can tell they’re trying to make the green CG blob emote but it doesn’t exactly work. Like any special effects movie – some shots make you go wow, others reek of cheesy animation.
All but one of the Hulk’s major appearances take place at night and in deep shadows which helps hide the flaws a lot. Still the action where its him versus various CG creations may as well be an animated movie. The longest of his turnouts is the daylight desert/San Francisco sequence which is quite impressive with lots of explosions, picturesque settings and some cool action (watch out for unexpected stuff around a famous SF landmark). one odd thing though is the Hulk’s leaping ability, he flies through the air more than Superman.
Younger filmgoers who’ve become used to big action set pieces and aren’t used to the carefully drawn out setups of older style filmmaking seen here won’t really get into this as while there is some good stuff, it takes too long to get to and may not be worth the runtime to get there. Older audiences may find it more compelling than they expect in the quieter scenes, but may be turned off by the admittedly cheesy action.
Its a combination which never entirely works, yet Lee has tried for something dark, epic and original here and for the most part succeeded. This is really a ‘FILM’, not a ‘MOVIE’ (so it really doesn’t have that ‘rewatch’ factor like “X-Men” or “Spider-Man”) and for a genre which dangerously falls into formula often, something as high brow as this sits in sharp contrast. Certainly not what many were expecting though in this case its a good thing.