Back in 2003, when Ang Lee’s blockbuster turned box office flop “Hulk” was initially released to theaters, I was a fan of the movie. I thought that the movie had received some unfounded hatred in the eyes of moviegoers and even comic book fans for that matter, and I couldn’t understand what their problems were with the movie. I had watched the movie several times since its debut, and still found myself enjoying it (although I will admit the origin was beginning to get a little old after awhile). In fact I had owned the movie up until recently; this is no longer the case due to a recent viewing of the movie in an effort to psyche myself up for the recently released to theaters “The Incredible Hulk” starring Edward Norton in the title role (previously played by Eric Bana). After that most recent viewing, I finally discovered why so many people have hated this movie, and now I wonder how it was that I didn’t see the problems before.
“Hulk” is the story of Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), a scientist specializing in the field of gamma radiation. While working on ways to use gamma radiation to heal wounds for soldiers along with fellow scientist/former girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), Bruce through a series of unfortunate circumstances, finds himself doused with radiation. Though he should be dead from radiation poisoning, something inside Banner has allowed him to survive, but in the process that special “something” has unleashed a monster inside of him that had been hidden there all along, turning Bruce Banner into the rampaging Hulk. Now, Bruce must try to find a way to rid himself of this monstrous Hulk inside of him, while trying his best to evade capture at the hands of Betty’s zealous father General Ross (Sam Elliott) whose superiors want to use the Hulk as a weapon for the U.S. military.
Here’s where things went wrong for me with “Hulk”, to begin with I pulled my copy of “Hulk” off my DVD shelf and stuck it in the DVD player expecting to enjoy it once more. Much to my surprise I found myself completely bored out of my mind during the insanely long and extremely bloated origin sequence that sucks all of the life out of the first hour of the movie. Now, I remember when I had watched this movie numerous times before I had felt that the origin could have used some trimming to make it move at a faster, more exciting pace; yet I had still enjoyed all the detail that had been worked into the story to explain the intense psychological damage that had been done to young Bruce Banner throughout his childhood that would one day lead to him becoming the monstrous Hulk. For some reason I no longer enjoyed the opening origin scenes, which I think has to do with the fact that I had seen it enough already, plus the origin didn’t really match up with that of the comics all that much, but I was hoping to still enjoy the action scenes during the last half of the film where Banner becomes Hulk.
So, I continued watching only to discover even more disappointment when I realized how much I didn’t care about the action scenes due to the opening hour draining every ounce of interest I had previously held in the film’s proceedings. The action sequences are still energetic and fun to watch, and in some instances perfectly capture some of the greatest battles in the long history of Hulk comic books. I wasn’t all that surprised that the battles were staged in such an epic manner given Ang Lee’s previous film had been the martial arts epic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, but his penchant for flashy visuals led to questionable editing techniques that were meant to resemble comic book panels, but became too distracting and jarring to enjoy. Also, why did Ang Lee choose to film moss covered rocks and various plant life in and around the desert, instead of moving the film along to prevent boredom from setting in for the audience? Whatever the reason, Ang Lee wasted way too much time focusing on the film’s environments when he should have been more concerned with getting the Hulk on screen faster and more often, or finding a consistent size and color for Hulk’s CGI rendering.
The computer generated Hulk was impressive upon first glance, but upon further inspection one begins to notice how inconsistent his appearance is throughout the entire last half of the film once he makes his debut. The color of green used for the Hulk’s skin goes from a dullish green to a bright green, back to a dullish green yet again and this continues between every scene the Hulk is in, and sometimes the color shifts during one scene several times. As if that inconsistency wasn’t enough, the size of the Hulk changes from scene to scene, at times the size change made sense within the film’s storyline which called for Hulk’s size to increase the madder he got, and other times the size change just seemed to shift depending on which camera angle was being used; however, the size change of Hulk was just another aspect of the movie that differs from the comic books. In the comics, Hulk’s size didn’t change the angrier he got; he merely got stronger and stronger. At one point the Hulk’s size was so gigantic that he was as tall as some full grown trees surrounding Betty’s house, and these weren’t small trees by any means, no these were as tall if not taller than her house (which may have been two stories, though that’s inconsequential). I don’t understand why Ang Lee, and the computer wizards he employed to bring the Hulk to life, didn’t notice these glaringly obvious inconsistencies, and try to rectify them at some point in the post-production process; but they didn’t, and we were left with a movie that is so full of distractions in the visual effects department that the action scenes were no longer exciting, just disappointing.
The acting was solid, and was probably the best aspect of the entire movie. Eric Bana (“Troy”) was a good Bruce Banner at the time, although after seeing Ed Norton’s performance in “The Incredible Hulk”, Bana’s performance pales in comparison. Jennifer Connelly (“A Beautiful Mind”) was a great choice for Betty Ross, Bruce’s love interest in the film; she portrays Betty as a woman who is conflicted over her feelings for Bruce, yet is determined to stand by his side. She loves the man, but is angered by the fact that science always seemed to take precedence over her needs; however, once Banner became Hulk, she put aside her conflicted emotions in order to be there for him when he needed her most. Sam Elliott (“The Golden Compass”) was a perfect choice to bring General “Thunderbolt” Ross to life on the big screen, his performance was one that commanded respect from all around, and yet he could still be vulnerable to his only weakness, his daughter Betty. Josh Lucas (“Glory Road”) was decent as one of the villains in the movie, a sniveling weasel of a human being named Glen, who desires Betty and is willing to do whatever it takes to get her and her research to himself. Rounding out the cast is a rather disheveled looking Nick Nolte, who apparently felt his appearance in his infamous mug shot from a few years ago, was a great look as he kept it for this movie and also his upcoming appearance in the Ben Stiller action comedy “Tropic Thunder”. Nick’s performance as Banner’s deranged, semi-mad scientist father was interesting to watch; although, I didn’t appreciate the way he became the primary villain in the movie. The decision to turn Nick’s character into an “absorbing man” to confront the Hulk in the film’s climactic sequence seemed a little bit tacked on, giving me the feeling that the writers had kind of run out of ideas for having the military be the primary antagonists, and were in need of some kind of a way out of the corner they had painted themselves into.
Ang Lee’s wannabe superhero epic “Hulk” could have been, and truly should have been, a visual effects extravaganza, full of intense battles, adventure, a little comedy, some drama, and even a few dangling plot lines left somewhat unresolved to lead into what should have been the inevitable sequel. However, a far too in depth and poorly paced origin sequence that doesn’t even stay true to the source material, inconsistent visual effects work on the Hulk, and an ill-conceived final act made this potential blockbuster into a gigantic flop that has not been easily forgotten.
“Hulk” is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and brief nudity.