Hulk (2003)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 6/20/03
Producer: Gale Anne Hurd, Stan Lee
Director: Ang Lee
Music: Danny Elfman
Special Effects: Industrial Light & Magic (Dennis Muren)
Cast: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliot, Nick Nolte, cameos by Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno

Two words: Jennifer Connelly. OH MY GOD...

Let's see, apart from her, what was there? Mad scientist David Banner (Nick Nolte) is obsessed with improving the human immune system, in a program funded by the military to create "super soldiers." When they pull the plug on his work, he continues his experiments by testing on himself. His genetically altered DNA is passed on to his son Bruce (Eric Bana), and bombardment with gamma radiation triggers a mutation within him, causing him to turn into a giant green ball of untempered rage known as "The Hulk." Only one thing can calm the savage beast, and that's scientist babe Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly). Things get more complicated when Bruce's estranged father is released from the loony bin and is on the loose, and the military wants to take over the lab that Bruce and Betty work at. Eventually, Bruce loses his temper and starts to wreak havoc in a phenomenal series of adolescent wish fulfillment rage sequences. (never underestimate the visceral thrill of smashing things) Military engagement just pisses him off even more, and the collateral damage increases until General Ross (the always enjoyable Sam Elliot) is forced to bring out the big guns to take him down.

First of all, there's Jennifer Connelly. Did I already mention that? Well, it's worth mentioning again. OH MY GOD... How can it be that she becomes more beautiful with each new film? She is truly amazing, and I nearly broke into tears every time she appeared. Wow. Outside of that, the rest of the cast does a very good job with the material. Eric Bana gives a great tortured and vulnerable performance, Sam Elliot's stern and commanding performance makes you hate him, and yet support him at the same time, and Nick Nolte goes for broke with his portrayal of a complete madman. For the most part, the visual effects are quite good, and naturally the Hulk himself attracts a lot of attention and criticism. I think they managed to capture his rage and humanity successfully, and he interacts convincingly with his surroundings, but he completely lacks any real feeling of mass. Sure, the camera shakes and the audio goes "boom" whenever he takes a step, but he doesn't give the impression of being truly heavy. He could be a giant marshmallow for all I know, and a lot of his motion implied just that. Still, the action is kinetic enough to not care TOO much, and it is fun watching him smash things. Danny Elfman's score is outstanding - more restrained and less campy than his other superhero scores.

Unfortunately, where the film really falls apart is the editing, which is unbelievably bad. The overused split screen approach is irritating at best, and infuriating at its worst, making me want to turn into the Hulk myself. I can't imagine who thought this would be a good idea, and it completely destroys the mood of the film and any suspension of disbelief that you may have slipped into. Just maddening. The direction of the film is also questionable, and the film seemed very discontinuous to me. The entire final showdown between father and son felt like an unnecessary sequence that was just tacked on at the last minute, for lack of a better way to wrap things up in a neat and tidy, unambiguous package. The film is also overly talky and the non-action scenes feel sluggish and awkward. However, director Ang Lee does manage to keep the tone of the film consistently cruel and grim, and I was surprised at just how unapolegetically nasty it is for a PG-13 comic book adaptation. It's more like a superhero art film than anything else, but without any annoyingly poignant narration. The film only strays from this bleak and gritty presentation a few times when it goes WAY out of its way to show that "no soldiers were harmed in the making of this film, which makes the Hulk a good guy, right?" I felt like I was watching re-runs of "G.I. Joe" and seeing how fighter pilots always parachute to safety after getting their planes blown out of the sky. But in the end, pretty much everything is forgiveable (except for the atrocious editing) simply due to Ms. Connelly's stunning and radiant presence.