Retro Review: Hulk (2003)

The rage-filled green-skinned goliath looms read to tear down your local multiplex. But how is Hollywood’s latest superhero themed film? Is there room at the top of the box-office for a 12-foot angry hulk?

The Hulk opens with a young Bruce Banner being afflicted by an obsession eating away at his father. His father is a scientist hell bent on conquering regeneration. Eventually the film flashes forward to the present day where a now grown Bruce (Eric Bana) is experimenting himself with gamma radiation and its proposed healing attributes. Bruce’s friend and colleague Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) aids Banner at every turn.

One fateful day, an experiment breaks down causing an accident that leaves Bruce irradiated with the full force of the gamma rays themselves. Bruce ends up in a hospital where he is visited by his now overtly-deranged father (Nick Nolte). Some hidden secrets are unleashed in Bruce’s fractured mind and Bruce finds that he may have to pay dearly for the “sins of his father”.

Coupled with that fractured revelation, Bruce unknowingly unlocks the anger within which manifests into a creature of impeccable power. Can Bruce contain his emotions long enough to find out all the secrets his father holds? Can Bruce avoid being subjected by the wrath of the military? What is Betty’s father (Sam Elliot) role in this struggle?

To understand the Hulk you have always had to understand who Bruce Banner was as the man. In the comics, Bruce is a tormented man who wants to cure himself. Eventually Bruce accepts who he is. In the 1970s TV series, Bill Bixby played Banner and constantly tried to heal himself from his plague without trying to release the creature inside. The comic dynamic was locked in this version and the dynamic of Bruce remained. In the new film, Banner loses control and says he likes it. The dynamic is lost. Where is the tormented man? The film needed Bruce to want to help himself. How can we relate or like the guy if that isn’t there. We needed the mindset of Bruce intact for this film to be a success.

What the film does is bring in his father and screw up the Bruce dynamic. I do like some of what the father brings. I liked the fact that it wasn’t only the gamma rays that make him the Hulk. I liked how he was woven into the fabric of the origin. But for the most part it was hard to decipher if the film benefited from this character. This whole thing was way to Greek.

Eric Bana really has little to work with when he plays this version of Banner. His acting muscles aren’t really pushed and he seems too laid back than the tortured man he should be. Connelly plays Betty Ross with some passion but it seems to be lost on Bana. Their chemistry is flat at best.

The key acting ingredients and showcases of the film are Nolte and Elliot. Nolte is twisted, dark and spooky as Banner’s twisted father. I found him very effective until he seemed to go way over the top in the role.

My favorite performance was by Sam Elliot. His General Thunderbolt Ross is amazingly effective and ripped right from the comic books. Elliot is such an underused actor and in this role you can see him relish being back on the big screen.

I really loved Ang Lee’s vision of the CGI version of the Hulk. Some of the best scenes in the film involve the Hulk reacting to his surroundings. I have always said that volumes can be said in the quiet moments in film. These scenes for me reminded me a lot of the quiet moments in films like the original “King Kong”, “Mighty Joe Young” and “Frankenstein”. Those films showed an innocence and confusion in the lovable monster. Why should Hulk be any different? The Hulk quiet moments really enthralled me. In some way I found more solus in those scenes than in any scene with Bana.

The two battle sequences in the center of the film are amazing. My favorite was the infamous “Hulk-dogs” scene because it felt so much like the comic the film is trying to pay homage to. I just really enjoyed Ang Lee’s CGI Hulk. He was so much fun when the film let him do what Hulk does best.

I also really enjoyed the comic-multi-faceted editing that Ang Lee delivers in a lot of the key scenes. These are a great way to pay homage to the subject material and bring a new unique way of telling this story.

I was bored for the first 30 minutes and frustrated with the film’s final 30 minutes but when the film dropped the cerebral mumbo-jumbo and “hulked” out, I really enjoyed it.

(3.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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