Now that Marvel comic book adaptations are back in the popular cinematic consciousness of the mainstream, it was only a matter of time before The Hulk, one of the most popular anti-heroes of all time, would be given a big screen outing.
Already a massively successful television series of the seventies starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, The Incredible Hulk, or Hulk, which is its new dumbed down title, has a legion of cult fans desperate to see it steal Spider-Man, X-Men or Daredevil’s success. Sadly, despite what will clearly be big box-office opening weekends, Hulk is a pedestrian misfire that will turn many green with anger.
Hulk possesses a rather simplistic plot even for the typical comic-book adaptation. Australian Eric Bana is Bruce, a scientist researching a healing technology that utilises gamma radiation activated nanomeds. However, a horrific accident exposes Bruce to some dangerous radiation, which causes him to sporadically change into a huge green hulking monster. As the military close in, Bruce struggles to deal with his unknown past, which may explain more than he thinks.
Directed by Ang Lee, who has shown himself to be adept at many a different genre, Hulk is a dismal failure in terms of entertainment. Clearly, Lee is tying to push the film in a different direction to most comic book fare, but by doing so he deadens all the pace and excitement of the film’s potential.
Why is Hulk such a failure? There are many reasons. Firstly, Hulk is all too obviously let down by the lack of an opposing villain. Sure, there’s various army and corporate foes lead by the stock white-haired militant Ross (Sam Elliott), and yet what is clearly missing is a Green Goblin or a Magneto. Ultimately, the problem is that the Hulk’s enemy lies within, which doesn’t necessarily prove to be a riveting inner-conflict when depicted on screen. We all know Eric Bana can act after seeing the brilliant Chopper, but he proves aimlessly out of his depth handling an A-list blockbuster lead, and his acting as Bruce is nothing more than two-dimensional, as if Bana has been following the comic book style too closely.
It doesn’t help that Bana is completely outshone in the film by Nick Nolte, who plays his father. Nolte is purely doing the film for the money, but still oozes charm and grace (even if he is dressed up to look like The Dude). Jennifer Connelly was gifted an Oscar as the crying wife in A Beautiful Mind, and it seems this type of performance is all Connelly can give after proving to be completely underwhelming as Betty Ross. Even Sam Elliott is going through the motions.
The comic book split-screen style of editing that Ang Lee seems intent to ram down our throats sadly does nothing to ease the film’s lack of fluidity. Also, Lee seems to completely abandon this editing technique once we actually do see Hulk in all his splendour, which suggests it was nothing more than a stylistic way of jazzing up a very dull first act. This talky first third of the film ensures that interest has waned by the time the Hulk does explode onto the screen, and the impact of his appearance fails miserably to achieve its cinematic potential. Spider-Man extended on the primary colour iconic stature of its comic origins by being a visual eye feast. Hulk’s colour tones however are dull in comparison. If anything, the film looks like a more expensive version of Swamp Thing.
Even the highly-debated CGI effects of the film leave much to be desired, with the Hulk’s aesthetic effect ranging between a green jelly baby to a Burger King kids meal toy. There’s always something that looks slightly wrong about the visual effects on screen, and the sequences are never completely satisfying. Given today’s technology and expense that is available to the studios, it’s extremely slack that Lee and co should leave such doubts over what should be the film’s prized asset. Granted, many of the sequences in Spider-Man were ropey, but somehow Raimi still delivered a far more enjoyable comic book movie.
Primarily, there is only one sequence in Hulk worth recommending - the obligatory Hulk versus army sequence, but sadly this does little to save what is a bloated epic that either feels too long or poorly cut. Even the ending sequence finale is flat and mis-directed. The studio has left open the possibility of a massive sequel but there doesn’t seem anywhere the franchise can go anymore. It already seems to have outstayed its welcome. It’s hard to see who the film is actually aimed at, since comic-book fans, kids, moviegoers and blockbuster fanatics will all find different reasons to pick flaws in the movie. Must of us hated Scooby Doo, but at least it made the conscious decision to alienate the older teen audience and plump solely for the kids’ market. Hulk is a confused mess screaming and kicking to explode, but sadly never does.
Embrace Hulk expecting an experimental failure of a comic book movie and you might just collect value for your ticket money. Treat the film like a super-hero classic and you obviously haven’t seen Donner’s Superman or Burton’s Batman.