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2003, Universal
Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte
Ang Lee
MPAA Rating:
[PG-13] sci-fi action violence
Science Fiction/Action
137 minutes

After being exposed to gamma radiation, geneticist Bruce Banner (Bana) finds himself transforming into a hulking green giant during periods of stress. The mysterious condition opens the door to his forgotten past, forcing Banner to confront an estranged father (Nolte) and his own inner demons.

What's Good
strives to be unconventional and innovative
Jennifer Connelly makes for a hell of a cute scientist

What's Bad
boring, one-dimensional characters in an uninteresting story
unimpressive computer animation and special effects
visually mimics the look of a bad comic book
a striking lack of action

Reviewer: Andrew Manning (June 2003)

With an Oscar-winning actress, a critically acclaimed director, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story about inner demons and ghosts from the past, a hefty bankroll, and a pop culture icon that so many remember from childhood, The Hulk had just about all the ingredients it needed to be a great superhero flick. But lifeless execution and unconvincing special effects undermine all of those components in this over-hyped bust of a movie.

Based on the classic comic book character, The Hulk is the story of Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), a mild-mannered scientist who explores the frontier of genetics with his love interest and colleague Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly). After an accident exposes him to a supposedly lethal dose of gamma radiation, Bruce finds himself transforming into a giant, green, hulking beast with extraordinary strength and endurance whenever he becomes stressed. And there's plenty of stress to be found: besides having to deal with his now freakish nature, Bruce also has to contend with Betty's father (Sam Elliott), a general who wants him locked up and controlled by the military, as well as his own estranged dad (Nick Nolte), a mad scientist whose unchecked obsessions are ultimately to blame for his condition.

The visual presentation of The Hulk is one of the foremost culprits in making this movie such a major disappointment. Unlike Spider-Man and the X-Men, Marvel Comics properties that have recently made successful transitions from the picturesque page to the big screen, The Hulk takes a step backwards, feeling like a movie that wants to be a comic book. Unappealing solid colors contrast everywhere, while the screen constantly splits to show scene transitions or multiple camera angles simultaneously. This gimmicky nonsense that mimics the panels of a comic is annoying enough in places like TV's 24, but becomes even more pretentious when stretched out to feature film length.

Director Ang Lee recycles far too many elements from his 2000 hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The graceful film's fairytale bouts of flying resurface as the Hulk's multi-mile leaping, while the heavy use of clouds is duplicated when the Hulk rides a jet to dizzying heights and plummets through the atmosphere.

Worse than Lee's too-obvious trademarks is how the Hulk himself looks. Many movie fans had been worried that a Hulk generated completely by computer animation would look fake and even silly. Those concerns, unfortunately, were well founded. The blending of a CG Hulk with live actors and a live environment has all the subtlety of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? There's a reason why trailers and other promotionals usually obscured the Hulk's face or showed him for only brief, fleeting moments: because he looks bogus. The green giant lacks convincing realism, while his body language and surroundings keep suggesting he is weightless. The actual transformation of Bruce Banner into his monstrous alter-ego is an unimpressive, second-rate morphing job.

For a story about the darker side of human nature, the characters are remarkably one-dimensional. Sam Elliott's General Ross is a generic military commander preoccupied with posturing, protocol, and pyrotechnics, despite several opportunities to contrast his gruff exterior with his role as a responsible father. Nick Nolte, looking only slightly less grungy than his infamous DUI mugshot, spews shallow and uninteresting villainy as a typical mad scientist blinded by the prospect of power. And as if there was a shortage of boring bad guys, the story also throws in military lackey Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) as Bruce's weak rival for Betty's affections. In a scene that finds the Hulk momentarily pinned down, Talbot's face off with the green machine exemplifies the bad chemistry between the live actors and their CG partner.

The two leads don't have much more luck than the supporting cast. Jennifer Connelly, who makes for a mega-cute science chick, emotes the hell out of her lines in a futile attempt to elevate her character out of the script's sluggish mire. After demonstrating a flair for pushing the dramatic envelope in films like Requiem for a Dream, it's almost embarrassing that she is wasting her time with The Hulk. And as Bruce Banner, Eric Bana isn't called upon to do much more than alternate between long moments of screaming and longer moments of mind-numbing dullness--how's that for a split personality? The character of Banner is so unengaging that his signature catchphrase should be changed to a cautionary, "You wouldn't like me when I'm boring."

Even blockbuster action--the one element that could have possibly salvaged this movie--is sorely missing. The Hulk's first major fight pits the raging goliath against a giant, mutant poodle and its posse, which looks almost sillier than it sounds. With the heroic behemoth's sheer power, it would have been cool to see him throw down creative and ridiculously earth-shattering episodes of destruction, not just toss around a few vehicles, smash the sides of some buildings, and wrestle overgrown canines.

While this cinematic incarnation of The Hulk definitely aspires to be unconventional and innovative, its misguided intentions end up merging the worst of two worlds: the watered down simplicity of a Hollywood franchise with the hokey look of a bad comic book. Such a marriage may appeal to some viewers, but, undoubtedly, there will also be many who are left unmoved and unimpressed.

Rating: 4 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

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