The Hulk Review
After X Men 2 and The Matrix: Reloaded, The Hulk was always going to be, chronologically at least, the third biggest movie of the year. However, unlike the second instalments of the X Men and Matrix franchises, The Hulk does not have a hugely successful predecessor that can partially convince audiences of its guaranteed quality. In fact, The Hulk has had a pretty rough ride up to this point, with many fan boys openly expressing disappointment with the ‘shoddy’ cuts of the film that have been available through adverts and trailers. Without the safety cushion of previous success, which helped Wolverine, Neo et al get through a surprising amount of disappointment in their efforts, the question hanging in the air on message boards around the world is, simply: will The Hulk be all that it could be, or will the most recent spate of comic book film adaptations have its first proper failure?
The answer comes in the form of two words: Ang Lee.
Ang Lee is without doubt one of the most interesting directors working today. His filmography attests to his ability behind the camera, and with the advent of The Hulk he has produced the most varied body of work of any modern director. The Wedding Banquet, Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Ride With The Devil and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are films that highlight Lee’s enthusiasm to tackle projects which hinder the ability to label him as a director. Which is why, although not initially the obvious choice to direct The Hulk, the decision to allow Lee to helm the adaptation of one of the most famous and best loved Marvel comic book series, makes perfect sense. For the world of cinema does not need another straight-down-the-line, good guy/bad guy, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, yeah to America comic book adaptation. Spiderman, Daredevil and X Men have all been fun films, and some have tried to be a little deeper than others, but the time is now ripe for the introduction of a comic book film that gives its audiences something complicated to grapple with, rather than just cool names and cool costumes. And The Hulk is such a film.
Lee has been quoted as saying that his latest film was written (by his long-time partner in crime James Schamus) more as a Greek tragedy than as simply a CGI dominated HULK-SMASH! Although Sophocles might raise a wry eyebrow at such a suggestion, there is no doubt that The Hulk deals with pretty complex, meaty, even Freudian issues. This is not a film with a clear moral judgement, or a neat goodie/baddie symmetry. Rather, Lee and Schamus use the source material at their disposal to explore themes which can often be found in previous examples of their work: kinship, belonging and, in particular, the relationship between fathers and their children.
At the core of The Hulk are the complex, deep-seated relationships between Bruce Banner and his father David, and Bruce’s ex-girlfriend Betty Ross and her father General Ross. It is the sparks of these relationships, of the trusts and betrayals that they evoke, which drive The Hulk and give it the opportunity to follow a path other than simply that of discovery/action/conclusion.
The complexity of the themes within The Hulk is matched by the complexity of its style. In an act of bravura filmmaking, Lee does not just turn a comic book into a film, he turns a film into a comic book. Using a variety of split screen effects and dissolves, Lee manages to literally direct his audience’s attention as if they were reading a comic, shifting their gaze from left to right and up and down. Potentially distracting, this technique is in fact a delight, and on a more cynical note, will undoubtedly boost the eventual DVD sales ten-fold, as Hulk fans freeze the many, many frames which are not given justice with just the one viewing. Additionally, there is much pleasure to be taken in witnessing Lee’s superb harnessing of colour throughout the film. Not content with simply having a big green guy as his centrepiece, Lee imbues his film with greens, blues and emeralds throughout, from the emerald tint of Banner’s shaving foam and razor, to the dark, muted colours of the main characters’ clothes, to the huge green canopy of forest that end the film. Gone are the vibrant reds and yellows of Spiderman and Daredevil; The Hulk, like its namesake, The Hulk is green, moody and magnificent to look at.
The Hulk’s refreshing complexity is given greater strength by the quality of its cast. Sam Elliot as General Ross is gruff discipline personified (although there is an every-present danger that he will turn to the camera and start talking about the Dude). Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross portrays exactly the right amount of beauty, intelligence and compassion to be convincing as the one person who has the soothing presence to calm the Hulk down (which is ironic as ex-girlfriends are not known as the most calming influence on angry guys). Nick Nolte gives a double-edged sword performance, giving the film huge boosts of energy as the troubled and troubling David Banner but sometimes slipping into incohesion in his wilder displays of scenery chewing. Eric Bana, as the main man himself, manages to subdue his prodigious charisma, and acts as a dependent anchor to the film. It is a difficult job to portray a man that has the Hulk as a convincing alter-ego, whilst managing to convey the polar disparity between the man on the outside and the ‘monster’ within, but Bana as Banner is able to pull it off.
Happily, it is the monster himself who is the most interesting character throughout the film, and certainly the most enjoyable to watch. People who are still worrying about dodgy CGI can lay their fears to rest – The Hulk is a superb digital creation, a well rounded character (given the limitations) who evokes a surprising range of emotions as well as kicking some serious ass. If Gollum set the bar for realism in CGI, then the Hulk has more than matched it.
But never mind whether the jolly green giant can make people feel sorry for his plight, or whether his hair realistically ruffles in the wind. No matter how intelligent it is, no matter the quality of performances, or the use of colour, or the interesting film techniques employed – The Hulk was always going to stand and fall on the basis of how much The Hulk himself rocks. And here’s the rub.
The Hulk does rock, but arguably it’s more Meatloaf than Metallica. This is mainly because, of the three main scenes where The Hulk is able to rampage, the first and the last take place at night, and as green ain’t the most noticeable colour in the dark, these scenes are difficult to follow, and don’t quite fulfil The Hulk’s enormous potential. However, the longer middle scene, where The Hulk goes berserk in an army base in the middle of the desert, is pure, unadulterated fun, with the big green guy tossing tanks, leaping boulders, chewing the explosives off rockets and repelling bullets like they were pellets from a potato gun. In the light, with a lot of space, The Hulk is damn fine. In the dark, where he can’t be seen so well, he’s a little disappointing.
The Hulk is undeniably a fine film, with a little something for everyone. For comic book fans it’s been pretty honourable to its source material. For aficionados of the well-loved television series, there’s an affectionate, albeit brief, walk on from Lou Ferrigno and a cheeky final line. For film fans, Lee has produced a film which is an intellectual as well as an emotional pleasure to watch. And for those who simply want to go to the cinema to be entertained and see lots of inanimate objects (as well as vicious poodles) being turned into pulp, well, there’s a bit of that too. But there is possibility that this last group, those regular cinemagoers who are expecting 90 minutes of madness and mayhem, could well be a little disappointed by the latest Marvel marvel. For although The Hulk might not be the Greek tragedy some are purporting it to be, it is certainly prepared to tackle some less than lightweight themes and bravely keeps its audience waiting a fair while for the big pay off. Whether the world is ready for the first intelligent comic book film, only time, and a guy who spends a lot of money on new trousers, will tell.
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