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USA 2003
Directed by
Ang Lee
155 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1 stars


Synopsis: Bruce Banner’s father (Nick Nolte) conducts genetic experiments on himself and his baby son, before flipping out and killing Bruce's mother and blowing up a military research installation. In adulthood, Bruce (Eric Bana) follows a career in nuclear genetics.  After a lab accident, the experiment wrought by Bruce's father in childhood is finally activated and The Hulk is born. Only his ex-girlfriend and colleague Betty (Jennifer Connelly) means anything to him.

Ang Lee is a director I associate with literate, human dramas. Although I’m  no fan of the martial arts style of his breakout hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) his Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) is one of my favourite films and there’s little to argue about with The Ice Storm (1997) or Sense and Sensibility (1995). So the idea of him directing a cartoon superhero movie, if unusual, certainly raises expectations of a different perspective on a highly pre-determined genre.

Sadly I’m here to say that Lee fails to deliver on all counts. The story is banal, the characters stereotypical and even Lee’s attempts to emulate the comic book look with split screens and groovy scene wipes are more annoying than effective. The core problem is that the script by John Turman, Michael France, and James Schamus, the latter a longtime collaborator of Marvel™ Comics mainstay Stan Lee, is essentially silly. There is attempt to invest the story of hyperbolic rage unleashed with some kind of metaphorical value but Bana’s Banner (how could one resist) is a pretty much a classic laboratory boffin and there’s nothing in his character to suggest some kind of unresolved anger seething within. And as his inner beast was triggered by rogue gamma rays where’s the psychology anyway?

Particularly disappointing is Lee’s complete subservience to Hollywood’s demand for violent set-pieces. One can’t but help think of the wonderful parody of such in Team America: World Police (2004) as Sam Rockwell’s military hardman pours ever-increasing quantities of hardware at The Hulk before his long-suffering daughter points out to him that his strategy is only making the situation worse. Like…derrrrr. But by the time The Hulk has jumped on the back of a jet fighter, been taken up to the stratosphere and fallen into the San Francisco Bay,  any sense of credibility, even superhero credibility has long since been abandoned, This is not the only problem with these sections of the film. The other is that Industrial Light and Magic’s CG animation is not very well done. The Hulk is not only not particularly scary, more like a big misunderstood green kid,  but his favoured means of locomotion, hopping, anywhere from 1 to 50 miles at a time it seems is more than faintly ludicrous. As for the question of what his infinitely expanding shorts are made of, that remains unexplained.

Bana makes for a likeable guy caught up in his father’s madness but Jennifer Connelly does nothing but look beautifully concerned throughout, Sam Elliot is your stock standard military hard ass and Nick Nolte amply demonstrates the lack of casting choices open to him as the demented paterfamilias. Maybe this will work for genre fans but I can't imagine Lee followers are going to be even slightly rewarded.




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