[MOVIE REVIEW]Hulking on visual style, skimping on good storyAng Lee’s “Hulk” is a failed masterpiece, as ambitious as it is tiresome.
The “Incredible Hulk” comic book, from whence this movie springs, has one of the most elegantly simple storylines. The meek scientist Bruce Banner gets caught in a gamma radiation explosion and is turned into a raging green monster (actually, he was sort of gray for the first six issues, but why quibble?).
Over the years, various writers have added depth and distraction to the original tale, but at its core, it is still a classic Jekyll-and-Hyde narrative.
But Ang Lee’s “Hulk” is anything but simple. In addition to the gamma explosion, we now have a mad scientist dad (Nick Nolte), some scientific substance called “nanomeds” (destined to go down in cinematic history as the lamest bit of pseudo-science this side of the “metaclorons” in “Star Wars: Episode 1 ― The Phantom Menace”) and that most hoary of plot devices, repressed memories. These torpid wrinkles end up bogging down the story more than that last sentence.
“Hulk” begins in the 1960s, with Bruce’s father working on some sort of self-healing formula for the U.S. military. Like all good mad scientists, he experiments on himself, and those results get passed on to his son, Bruce (Eric Bana).
Bruce has grown up to be a great scientist. He has also grown up to be extremely bottled up and undemonstrative ― a fact we soon learn, not through story or acting, but by having people say words to the effect of, “Gee Bruce, you’re so bottled up and undemonstrative.” And sometimes, to convince us of his pent-up anger, Mr. Bana shakes his head from side to side.
Bruce, along with his ex-girlfriend, Betty (Jennifer Connelly), is working on a project almost exactly like his father’s. One gamma ray accident later, and Bruce is transformed into a 10-foot tall green id that screams a lot and causes oodles of damage. The military want to kill it, of course, but Bruce wants to cure himself. His daddy is proud. Betty is pretty and concerned.
Then come the Hulk dogs ― giant, radioactive poodles. There’s a spiffy fight in the desert and another nifty one in San Francisco. Things get smashed. Finally papa Banner radiates himself for the epic climax that, in a story about monsters and radiation and outlandish comic book ideas, makes almost no sense. You’ll see.
The film is as visually interesting as the story is not. Mr. Lee somehow makes a movie that often looks more like a comic book than any previous film. At times the screen divides into panels and then rolls and flips for transitions.
Mr. Lee and his long-time collaborator, James Schamus, have said in interviews that they envisioned “Hulk” as a meditation on rage. Maybe a long, flat kind of rage.
Action / English
by Mark Russell
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