Movie Review: The Hulk

by Joe Cooper

Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and now Angryman. Finally, the Hulk makes his massive green presence felt on the big screen.

It may start slowly, but -wow! - when the action starts in The Hulk, it doesn't stop. The lime goliath goes ballistic in spectacular fashion against everything from giant mutant dogs to everything the military can throw at him. Making its competitors look tame, Ang Lee's latest offering is arguably the best superhero film to date.

Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), a quietly spoken scientist, was born with altered DNA, thanks to his father's dabbling with nuclear biotechnology. For thirty years the modifications have remained dormant, but when Bruce is bombarded by gamma rays in a lab accident, his genetic differences leap to life with devastating effect.

When the newly radiated Bruce gets angry, he gets really angry. Along with the usual jaw clenching and brow furrowing, comes shoe popping, shirt splitting, and exploding into a fifteen foot tall, thickly muscled, raging Hulk. Charged with monumental strength and other phenomenal powers, the almost indestructible monstrosity possesses a mind of his own and an unrelenting drive to punish those that irk him.

It's not long before the Hulk's abilities are noticed by a secret government agency with the disturbing aim of producing genetically altered super-soldiers. Needless to say, the offer to become a guinea pig in an unethical experiment upsets Bruce, and soon the Hulk isn't happy with the idea either. What follows is a clash that shakes the world, and a desperate race by the former scientist to control his emotions and come to terms with his dark past.

Of course, the star of the show is the CGI-animated Hulk himself, who takes a large leap ahead of such computerized cousins as Lord of the Rings' Gollum and Harry Potter's Dobby. At times, it actually takes effort to acknowledge that the raging brute laying into tanks and gunship helicopters wasn't actually filmed. The Hulk's interaction with his human co-stars is also impressive. One particular scene, where Bruce's father (played by Nick Nolte) strokes a broad green cheek and looks the looming creature in the eyes, is quite eerie.

Eric Bana (Black Hawk Down) is admirable as the Hulk's human half. Rather than overstretching in a misplaced bid for Oscar glory, the Australian actor appears content to quietly play the part of an unassuming laboratory boffin. The restraint is appreciated and allows the film to flow nicely. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the entire cast.

Jennifer Connelly, who plays Banner's love interest, Betty Ross, has essentially transplanted her melodramatic role from the pensive drama A Beautiful Mind (2001). Yes, it could be argued that Bruce Banner's plight is slightly similar to schizophrenic mathematician John Nash's, but The Hulk's comic book atmosphere demands a very different approach from Connelly. Over all, she becomes an unwanted emotional distraction.

A review of the Hulk wouldn't be complete without mentioning Nick Nolte (The Thin Red Line). As father-of-the-Hulk, the 62 year old actor (who was People Magazine's choice for 'Sexiest Man Alive' back in 1992) appears in a similar state to the one he was found in last year after dosing himself up with the date rape drug GHB and sliding behind the wheel for a Sunday drive. Wild and haggard looking, Nolte dishes out a lot of gibberish, but is ultimately entertaining as a creepy, close-talking mad scientist.

Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), who turned down the job of directing Terminator 3 in order to steer The Hulk, displays an enormous respect for the not-so-jolly green giant's comic book heritage. For instance, the pace of the film's beginning has been somewhat sacrificed in order to explain Banner's extensive background. Marvel Comics aficionados are appeased and everyone else is brought up to speed by the time the action explodes. As for that action and the Oscar-winning filmmaker's approach to it… It speaks for itself. It's dynamite stuff.

The Hulk's grand-scale escapist fun makes it the leading blockbuster of 2003, so far. When in full swing, it's a furious roller-coaster ride like no other, and a refreshing change from the usual superhero fare. Even Jennifer Connelly's performance can't stop the big green bloke rampaging his way to four stars (out of five).

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Greg Tingle, Director, Media Man Australia, interviews "Demi Hulk" Ric Drasin


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