Reuters Film Review: The Hulk Movie

Destined to be one of the summer's big hits, "Hulk" plants tentpoles far into the future for a series of "Hulk" films. The biggest challenge facing its producers, though, is to find filmmakers as imaginative as Lee.
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "The Hulk" is at once a cutting-edge special effects extravaganza and a throwback to those science fiction classics of the '50s, where B-movie makers actually had things to say about the human condition.

It's the best of both worlds, filled with visual energy, genuine artistry and compelling human emotions. In its own way every bit as inspiring and exciting as his last film, the international hit "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," Ang Lee's "Hulk" reconfirms the director's status as an Asian-born filmmaker who understands the heart and soul of the Occidental world perhaps better than we do ourselves.

Destined to be one of the summer's big hits, "Hulk" plants tentpoles far into the future for a series of "Hulk" films. The biggest challenge facing its producers, though, is to find filmmakers as imaginative as Lee.

Actually, two Lees form part of the creative force that drives this vehicle. The Hulk goes back to the Marvel Comics character created in 1962 by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby. Ang Lee and longtime collaborator James Schamus (credited with the story as well as being co-writer and co-producer) rely heavily on the comic books to tell this tale of a man unwittingly transformed into a monster -- a character with a bloodline going back to Robert Lewis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley and James Whale.

Throughout the movie, Ang Lee engages the viewer with the visual spectacle of comic book graphics transformed by movie magic. Wipes, split screens, zip pans and other optical effects replicate the experience of reading a comic's panels. Tight shots of characters under stress remind one of those huge panels where artists zero in on big emotions. In some sequences, the split screens move and multiply, catching characters at various angles at once.

In a brilliant opening titles sequence (designed by yU+co), we see a maverick scientist experiment in genetic modification. Failures result, but he perseveres. Then the consequences of his own self-experimental research hits home, literally, when his wife has a baby. Whatever mutation he conjured up in that devil's brew is passed on to his son. His boss, a military commander, tosses the scientist out of his own lab, but not before the scientist sabotages the lab and rushes home to relieve his son of the burden the boy carries without his knowledge.

Years later, scientist Bruce Banner (Australian actor Eric Bana) follows unknowingly in his father's footsteps as a researcher in genetic technology. He has repressed all memory of his first four years of life, believing that his parents died when he was an infant. Bruce is so emotionally cut off from others that it has undermined his relationship with girlfriend and fellow researcher Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly).

Then their lab experiments attract the unwanted attention of Betty's estranged father, Gen. Ross (Sam Elliott), and rival researcher Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas). Someone else mysteriously lurks around the lab, the new night janitor David (Nick Nolte), who turns out to be Bruce's father, recently released from prison.

A lab accident exposes Bruce to what should be a fatal dose of gamma radiation. But his dad's mutating gene not only allows him to withstand the gammas, the combination serves to kick-start the "monster" within. Now when severely angered, the scrambled DNA turns Bruce into the Hulk. Unlike the old CBS series "The Incredible Hulk" (1977-82), in which Bill Bixby's Bruce steps off camera in favor of bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno's Hulk, Bruce's alter ego here is a massive, green CGI creature that can withstand missiles, leap into the sky and shake up the entire U.S. military.

This character has already caused controversy, the major complaint from some moviegoers being that they have a hard time investing emotionally in a CGI-created character. But not only does this character conform to the Hulk from the Marvel Comics, this is a true-blue (make that green) superhero.

Desperate to understand these transformations, Bruce delves into his own origins. But he is in a race against the blowhard Gen. Ross and conniving Talbot, who seek power and money from the Hulk's genetic makeup. Equally as puzzling, Bruce must admit that he rather enjoys his other self, knocking about people, cars, ferocious dogs and eventually flying aircraft. The climatic sequence when the Hulk escapes a desert lab and rampages all the way to San Francisco is event moviemaking at its best.

This is a long film that moves at lightning speed, egged on by Danny Elfman's bold theatrical score and Tim Squyres' fluid editing. For all the considerable contributions by designer Rick Heinrichs and cinematographer Frederick Elmes, though, "Hulk" takes its energy from character development and conflict.

Bana conveys the inner turmoil of a man at odds with his very essence. Connelly, too, gets torn in different directions, unable to trust any man in her life, from this normal guy who becomes a monster to her monstrous father who experiences occasional moments of tenderness. Finally, there is Nolte's character, a new and interesting twist on the "mad scientist." One sympathizes with his drive for knowledge only to see it corrode as logic deteriorates and the quest for "science" overrides all human concerns.

Universal Pictures presents in association with Marvel Enterprises a Valhalla Motion Pictures/Good Machine production.
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