CBR's Hulk Movie Review

In spite of the flaws, Hulk succeeds in what it sets out to be: a mix of high-octane summer action and moody drama. No Hulk fan, particularly one who loved the Hulk vs. military leg of the character's long-running exploits, will be disappointed by the mov
(This review contains minor spoilers)

Comic book movies. What are they? Are comics-to-film a genre? What is the filmmakers' task in creating a comic book movie? These seem to be the questions filmmakers stumble on from time-to-time.

One school of thought is that comic book movies are, in fact, a genre and that, when adapting a comic book, you should not only adapt the stories and concepts, but the "comic booky-ness" of it as well. You adapt the medium.

This gives way to things like the "Batman" TV show, with the voice over narration standing in for the captions found on the comic book page, and graphics reading "BAM," "POW" and "ZAP" appearing on the screen, obscuring the action.

Another example is the "Dick Tracy" movie in which all art design was mandated to be in four colors, just like the comic strips.

This thinking generally leads to some miserable film fare. After all, why use sound effect graphics when you can actually use audible sound effects? Why try to enforce a four-color palette, when you have a much greater variety (or lack, if black and white is your choice) of colors as a filmmaker? Isn't a big, red wrench distracting?

When adapting a novel, would a filmmaker try to emulate the words-on-paper or turning-pages presentation of the book?

No, the best comic adaptations are the ones that adapt the stories and concepts without trying to adapt the medium itself. Let the film be the film.

Ang Lee's "The Hulk" is a highly ambitious attempt to do a movie that is part adult psychodrama, part popcorn, roller coaster tentpole, part film and part comic book. Yes, Lee trips on the idea of bringing the comic-booky-ness into the film, but for the most part the movie succeeds many levels.


This is my major complaint about the movie so lets get it out of the way, before moving on to the good stuff.

I got a sinking feeling when the titles for "The Hulk" started to roll. After rolling the now-familiar Marvel card (although it's been turned green and Hulk-i-fied for this picture) we get into the main credits. Although they play on a suitable creepy montage of mad-scientist experiments being conducted by David Banner the credits themselves are rendered in standard, hand-lettered comic book font.

To me, this is a good example of an aesthetic misfire prompted by an attempt to capture the comic-booky-ness of "The Hulk." Why not use a font that mates with the dark science lab setting? Perhaps one that mirrors David Banner's journal scrawl or a computer readout. Why choose a comic book font that would be glaringly incompatible with this sequence in any other movie?

The misfire is repeated in the closing credits as well, which are not only rendered in the same font, but also bounded by panels and word balloons.

For me the most jarring application of comic booky-ness is the multi-panel split screens and whiz-bang transitions employed by Lee throughout the movie. Yes, in "The Hulk" the story is sometimes displayed in two or more panels on the screen: just like a comic book!

The idea is to intensify the affects of certain scenes by giving you the fine details along with the big picture. For example, you can get two or three close up reactions along with the large action of the scene, all one the screen at the same time.

On my first viewing of the movie, I found the effect very distracting. There were times I found myself thinking less about the story and more about the stylistic choices.

Indeed some of the transitions (especially one focusing on Glen Talbot mid-way through the movie) are so over-done that they complete defuse the carefully built tension of the scene.

While the effect of the panels and transitions was lessened for me on the second viewing of the movie, I still think they detract from the movie more than they add to it. In some cases it was downright frustrating to have the most interesting image crowded out by others.

The attempt to bring comic booky-ness to "The Hulk" often times prevented me from getting immersed in the film, which is too bad because it's a film worth getting immersed in.


Jarring stylistic problems aside, Lee's approach to "The Hulk" may be one of the most serious-minded comic adaptations in quite some time. The journey of repressed scientist Bruce Banner is a dark and lonely road.

Bruce was born on a military base in the western desert. His father, David Banner, is a military scientist obsessed with the study of genetic alterations. In classic mad scientist form, David experiments on himself when the military oversight gets too restrictive. As a result both he and baby Bruce are forever altered.

Outraged by Banner's lack of ethics, General Ross shuts him down and thereby thwarts any opportunities the man has to cure his child. What follows is a dark traumatic event that will plague young Bruce into present day.

This is how you adapt a comic book: isolate a great story beat from the series and focus the movie's story on it.

In the present Bruce (Eric Bana) goes by his adopted name Krenzler. Like his birth father he's a brilliant scientist pursuing genetic studies. He's aided by the beautiful Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) in the development of gamma-irradiated nanomeds, designed to heal humans from catastrophic ailments.

Circling the project is General Ross (Betty's father played by Sam Elliott), Glen Talbot (a slimy military-scientist-turned-corporate-weasel played by Josh Lucas) and the university's mysterious new janitor (Nick Nolte).

As expected, when one of Banner's experiments goes terribly awry, all Hulk breaks loose.


"The Hulk" is blessed with a cast of immense acting talent.

Eric Bana gives a terrific, understated performance as the uber-repressed scientist. For most of his screen time, Bruce Banner comes off like a guy who is genuinely uncomfortable in his own skin.

He's almost completely incapable of dealing with confrontations. When his lab assistant points out that Banner seems geeky, even to other scientist, the best Banner can muster is a lame retort. Later, he's no match for the in-your-face machismo of General Ross, the intellectual manipulations of Banner Sr. and the venal aggression of Talbot.

But the enemy that Banner struggles with most is the enemy within and that dark secret that lurks behind the closed doors of his childhood.

Bana conveys his character's pervasive unease with stares and body language that speaks volumes.

Nick Nolte is mad scientist to the hilt. Pretty much looking like his drug-bust mug shot and dressing in the latest homeless fash
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