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"Hulk" is a film which is widely considered a failure, both financially
and artistically. Yet in the latter category this movie has a lot on
offer: masterful editing, good acting and the direction of a true
What Ang Lee has tried to achieve, namely merging the pulp-story of the Hulk with the scale and drama of a Greek tragedy has been well achieved. The scope of the story and its effects on the characters are only to be taken seriously on a truly grand scale, and by supplying the protagonists with interwoven back-stories Lee and his screenwriters are making it clear that this is not to be seen as a realistic story, but an epic metaphor.
Special kudos goes to Timothy Squyres, who does one marvelous job of creating an editing similar to a comic's design. This pays tribute to the source material's pulp origins as well making an impressive visual statement. "Hulk" looks and feels like no other film, which makes it one of the most interesting, if not one of the best comic- adaptations of all time.
The crux is that this movie does not know who it's aimed at. The intellectual Ang Lee- connoisseur picks his nose when it comes to the Hulk, simply due to its humble roots, while the average popcorn-cinema-goer is slightly irritated when confronted with the films "odd" approach to comic-movies. This means that only viewers which are a bit of both can truly appreciate this masterpiece.
All the other elements for a good piece of entertainment are there and present: Eric Bana is, as usual, fine as the tormented soul which manifests itself in green rage, Jennifer Connelly is as solid as ever and Nick Nolte steals the show with what is a truly weird turn as Bruce Banner's/the Hulk's dad. The visual effects are beautifully executed as well. There is not much left to be desired.
It's a pity such an interesting and brave film gets a rating of slightly above 6 at IMDb.
Of all the big name superheroes Marvel has to offer, HULK is one of the
easiest to gravitate to. It's not hard to find what makes him appealing.
Superficially, he is an unstoppable raging behemoth whose strength is
matched. This alone would be an obvious foundation for a film franchise.
What is surprising (and ultimately refreshing) about this one is its
willingness to explore the depth of the Hulk's dilemma. If the film's jade
giant were absent from this movie, its story could still be the frame for
The movie starts with an army scientist named David Banner who performs genetic experiments for the government. He carries one out on himself before fathering his son Bruce. After a few years into Bruce's childhood, a tragic event occurs, which results in David's incarceration for 30 years and separation from his son.
Upon maturing, Bruce also becomes a scientist. Instead of his father's obsession with genetics, he develops a fascination for gamma rays and nano-med (almost subatomic medicinal) technology. He becomes victim of a lab accident that unleashes the Hulk; partly due to genetic mutation he inherited from his father, who just happens to work on the base as janitor, recently released from his sentence. To make things more interesting, Banner's co-scientist, Betty Ross is his former flame. And she just happens to be the daughter of General Ross, the man who jailed David Banner during his family's tragedy. It is this terrible event that holds the key to why Bruce transforms to his monstrous side, and to how their reunion will end.
The movie starts slow, with admirable character development. By the time the Hulk appears, everyone's motivations are known with each personality sharply distinguished. Ang Lee loves showing humanity and human frailty in his stories as he has done exceptionally in EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN, THE WEDDING BANQUET, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, and THE ICE STORM. We discover the hidden storylines, the human aspects that can be just as interesting as the action. We discover that Bruce and Betty have both had fathers that they could never count on (that's probably what brought them together). We see David Banner and General Ross not primarily as power hungry males, but as caring fathers as well. We experience Bruce Banner's awkwardness and inability to express himself adequately, which makes us understand all the more why he begins to `enjoy' transforming into his raging alter-id.
Though it's true that the Hulk doesn't appear until 45 minute into the movie, once he does, the action hardly stops. Sure there are scenes of destruction, but they are calculated, punctuating turning points in the movie, instead of bombarding the audience as mayhem in others. The backdrops upon which these action sequences are set upon are breathtaking. The battles rage from an underground base, to the vast majestic Monument Valley landscape, all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge and even to the very stratosphere. I can still vividly recall Images of the Hulk clashing with `hulk-dogs' in the California Redwood forests and him being chased by helicopter gunships in a concave rock formation in the Arizona desert.
People remember Ang Lee for CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, which many consider (present company included) to be the greatest martial arts picture ever made. It left such big shoes to fill, even for Lee (At one point TIME Magazine labeled him, `America's Best Director'). Those who recall CROUCHING TIGER remember its sublime images of combat, but what set it apart in its genre was its poetic character involvement. We cared deeply for Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien, for their values, and for their quest for the green destiny. Lee does the same for HULK. In exposing its characters to danger, he wishes to reveal the gravity of their situations. Hardly ever does anyone utter a mutter a snappy line, emote a mushy sentiment, or deliver a cliché expression.
Compare Bruce Banner's discovery of his newfound abilities with Peter Parker's (of SPIDER-MAN). He reacts with deep fear and confusion, whereas Parker reacts with excitement and exhilaration. The latter may be more amiable for audiences, but if I found out that I was growing microscopic claws on my fingertips and spewing webbing from my wrists, I'd be freaking out. Spider-Man has the comfort of shooting off a few quips along with his webs as he confronts his foes. Banner, along with other characters in HULK have no such luxury. The movie is not without joy though. It has several humorous moments, none of them in a light-hearted sense though.
It should be said that this picture was blessed with a great cast. Eric Bana (BLACK HAWK DOWN & CHOPPER), who has star written all over him, conveys inner turmoil-slash-solidity very effectively as Bruce Banner. The ever-beautiful Jennifer Connelly reprises her wife-of-a-brilliant-but-mentally-unstable-scientist role from A BEAUTIFUL MIND as Betty Ross. I thought her main purpose was to appear as a captivating yet unreachable beauty for both Banner and the Hulk, and she serves her role perfectly. Nick Nolte has to my mind never given a bad performance, and he appears valuably scruffy and deceivingly two-faced as David Banner (he could be confused for one of the hulk-dogs). But of all of the main players, Sam Elliot (THE CONTENDER, WE WERE SOLDIERS, & THE BIG LEBOWSKI) impressed me the most with his controlled and palpable intensity as General Ross. At one point, with his glistening complexion and bulging neck veins, he looked more intimidating than the Hulk.
The movie has a lot of other assets. It has a memorable score by Danny Elfman (who also did BATMAN and SPIDER-MAN). It has beautiful cinematography by Frederick Elmes (THE ICE STORM). It has wondrous visualization by using split-screens like window panes in comic books, such as several angles in one shot, or one window opening up into another (this is the most inventive use of the technique since Brian De Palma's FEMME FATALE). It also has buried moments of lyrical dueling between different characters. When Betty Ross says, `You weren't that hard to find.' and Banner retorts `Yes I was.' that instant carried a greater emotional weight. You'll understand it once you see it.
Fans of the Hulk (like me) will be familiar with the several storylines that have been amalgamated into the screenplay, one of them being David Banner, who is Bruce's character in THE INCREDIBLE HULK TV series (speaking of which, Lou Ferrigno, who portrayed the TV Hulk, appears in a cameo with Stan Lee). The rest I leave up to the `Hulksters'. But for all the pluses that HULK has, the ones that I will take home with me are its ideas. That the Hulk is not just rage, he is pure innocence. He only smashes when provoked. He is a near mindless brute, but when calm, he is a child. He smites tanks that fire at him as a toddler would kick a toy after tripping over it.
As a character, the Hulk is the ultimate childlike id, the source of all instinctual impulses and demands for immediate satisfaction of primitive needs. As a film, THE HULK is the most introspective of the Marvel superhero movies that have come out so far. The X-MEN films have had the disadvantage of having too many characters, resulting in too many protagonists to follow. SPIDER-MAN and the BLADE movies were all about entertainment. Many comic book films barely touch on their themes, but HULK actually wants to deal with the issues it raises. No wonder I gravitate to it.
Ang Lee's "Hulk", at two years after.
Perusing the negative reviews of the film collected at the Rotten Tomatoes site, I'm stricken by the degree to which the negativity directed at it by allegedly professional film critics is based upon the fact that it dashed (rather than living up to) their rather low expectations for it. The assumptions underlying so many of the criticisms are that the film is supposed to be a brainless "summer blockbuster," but isn't. Another variation: that it's a film based upon a comic book, and that all such projects are supposed to be mindless rubbish for dazzling bumpkins (To those of us with some genuine knowledge of the field, this variant is particularly entertaining in that it's inevitably accompanied by a string of authoritative assertions regarding comics which demonstrate only the offended critics' abysmal ignorance of the medium). "Hulk," it seems, doesn't know its place; it commits the sin of aiming for something more than mediocrity. In a sense, this is a testament to the film's quality. It clearly doesn't cater to such low expectations.
Criticism of the film's CGI--a more common one at places like IMDb where there's far less pretense that a poster actually has anything of value to say--can be set aside as the superficial whining it is. In spite of what so many "summer blockbuster" fans seem to think, special effects aren't a story; they're just a means of telling one. The CGI in "Hulk" is competent. Beyond that, it doesn't matter.
Likewise the vacuous "it's boring" complaint. Modern viewers with no attention span be advised up front that you will find "Hulk" challenging, and would be better served by spending your "entertainment" budget on trash like "The Phantom Menace" and "The Day After Tomorrow," and leaving the real movies to the adults.
I don't insist that a fan of typical Hollywood summer fare actually offer some rational critique of the picture--I'm not a cruel man. I do, however, insist that, for anyone who expects to be taken seriously, "Hulk" must be accepted or rejected for what it really is. For my part, I think it's a misunderstood minor masterpiece, a film in the vein of "Blade Runner", "Excalibur," and "Once Upon A Time In The West"--all generally snubbed in their day, all now just as generally hailed as classics. I'd like to think I live in a society where this is the fate that one day awaits "Hulk"; it certainly deserves it. Time will tell, I suppose.
I finally caught up with the film on DVD, after missing its cinema
release and just not having the urge to see it until now. It has had
some rather bad press, so I wasn't actually expecting very much.
One of the reasons I have waited so long was to let my son, (who is now eight) grow up a bit before seeing it. He was interested in the tie-in products filling the shelves in all the stores on release. A blanket-marketing ploy that is becoming more and more hysterical, I fear.
Another was that I was wary of renting it as the Hulk character has been rather mal-treated in live-action form.
Until Ang Lee's film.
Firstly, this isn't by any stretch of the imagination, a kids' film. Though my younger children watched it, it gave them serious food for thought about what scientists do to animals and people in the name of science. My oldest was enthralled. She appreciated Lee's magnificent use of the film medium.
This is a very dark movie. The origin-story has been manipulated and updated linking the two lead characters (Bana and Connelly) in a sorrowful, fearful event that happened to them both in their childhood. Nice touch.
"Banner's" (Eric Bana's) father (played by Nick Nolte) shuffles back into his life after 30 years incarceration for causing the events that had traumatized the young Banner. Banner later finds that his father had "experimented" on him when they were still a whole family. This creepy device effectively modernizes the story and it's ultimate revelation is a clever way of releasing the pent-up rage that Banner jr has locked within his mind. This rage feeds the Hulk. Banner finally becomes the Hulk after some incredible bravery in the lab.
The film's effects are superb. I am a very happy viewer. This is great cinema. A wonderful adaptation of a tortured, misunderstood human being.
Highly recommended, by me, for true Hulk fans.
In a time where superhero movies seem to come from the assembly line
and standards are (sadly) set already it is hard to find gems that
really transcend these paradigms.
Ang Lee made a different approach to the superhero genre - and the people didn't like it! Why? After Daredevil, Blade, Elektra, Aeon Flux, League of extraordinary gentlemen, Spiderman (yes, i mean it), Spawn, etc etc there are many parallels you can draw between superhero films. And Hulk is the only thing that the others aren't: un-American! In a very rare exception we have a film here that doesn't have the arrogance and straight-forward story that we seem to have gotten used to too easily.
Spiderman (in particular) follows the EXACT steps you can read in a tutorial for film making - that may be neat to watch but leaves no space for surprises or artistic inputs. Ang Lee seems to have taken especially this thought very seriously and created a piece of art that the average pop-corn-formula-film-liking movie-goer may find hard to digest. No doubt, this movie is not made for assembly-line-film-lovers - it is constructed very thoughtfully and goes beyond the interpretation of a superhero. It plays with the chaos that erupts out of the events rather than glorifying another world saviour.
There is no real good and evil, there only is an overcharge from both sides that don't know how to master the situation. The American movie-goer averagely wants black and white sides, a proud US-flag waving and a hero that saves the day (+nation and eventually the world, maybe even the universe). Nope, not in this one. While most of the other films establish superheroes as something that fits perfectly into our society, Hulk plays with the idea of what would happen if unknown uncontrolled untameable power surfaces - and that both sides act incredibly humane. At this point 80% of movie-consumers are out and 90% of movie-lovers come in (that number is small as we know).
I appreciated the rather unconventional storytelling, I admire the cast, I treasure the artistic hybrid of comic and reality and I enjoyed the portrayal of energy. Now, anyone who has seen Asian action films will find many parallels - the question is, are YOU ready to adapt to some of those standards when they are being poured over a western story? I was... And I was overwhelmed!
Anyone calling this movie the worst film they've ever seen (and there are quite few stating this) should stay with Spiderman, Transformers and Blade and get the same product over and over again (because they keep buying it). For my part I was grateful to see that there are people out there who get the chance to put a very distinctive stamp on their work making it unique and deep.
Five years later the audience won and an assembly line version was released, not as bad as some others but definitely not as creative and visionary as this one. Great job Ang!!!!!
Hulk is an excellent action/drama and science-fiction film based on the
classic superhero (or antihero) The Incredible Hulk. Following the
trend on the last years about recycling comic superheroes, Hulk's turn
became a very interesting alternative to other formulas used in several
of these adaptations.
Knowing that many people consider this movie as dull and boring, please let me state that it's far from being dull. After the critics towards Spiderman just scratching the surface of character development, and where other movies simply failed miserably (e.g. Daredevil), we should be grateful that we can finally see some depth in the main character as we're used in the good comics.
Ang Lee's direction shows his usual way of telling stories, in a sensitive and personal way. Instead of letting the movie drown in its limitless action possibilities, he conducted the story through a sensible path. The editing work, which remarkably resembles comic frames in many scenes, and contains some awesome transitions, is simply wonderful.
And all this not forgetting Hulk's main point: a green, angry mass of power and destruction. The movie has some of the best action scenes I've seen lately, which makes me wonder what is expecting some people who blame this movie for its lack of massive fights against entire armies. My opinion is that the action scenes of Hulk are perfectly balanced; more than showing Hulk's sheer strength but never going completely overboard. And also showing some of Hulk's main weaknesses, keeping the character real and not entering the area of fantasy.
One side of this movie that people also seems to throw tantrums about, is the refurbishing of Hulk's origins. The story of Bruce Banner's transformation has been updated with including today's technology, and making it in my humble opinion much more interesting and 'believable' than the original. Not being a huge fan of Hulk's comics, I didn't feel personally attached to the original story, so I actually liked it more. But I can understand that the purists or the die-hard fans will be disappointed by these changes.
Along with Hulk's origins, the plot includes good science-fiction elements. Don't misunderstand me; the stuff is in general barely believable. A scientist conducting advanced genetic experiments in 1965 (all by himself!) is not a good start... But in the end, it doesn't matter. This superhero adaptation is as good science-fiction as other excellent adaptations like X-Men (including its sequel X2), where others will just remain as good or bad action films with just some sci-fi scattered around. Where others lost their opportunity, Hulk didn't.
What other things are good in this movie? Well, the main actors all do a good work, specially Jennifer Conelly and Nick Nolte. The special effects are great, and while there are entire scenes made just of CGI, they're still not the strong point of the movie. The plot and dialogues aren't just bridges between computer generated action scenes, which I'm thankful for. Furthermore, the plot is also rich in references to the comic, Hulk's enemies and other subtle things. The movie is full of small details (has anyone noticed the frog over the hat in the final scene?) which reward you when watching it a second or third time.
The main down of the movie might be that followers aren't used to see Hulk in this way, a deep and sensitive character, and probably expected more action and enemy-smashing and less deep dialogues running after child traumas... Which could explain its relatively low rating and some bad critics. Maybe I just connected very well with this movie and that's why I put it so well, but I can also see that the elements of this film, taken independently, also have their merits and all together form a solid production. In my opinion, of all the comic superhero adaptations, Hulk is the most interesting and best quality one which I've watched to date. I just wish people would concentrate more on enjoying this different view of a superhero's life. But oh well, each one has different tastes.
And one final note. The soundtrack is absolutely wonderful!
I had rather low expectations before seeing Hulk, since the early criticism was pretty harsh and basically the whole mojo around this movie didn't sound very good. However, I was very pleasantly surprised. As many previous reviewers pointed out, Ang Lee has created a marvelous movie/comic book amalgam, which may be too cerebral to most of the viewers, but Hulk has always been pretty complicated character anyway. If the movie had been made as a "Hulk Smash!" bruhaha it would most certainly...well, suck! This way we got excellent Sam Elliot and Jennifer Connely, and very good Nick Nolte and Eric Bana, all capped with absolutely brilliant directing by Ang Lee. If only all the other comic book movies were directed in this way...
I know the current "Avengers" movies are popular right now, and
everybody digs Mark Ruffalo's version of the Hulk (myself included), I
still consider Ang Lee's 2003 "Hulk" to be one of the finest comic book
based movies ever, and contrary to popular belief, one of the most
faithful. Being a true fan of the Hulk comic stories from the 60's to
the 80's, I think I can say this with credibility. I'm also coming from
the angle that the 70's TV show is not the real Hulk.
First, Ang Lee's film is extremely faithful to the comics. Watching the movie, it was as if some scenes were lifted right out of the Stan Lee stories. Hulk fighting army tanks in the desert, Hulk leaping over canyon cliffs, Hulk touching the reaches of space, and yes, even Hulk dogs are from the comics. Hulk's father in the movie is directly based on Bruce's father in the comics, Brian Banner, who was abusive and allegedly had a hand in Hulk's origin. The many villain incarnations that David Banner takes on at the end of the film are not just the Absorbing Man, but are an amalgam of many of Hulk villains including Zzax.
Second, Ang Lee's film was less about simply "Hulk Smash" and more about the idea of the Hulk. The idea of evolution, the idea of repression and subsequent freedom from that repression. It's interesting that every Ang Lee film is similarly about this idea of repression. Repressed gay cowboys, repressed women in China, a repressed slave finding freedom after the Civil War, etc. The evolution idea is expressed in the food chain of "Hulk" creatures we see in the movie. First a frog, then dogs, Hulk himself, and then a near "Hulk god" in David Banner. Evolution is also cinematically expressed in the morph edits seen throughout the film. Contrary to popular belief, the multi-frame editing was not just about mimicking a a comic book, it was about expressing the idea of freedom from repression, of seeing something from different angles, different points of view, different sides, much like Bruce has a "different side" to him. If you notice, the multi-angles many times show us the same subject but from a different camera angle. The idea of the Hulk is also metaphorically visually expressed through the imagery of atomic mushroom clouds and jellyfish, two visually similar objects. It expresses the idea that this Hulk was born of two of the greatest known forces in the universe, genetic and atomic force.
It's Ang Lee's masterful filmmaking, strong use of visual metaphor, and faithfulness to the original comics that really sets his Hulk film apart for me. Perhaps the one scene that really spells out what Ang Lee is doing and also brought me back to the old comics was that first close-up we see of Hulk free and jumping through the desert to the haunting Danny Elfman music. Classic.
I went into this fearing the worst and I was rather quite surprised. I
thought all the so called 'boring' parts were needed both for
characterisation and plot development. The way all this is shot keeps it
from slowing down to much and before you know it the Hulk is out. Very
impressive visually, only spoiled by a lousy ending.
It's late, so I'll just bullet point my thoughts.
1. Hulk as CGI - works most of the time, some of the time it doesn't. Nobody can argue with that. But, like Gollum, the expressions of the face and the fantastic body language made you WANT to believe. Unlike Gollum, some of the shots just don't work at all. The big CG breakthrough for this movie - the manipulation of real settings was just SPECTACULAR. I fully belived that San Fran was getting torn apart.
2. Too long. Cut a half hour.
3. The comic book style - hit and miss.
4. Most of my friends hated the movie, yet.....
5. ..... I found many of the scenes to be incredibly moving, which took me by surprise. Though I secretly hoped that the Hulk would just be ICE Storm with Hulk in the Joan Allen role, I have to admit that Lee pulled off one helluva feat. I sympathized more for the hulk than the entire MATRIX cast (of both movies) combined. And I'll take a faulted movie with emotion over almost any big budget vehicle any day.
The L Man
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