Reviewed by Jeff DeLuzio
Rating: 1 Beans
After some disastrous creative and business decisions in the 1990s (the words "Clone Saga" still strike terror into the hearts of comic fanboys), Marvel began to turn around at the turn of the millennium. They even finally started getting movies made about their characters that were watchable. Spider-man was fun. Daredevil had some great character dynamics-- though even those willing to believe in comic-book heroes might have had a difficult time with a storefront lawyer who acts as the prosecutor in a criminal case.
Then came the most expensive effort to date, "The Hulk." The studio sunk millions into this wannabee blockbuster. Everyone got involved in the advanced promo deals, no matter how little they might share in common with a big green dolt who breaks stuff. Ang Lee, a very good, very serious director took the helm.
Despite precedent, talent, and money, the result is a cinematic disaster.
The film has some fine moments. Some of Lee's shots-- the desert scenes in particular-- are beautifully composed and quite memorable. Bruce Banner and Betty Ross, walking through the ruins of the military base where both had been born, escorted by scores of heavily-armed troops, makes a great cinematic moment. And, yeah, the cameo appearances by Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno brought a smile to my face.
The rampaging Hulk sequences nicely recreate the classic character, mixed with elements of the old sympathetic monster flicks, like "King Kong" or "Frankenstein." The CGI Hulk has a remarkably expressive face. His movements don't quite work; for some reason (to date), only "The Lord of the Rings" has managed entirely convincing movement in this medium. Still, this could have been forgiven, had the rest of the film worked as well.
Ang Lee wants to bring serious, heavy themes to a comic-book movie. This is possible, and the Incredible Hulk has always had more than his share of angst and psychodrama. But in order for this to work, script and director have to respect the essential pop/pulp nature of superheroes. The deeper themes have to be layered onto the type of script that does justice to garish colors and impossible stunts: namely, action-packed and fairly straightforward. This film, Hulk like, leaps and strikes in all directions. The script stretches more than Banner's impossible purple pants, but, unlike them, it does not hold together.
The film throws plot after plot at us. We begin with a look at Banner's childhood which proves both fragmented and unnecessary. We learn most of the details later in the film, anyway, and the rest could just as easily have appeared later. It's not as though Lee shies away from flashbacks. As it stands, this sequence manages to destroy the pacing from the start, while giving away too much of the mystery at the centre of Banner's life.
Following the opening, we have that dark psychological mystery, an origin story, a Hulk versus Military plot, an Evil Corporation plot, two potentially interesting but incomplete dysfunctional family dramas, and a tacked-on supervillain plot that allows a final orgy of special effects. The pacing is uneven, when it isn't mind-numbingly slow. It also takes itself very seriously, and many scenes play like a videogame as directed by Orson Welles. We get camera angles and symbolism, but no content that can support this approach.
The deadly seriousness with which Lee handles emotion, and the very dark nature of the film's central mystery clash with the comic-book flourishes, such as hokey dialogue. Sam Elliott as General Ross manages a reasonable compromise between comic-book caricature and realistic character, but most of the others seem as implausibly divided as Banner himself. Talbot (John Lucas) behaves like a cartoon supervillain, complete with psychotic personality and puerile motivations. The world shown elsewhere in this film would not hire this nutcase as head dogcatcher, much less put him in charge of a major project. Bruce's father, David Banner (Nick Nolte) has equally strange and often inexplicable motives, but at least he's identified as crazy by the time we meet him. How an ex-con got a job at a sensitive research facility or managed to get hold of radioactive material for his private use is yet another minor mystery, which in a less self- serious superhero film might go by unnoticed. Here, it adds to the oddities. And those oddities grow ever larger, and ramapage against one another, reducing the film to occasionally interesting piles of rubble.
A hero divided against himself makes good drama. A film so divided isn't worth the price of admission.
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