HULK: A Review
by Bill Knell
Release Date: June 20, 2003
Starring: Eric Bana, Sam Elliot, Jennifer Connelly, Lynn Red Williams, Nick Nolte, Josh Lucas
Director: Ang Lee
Produced by: Gale Anne Hurd, James Schamus, Avi Arad
Genre: Action, SciFi
MPAA Rating: PG-13 - for sci-fi action violence, some disturbing images and brief partial nudity
Runtime: 2 hrs. 18 mins.
Summary: Scientists Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) and Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) are researchers who not only share a common project, but a common problem. Both are emotionally-distracted and unable to enjoy the deep affection they feel for one another. They’re too consumed by the need to seek answers about their past, forbidden to them by government secrecy. Entering this already convoluted house of complicated cards is Bruce’s real father, David Banner (Nick Nolte), a troubled scientist who has tried to play god, and Glen Talbot (Josh Lucas), a fellow researcher with a mean corporate streak bent on turning their work into a military weapon. During a lab accident Bruce’s attempt to save a colleague from gamma radiation results in his own exposure and unlocks a terror that’s been waiting inside him. Ready to pounce on the situation is Betty’s father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross (Sam Elliot), a powerful military commander who relentlessly pursues the creature that Bruce Banner has become.
Once again a popular Marvel Comics character comes to the big screen. Like Spiderman, the Hulk is a tragic figure whose life is dictated by circumstances beyond his control. But, in terms of the two films, that’s where the comparison ends. Most people think of the Hulk character as a hero who, despite his own situation, tries to help others. But in this film, he’s too busy trying to iron out his past and help himself.
The writers of this script apparently felt it was scientifically needful to add some additional reasons for Banner’s transformation, so they have Dr. David Banner experimenting on his beloved son Bruce, while working as a research scientist at a desert military facility in the 1960‘s. The young and future General Ross is the military commander who discovers David Banner’s human experimentation and throws him off the project. This sets a number of things in motion that are destined to permanently entwine and change the lives of Ross, his daughter Betty, David and Bruce forever. The plot twist would be welcome if it added anything to the movie, but instead it demonizes David Banner and creates a script-long distraction that is both annoying and frustrating.
Character development is replaced by hit and run emotional moments, and the error is compounded by Director Ang Lee’s seeming inability to tell a simple story. Eric Bana delivers a poor performance as Bruce Banner with acting that is often stiff and cardboard-like. He doesn’t make you feel much of anything for the human half of the film’s main character and seems out of place in that role.
All the good acting work is done by Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliot and Nick Nolte. Despite the fact that their characters are never fully developed and thrown into the plot in a most haphazard and annoying fashion, these three veterans really deliver the goods. If audience members are moved to feel anything during this film other then a full stomach from too much popcorn, it should be credited to Connelly, Elliot and Nolte.
Even a tragic figure who never gets to be very heroic requires a great villain and there is none in this film. But that’s the fault of the script writers and director, not the actors. Josh Lucas is good as the corporate scientist ready to turn a buck from the work of the characters played by Bana and Connelly, but his potential to be the one decent bad guy in the movie is confused and over-shadowed by the unneeded and unwelcome plot twist that makes Nolte’s character the pseudo-villain.
The special effects are terrific and there’s a fair amount of fight time in the film, so if that’s what you want to see you will not be disappointed. But the magic of the Hulk character was never his ability to evade his dedicated pursuers, it was his human side’s desire to help others while trying to free himself from the beast within that’s taken over. The magic is missing and we just don’t see that in this film. Instead, there’s the usual demonizing of the military and corporate world as entities bent on world domination. The biggest problem with the story is that no serious effort is made during this long film to help the audience feel much of anything for what should have been great characters.
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