Movie review

Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly,
Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte

Director : Ang Lee

HulkLife’s complicated enough for mild-mannered, reclusive geneticist Bruce Banner, as he struggles to harness the potential of cell regenerating mutations and fend off the advances of a military power-maniac hell-bent on a hostile takeover, all whilst working alongside his beautiful ex-girlfriend who has a habit of reminding him of his self-imposed emotional isolation. And so Banner achieves the first qualification for superhero selection; all he wants is 'a quiet life'. Add to this the disturbing yet vague childhood memories, and a sinister genetic inheritance from his mad scientist father, and the stage is set for the 'accidental' exposure to lethal levels of gamma rays, and the familiar shirt-ripping, size-mutating, green rage.

Most directors would have reached this point within the first few scenes of the film. But it soon becomes apparent that this isn't your bulk standard, comic hero summer blockbuster. In fact, for the first hour of the film, you find yourself wondering if you’re ever actually going to see the comic strip star in all his muscular, gigantic green glory.
    It ’s worth the wait though. When he finally does appear, the Hulk is a believable, living, breathing, roaring, tank-throwing addition to the cast. In fact the CGI is so good that it looks better the closer you get to it. Conversely, the further away you get, the less believable it becomes, and so the Hulk retains a cartoon-like motion as he bounds effortlessly across the sparse desert landscape, jumping incalculable distances with surprising grace. Overall though, despite some unusually gentle and almost childlike moments, the star of the show fails to disappoint.
    Eric Bana is convincing as the troubled scientist and reluctant anti-hero, although at times he appears so emotionally estranged from his ex-girlfriend, love interest and only true ally (played by Jennifer Connelly) that he risks isolating the audience from the stoic inner workings of his uneasy mind. Connelly plays Bana’s emotional opposite, and helps to capture the audience early on and sustain our interest as Bana becomes increasingly remote. It’s not a particularly strong role, but her performance is credible as she struggles to deal with a world in which the men she loves (Banner and her father) suffer extreme cases of emotional detachment.
    Nick Nolte is absorbing in the maniacal role of Banner’s unhinged father and genetic scientist, whose original experiments and desperate actions leave not only a latent hereditary mutation with Banner but also a whole closet full of suppressed childhood memories, of which we are given occasional, nightmarish glimpses.

The father-child alienation theme is explored in some detail within the four main characters, but without ever really finding resolution. By delving into the deeper, darker nature of Banner's character, Ang Lee gives the film a tense, psychological edginess, at the expense of much of the continuous colossal comic book action which many would have expected.
    However, he retains the comic book feel by using a series of clever (if highly contrived) edits, split screens and animation-style collages to remind us that in this setting, anything can happen, and that our disbelief should remain suspended from start to finish.

Despite covering a diverse range of settings and genres, all of Ang Lee's films are essentially stories of human relationships, focusing in on a few key characters, and following their unfolding lives, paying meticulous detail to the interplay and the interweaving themes of love, loss, survival and hope. Lee seems both fascinated and preoccupied with finding, then telling, the human story. And Hulk is no exception although occasionally it suffers from a little too much preoccupation with the human element, and an unspoken reluctance to linger too long on the monstrous aspect of the Hulk. At times this means that the pace is unexpectedly slow, and that when the action does arrive, it seems to sit awkwardly next to the reflective exploration of Banner’s internal struggles with his past, and the ensuing turmoil as he wrestles with the lurking, rage-fueled monster within.
    That said, this is an admirable attempt to create an intelligent, thought provoking film and break the stereotypical mould of action based comic hero movies. However, it is ultimately from taking itself too seriously by the occasional, yet indisputably obvious, presence of a large, pea green mutant.

:: Tom West

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