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Shrek is pursued through the streets
of San Francisco in Hulk

Review written by: Alex Sandell

Ang Lee is quite possibly the most diverse director currently working in film.  With movies ranging from Sense and Sensibility to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, he has successfully dabbled in sacred genres that most directors spend a lifetime hoping to master.  When it was announced that Lee was to take on Hulk, my heart soared like a schoolboy's.  No matter what the versatile director did with the comic book genre, Lee was guaranteed to make it different.  He was guaranteed to make it challenging.  He was guaranteed to make it his own

The only thing predictable about Ang Lee is that his work is going to be unpredictable.  Hulk is no exception, and it's going to leave many a Spider-Man or X-Men fan disappointed.  Even Daredevil fans (quite possibly the most dedicated readers of Marvel Comics) are bound to leave the theater scratching their heads with a thought bubble floating above reading, "huh?"  Hulk is a hit and miss motion picture, but Lee has most definitely made it his own, and, in doing so, has created what may be the most original comic book adaptation ever projected onto the silver screen.

If you go in expecting anything remotely resembling the current flock of superhero flicks, you're going to leave the theater with a sour grimace on your face that would do Hulk proud.  The film is a throwback to classic black and white horror films of the 1930s.  It resembles The Bride of Frankenstein far more than it does Daredevil.  It's closer to the original King Kong than it is to Spider-Man.  Sadly, it doesn't use stop-motion effects and makeup, to create its monster.  Instead, it lowers itself to CG, and -- as is almost always the case with CG -- the artificiality of the digital look lands itself smack dab between the audience and their suspension of disbelief.

The Hulk looks just as bad as he does in all of those advertisements that they're currently running on television.  The "shorts" the Hulk is always wearing, to avoid showing the audience a "Hulk-y" penis, rarely move independently of his body, making them look as though they've melded into him.  Because of this, the character is never any more believable than a Saturday morning cartoon.  He's not realistic enough for you to forget that you're watching a green thing programmed on some overpaid geek's computer.       

But Ang Lee, and his trio of screenwriters (John Turman, Michael France, James Schamus), go out of their way to make this film something more than the sum of its FX.  Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) doesn't appear as the great green one for at least 40 minutes.  Instead of concentrating exclusively on effects, the screenwriters and directors develop an intriguing story regarding Banner's father (Nick Nolte), Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) and her father (Sam Elliott).  The story quickly delves into the evil that men (and women) do, in the name of science, religion and military might.

Lee chose to direct the story in a wildly frantic "comic book" style.  The entire film is presented to the audience through "panels."  This really lit up the movie for me, and caused me to enjoy it more than I probably should have.  It was like sitting on the floor in the kitchen and reading countless issues of my favorite comic books.  It moved so fast, it brought me damn close to the point of sensory overload.  Too bad so many of those kitchen floor comics were more entertaining.

It's obvious the film is reaching for things beyond its grasp.  Is this a drama?  Is it an "event" film?  The filmmakers obviously didn't have a friggin' clue, and this is where Lee drops the ball.  The actors seem incapable of delivering a decent performance.  Maybe it's the cheesy dialogue they were forced to read; but these talented thespians spit out their lines in a manner that only Lucas would find satisfactory.  The performances of everyone involved are stilted, stale and flat.  It occasionally becomes embarrassing.

But this is less a movie about acting than it is a film for fans of old-fashioned mutant persecution flicks.  Why must humans mistreat what they don't understand?  On this level, Hulk works exceptionally well.  When the "monster" hid in the shadows, scared of what his ex-girlfriend, Betty, would think of him in his current incarnation, it was truly touching.  When he defended her against three mutated dogs (including a monstrous French Poodle), it reminded me of Kong defending his woman from the dinosaurs. 

Of course there are the obligatory scenes provided for the masses to enjoy.  The Hulk catches missiles with his bare hands, and throws them back at the planes that first fired them.  In a glorious scene that almost made me wet my pants, the Hulk hangs onto a jet, while his face steals at least 80% of the screen, making the pilot of the plane look puny and insignificant.  The pilot is directed to take the beast high into the sky, to see what the thin air will do to him.  The cinematic moment is amazing to behold, and reason enough to attend this film at the theater. 

Also worth mentioning is Danny Elfman's dazzling soundtrack.  This is a gigantic departure for Elfman, and the best work he's ever done.  It more than makes up for the horrible mistake of a score he put together for Red Dragon.  If the actors in the film would have been as inspired as the music Elfman created for them, Hulk could have been a classic.  As it stands, it's an average film with a classic score. 

Although I had a good time with the picture, Ang Lee disappointed me.  I left the theater feeling the film I had viewed was incomplete.  Characters were dropped without explanation.  The action scenes were rarely intense, due to the fact that it was often hard for me to care about a pissed-off looking Shrek.  I didn't expect the acting to be as flat and lifeless as the CG.  The story began to suffer, toward the end.  The film drags on for a tiring 2 hours and 18 minutes, and the finale is unnecessary drivel that only
The Matrix Reloaded could match.   

Hulk isn't a great movie.  It isn't even a good movie.  Regardless, Ang Lee has, once again, taken the high road and delivered a film so entirely unique, it would be hard not to witness it, at least once, on the big screen.  This isn't your typical "tent-pole" film, and for that, it should be viewed.  Go into Hulk expecting something different, but not something wonderful.  It's a shame that you can't go in expecting both.

On a scale of 1-10?


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Agree? Disagree? Feeling bored and wanna write a letter that you'll probably never get a response to?  Email me at alex@juicycerebellum.com

Text ©(Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].