a critiQal film review Hulk (2003)

Plot: Bruce (Bana) is a scientist. He’s got a girl he likes, Betty (Connelly). Life is going okay...until a gamma radiation accident at the lab changes all that. He should’ve been killed, but thanks to his father’s experimental testing when Bruce was a child, Bruce isn’t like everybody else - especially when he’s angry. Suddenly, his rage triggers his transformation into the unstoppable Hulk, a green-skinned monster who the military wants for itself. But can even they contain the power that is the Hulk?

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  • ...Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly try hard, but the ridiculous cartoon caricature of the Hulk drags this movie down.

The day has finally come, true Marvel fans. It’s a brave new world for the comics, as many of your favorite superheroes are getting the movie star treatment. First came X-Men (2000), and did extremely well. Then came Spider-Man (2002), and the theater-goers turned that film into a record-breaking phenomenon. Now, the comic book heroes are coming fast and furious. This year alone, we’ve had DareDevil (2003) and X-Men 2 (2003))…and Hulk. Would ol’ green skin get the same response as his predecessors in the movie business, or has the Marvel Movie Superheroes Era come to an end already?

Spider-Man (2002) and DareDevil (2003) both banked on their movie star power in the lead role to help them in the box office. X-Men (2000) used some star power, but reserved the lead role of Wolverine for a relative unknown at the time (Hugh Jackman). That was risky, but he rose to meet the challenge head-on, and triumphed.

It seems Ang Lee wanted to go the same route when it came time to cast for Hulk. Put some star power in there (Jennifer Connelly), but give the lead role to another relative unknown (Eric Bana). It seems to have paid off for Ang, as Eric does a pretty good job in the film, and holds his own in scenes with Jennifer, or at least he doesn’t fall too far behind. But, Ang seems to have taken the anti-star theme a bit too far, and the other characters don’t really seem to be able to keep up with Eric and Jennifer.

The plot tries to stay somewhat true to the original, but also tries to update it to fit into today’s world. So, instead of Bruce being exposed to gamma radiation when the military is testing a new weapon, he’s instead exposed to it when an experiment goes awry in his lab.

Hulk does try to stay true in the two most important aspects that a film based on a comic should adhere to: (1) the superhero’s power is the same and (2), the same attitude of the character shows through in the film. The first is important so that fans of the comic books don’t feel that Hollywood is twisting the story to suit their own needs. The second is important because the movie should feel like an extension, or maybe a retelling, of the comic book.

Sure, there can be some artistic interpretation (such as location of the gamma radiation), but the character needs to act like he would in the comic book. These characters have long histories before these films, and the directors’ occasionally forget that. Fortunately, Hulk was made by someone who really understood that the film is just an extension of this famed character. That means that the characters in the film never stray too far from their comic book origins, and should be easily accepted by any fans of the Marvel character.

The special effects that were used to create The Hulk seem to showcase one thing: the technology isn’t quite there yet to make this film. The Hulk, while being a true breakthrough in computer animated creatures, also retains a somewhat plasticky look to him, and doesn’t quite achieve the realism that viewers want. We are supposed to let this movie suspend our disbelief and, while other special effects abound, we do. But every time we catch sight of ol’ green-skin himself, that suspension is tested…and sometimes found wanting. With the major advances in computer technology in films these days, it’s a little sad to see that we still can’t achieve everything we want to in films. But we’re getting closer.

One thing I must say for Hulk – this film stays truest to the world of comic books, at least in the film’s scene set-up. It’s hard to explain, but the film almost becomes a living comic book. An example? During Bruce’s birth, a camera pans down the hallway outside the room, then zooms through the room wall to show a close-up of his mother’s face. Another example: during a chase sequence, the screen is split into three parts, all showing different angles, from different distances, showing things that are occurring at that time. It’s a new film style that hasn’t really been seen in the other superhero films, and it adds a nice comic book-y nostalgia to the film.

Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly try hard to turn Hulk into a great movie, but unfortunately, don’t quite succeed. Maybe if this movie had come out when computer technology was just a little more advanced, and some other star power was pulled in, this might have been truly wonderful.

As it is, the film is somewhat reminiscent of the original King Kong. Not because of the brilliant love story, but more because it really showcases that we still aren’t able to make all of our dreams become reality. Not quite yet, at any rate. As the film stands, don’t go into it thinking you will believe, because you most likely won’t. Think of it instead as a two-hour escape from daily life, and you might appreciate this more.

Sorry Hulk, but X-Men (2000) is still the best Marvel movie to date. Better luck next time.

Let’s hope new movies Fantastic Four (2005), Iron Man (2008), and The Punisher (2004), as well as Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and Elektra (2005) (a DareDevil (2003) spin-off) – all in the works – are able to reach the true film heights that they deserve.

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