When the Hulk gets angry, his movie gets good, so you wish he’d get angry more often. Accepting this challenge after the triumphant Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, director Ang Lee has created an ambitious film, based on the Marvel comic created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, that succeeds as a cautionary tale about mad science and traumatized children coping with legacies of pain. That’s the Hulk’s problem: After accidental exposure to gamma radiation, scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) turns into the huge, green, and indestructible Hulk when provoked, and…
When the Hulk gets angry, his movie gets good, so you wish he’d get angry more often. Accepting this challenge after the triumphant Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, director Ang Lee has created an ambitious film, based on the Marvel comic created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, that succeeds as a cautionary tale about mad science and traumatized children coping with legacies of pain. That’s the Hulk’s problem: After accidental exposure to gamma radiation, scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) turns into the huge, green, and indestructible Hulk when provoked, and repressed childhood memories fuel his fury. Hobbled by the obligatory “origin story” (to acquaint neophytes with the character’s Jekyll-and-Hyde-ish fate), there’s room for little else in a sluggish film that struggles to reconcile Lee’s stylistic flair (evident in his visual interpretation of comic-book technique) with the razzle-dazzle of a megabudget franchise. What’s good is good (Jennifer Connelly essentially echoes her role from A Beautiful Mind, and Nick Nolte is righteously tormented as Banner’s father), but the movie’s schizoid intentions remain largely unclear. —Jeff Shannon
Amazingly, Ang Lee’s Hulk makes a fair fist of pleasing everybody. The latest in a run of Marvel Comic-to-film transfers, it acknowledges the history of a character who dates back to 1962 while recreating him in contemporary terms. Though this, Hulk’s origin still draws on the 1960s iconography of bomb tests and desert bases, this new take mixes gene-tampering with gamma radiation and never forgets that poor Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) has been psychologically primed by a mad father (Nick Nolte) and a disappointed girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) to transform from repressed wimp to big green powerhouse even before the mad science kicks in.
The long first act is enlivened by comic book-style split-screen effects and multiple foreshadowings—Lee keeps finding excuses to light Bana’s face green—but is also absorbing personal drama from the man who gave you The Ice Storm before flexing his action muscles on Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. When Banner begins his Jekyll-and-Hyde seizures, the ILM CGI boys step in and use Bana as a template for the most fully-realised digital characterisation yet seen in the movies. Comics fans will thrill as a credibly bulky, superswift, super-green behemoth tangles with mutated killer dogs (including a very vicious poodle) in a night time forest, bursts out of confinement in an underground secret base, takes on America’s military might while bouncing around a Road Runner and Coyote-like South Western desert and then invades San Francisco for some major “Hulk…smash” action. Artful and entertaining, engaging and explosive, this is among the most satisfying superhero movies. —Kim Newman
Barnes and Noble
Ang Lee’s inventive direction and some state-of-the-art special effects help to rip the incredible Hulk—a green giant who is anything but jolly—from the pages of Stan Lee’s Marvel comics of the 1960s. In reality (to the extent that “reality” is a workable concept in films like this one), he is geneticist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), a troubled young man whose past holds terrible secrets he can never fully remember. Intense emotional stress turns him into the Hulk, a raging monster who smashes everything and everybody with whom he comes into contact. The lone exception, of course, is the lovely Betty Ross (Jennifer Connolly), Bruce’s co-worker and the daughter of a hard-bitten general (Sam Elliott) overseeing top-secret government projects. Nick Nolte has a relatively small but showy supporting role as Bruce’s father, a discredited scientist whose fall from grace has something to do with his son’s deeply disturbed psyche. Resisting the temptation to fill the screen with live-action comic-book panels, Ang Lee alters the origin of the printed-page protagonist to include psychological complexities that even Stan Lee never anticipated for his troubled antihero. It takes a fairly long time for the Hulk to make his first significant appearance, but he does so in a dynamic, explosive manner. By rendering his leading character with computer graphics, Lee and the special-effects team enable the Hulk to perform feats that might look convincing in comics but would normally never pass muster in live-action movies. Hulk’s combination of larger-than-life action and intricate back-story made it an exceptionally ambitious undertaking, and the film succeeds on its own terms. Even if you’ve never read a Hulk comic book, you can enjoy this exceptionally well made thriller. Ed Hulse