The Hulk (12A)
After the gung-ho dramatics of Spider-man and the risible embarrassment that was Daredevil along comes a serious comic book adaptation from a serious filmmaker. Strange that it is The Hulk.
Then again, in the hands of Ang Lee, the man whose disparate output has included period drama Sense and Sensibility, the western Ride with the Devil and martial arts fantasy Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Hulk always had a fair chance of being better (and far different) than the slew of comic-related movies that have recently infested our screens like locusts.
Lee has taken the story of a cult hero in Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk and invested it with all the drama, humanity, emotion and style of the previous movies in his oeuvre. What results is something akin to a Greek tragedy as the sins of the father are visited on his innocent, socially inept, emotionally crippled son.
Beginning with a 1960s prologue, The Hulk sees dedicated scientist David Banner conducting illegal experiments under the eyes of the military. Ordered to cease, he defies the army and tests his serum on himself. When his wife gives birth to a baby boy, Banner fears that side effects may have been passed onto the child.
Years later, Bruce has followed his father into science. A pauper working towards his dream, Bruce brushes off the interest of a fellow researcher (Josh Lucas, aggressive and unctuous) and continues his own work. When, in a laboratory accident, he survives what should have been a fatal blast of radiation, but soon he is suffering blackouts and memory loss, while dreams of a giant, violent green beast haunt the recesses of his mind.
A deliberate amalgam of King Kong and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, with elements of Batman and Superman thrown in for good measure, The Hulk is an intelligent and superior slice of melodrama that feeds on the military paranoia seen to best effect in the classic ‘Red Menace’ movies of the 1950s where giant atomic creatures, beings from other worlds and the fear of Mankind being taken over by insidious hidden threats were the norm.
And in the tradition of those old flicks the army comes into its own: if they don’t understand it, fear it or want to avoid communication, then blow it to bits.
Like Tim Burton’s Batman, the best of the contemporary comic strip adaptations, The Hulk is packed with character, background and subplots. And while Lee makes good use of split-screen and TV-style dissolves (taken straight from the 1970s television series) he never over encumbers the movie with special effects save for the character of The Hulk itself, which is completely (and believably) CGI.
Lee has also taken a chance of his stars, casting relative unknown Eric Bana, from Chopper, and Black Hawk Down, as the hero/victim, while committed anti-Hollywood veteran Nick Nolte is his wild-haired, wild-eyed and quite, quite mad father. Sam Elliott is the driven soldier committed to catching or killing the green-skinned monster at the heart of the tale – a product of Nolte’s id combined with Bana’s seething frustration and sense of betrayal – and Jennifer Connelly, fresh from her Oscar win in A Beautiful Mind, is Banner’s love interest and conscience. Lucas is suitably icy as the one true human villain – a man with his own agenda on Banner’s work, and his former love.
It is Nolte, chewing up the scenery as Banner Snr, who mutters “You’re gonna have to watch that temper of yours” as the film starts to build momentum towards the first appearance of The Hulk, and we are not disappointed when he takes his bow – a massive green behemoth in too-tight shorts.
As for those shorts, yes, they do stay on 99 per cent of the time – a throwback to the TV series where Lou Ferrigno always seemed to explode out of every item of clothing except his jockeys. Lee lets his CGI monster do the same, and gives Ferrigno and Hulk creator Stan Lee brief cameos at the very outset of the film in a nod to the past.
Star rating: ****