Superhero Month: "Hulk" Review

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Superhero Month: "Hulk" Review

-- Rating: PG-13 (action violence, partial nudity, disturbing images)
Length: 138minutes
Release date: June 20, 2003
Directed by: Ang Lee
Genre: Action/ Sci-Fi

There have been multiple attempts to bring The Hulk, one of the favorites from the Marvel Universe, to life on the screen, with many of those attempts meeting with dismal failure. The 2003 film "Hulk" finally managed to get it right, though it took a modern, big budget of $137 million, advanced computer graphics, and the skills of director Ang Lee to do so.

Most fans of comic books will find the plotline familiar. Brilliant scientist David Banner, a researcher of the human genome, is trying to mutate DNA to create super soldiers who can quickly heal from battle damage and return to the field ready to continue fighting. The powers that be deny Banner the go-ahead to experiment on humans, so he uses himself as a guinea pig. He manages to mutate his DNA, which is then passed on to his son Bruce Banner. When the experiment is shut down, papa Banner sets off a gamma ray explosion, killing his wife. The military hauls off the father to a mental hospital and the son grows up to become a researcher in his own rights, studying nanotechnology and its medical uses.

The Banners are apparently naturally attracted to gamma rays, as the adult Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is using the radiation in his own research. A second gamma ray explosion is triggered, infecting Bruce with both the radiation and the nanomeds. Fortunately, his mutated DNA manages to save him. He awakens in a hospital bed with his research partner Betty by his side. She informs him that not only should he have died from the lab accident but also that tests show him to be stronger than ever before. To top things off, the elder Banner-played by veteran actor Nick Nolte-shows up and reveals that he's been working at the university as a janitor to try to get back into his son's life. He warns that Bruce may have a problem when he loses his temper from now on. The stress of all he's learned caused Bruce to transform into the Hulk, destroying the lab in the process, and then leaving for the safety of home where he passes out.

Betty, fetchingly played by Jennifer Connelly, finds Bruce at home. At the same time, her father-General Ross, who also happens to bethe man who oversaw the original David Banner research-arrives on the scene and places Bruce under house arrest. From there, the plotline of "Hulk" grows ever more complicated.

General Ross, who is portrayed as a gruff old-school soldier by Sam Elliot, is determined to take and study Bruce while at the same time protecting his daughter. Betty on the other hand wants no protection for herself from Bruce and is determined to protect him from the military. As for the military, there's Major Talbot, played by Josh Lucas, who also wants to take Bruce in, though his desire for studying the Hulk soon turns into a strong desire to kill him before he becomes a public menace.

The complicated plotline is standard with comic book movies of old characters. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby of Marvel Comics first introduced the character of Hulk in 1962, and he (the Hulk) has been going strong ever since. With 40 years behind the character, there's plenty to choose from in terms of character depth, and those in the Hulk universe tend to be tightly woven together. James Schamus, the screenplay writer for "Hulk" and developer of the storyline, managed to write a true origin story of the superhero, and it was smoothly brought to the screen. He brings all the elements together to present a heavily plot-driven movie featuring a main character that has two truly divergent sides to him.

There's plenty of action in "Hulk" to satisfy moviegoers though. From the first transformation, the title character is amazingly fluid, with the CGI of the time finally managing to portray the size and strength of the Hulk in such a way as to make him feel dangerous when faced off against tanks. Director Ang Lee is well-known for the elegant fighting scenes in his film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," but there's little elegance in the way the Hulk fights. He smashes his way through soldiers, tanks, and buildings with ease, leaving behind a visible path of desolation.

Ang Lee made the directorial decision to present the movie as though it was torn straight from the comic book pages, resulting in a quick-cut look that presents largely static backgrounds with most of the action happening right in front of the camera. The feel is like watching a comic in motion rather than a movie adaptation of the comic. This, combined with the brilliant work of ILM in creating the Hulk, resulted in a seamless fantasy come to life for audiences.

Eric Bana comes across as sympathetic, a feeling that the viewer can carry over easily to the Hulk character itself. From the moment the Hulk appears till the last scene of the movie, moviegoers should find themselves rooting for the Hulk to win, despite the near uncontrollable destruction that he causes, making this an enjoyable blockbuster that finally captures the soul of the character and puts it right there on the screen for the world to clearly see.

Rating: 3 out of 5