WFTB Score: 6/20
The plot: Accidentally absorbing a massive dose of radiation in a laboratory experiment, Bruce Banner finds that his rage is released his rage in huge, green form. Can he keep a lid on his temper and stay out of the clutches of both the military and the scruffy janitor who appears to know a lot about him?
As I saw this film before Ed Norton’s stab at being The Incredible Hulk, I only had memories of the TV series to compare with Ang Lee’s excursion into the popular and lucrative genre of comic-book adaptation. Thankfully, they no longer have to paint Lou Ferrigno green to portray the green-eyed monster, but is it all change for the good?
In a word: no. The long and the short of it is, not enough happens, and what does happen takes a long time. Although a lot of back story information is imparted in the first ten minutes, detailing the genetic experimentation that David Banner inflicted on himself and passed on to his son Bruce, a quarter of the film has gone by before Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) suffers the irradiation that makes his transformation possible. This is not presented particularly dramatically, and it’s a further ten minutes before the Hulk is fully unleashed. Until then, a plethora of green things and snatched glimpses are all that remind you what the film is supposed to be about.
The scenes filling the gaps between action sequences are unlikely to decrease your impatience, either. There’s a lot of jargon-infested lab talk about molecular science and the introduction of other protagonists: Josh Lucas as Talbot, the blonde, corporate baddie and wild-haired Nick Nolte as the aged David Banner. Also, there’s a massive amount of Jennifer Connelly as Banner’s ex-girlfriend, Betty Ross. Whilst I wouldn’t ordinarily complain about this, Betty is asked to carry the plot forward and, as the civilising influence on the Hulk, bear most of the film’s emotional weight too. Frankly, she is not interesting enough to justify all the screen time, regardless of the fact that she’s also the daughter of the army General at the centre of events, played gruffly by Sam Elliot. I should also mention that crucially, Bana doesn’t do cross all that well: the leading man conveys all the emotional distance that his character is accused of, and Nolte’s overwrought essence-of-King-Lear stylings bring the Australian’s relative blandness into sharp relief.
Although films that are all crash-bang-wallop can easily get tiresome, viewers of comic-book movies have a right to expect a decent action quotient. In Hulk, there are essentially only three action set-pieces: firstly, a fight with the Hulk battling his father’s mutant dogs; secondly, the extended escape from a desert military base ending on the streets of San Francisco; and finally, the climactic fight between the Hulk and his father, now with the ability to absorb materials he comes into contact with, including electricity and water. The first and third of these sequences rely heavily on CGI, and it is a major criticism of the film that whilst the Hulk (and his opponents) look fine in and of themselves, they fail to realistically interact with the real world items around them. The climactic fight is a confusing, almost abstract jumble of images and a less than thrilling experience.
The escape from the army base, whilst being the high point of the film, makes heavy use of another problem with the film. No doubt with the best of intentions, Hulk constantly uses comic strip-style split-screens, pans and wipes; these are not only distracting but serve no purpose whatsoever – how is a shot of a helicopter improved by seeing it from three angles at once? This is a bold move, but it doesn’t work at all. Lee has shown in many other films, Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain to name but three, that he has a great eye for period detail and how to film it. Here, an attempt to reflect the source material interferes with the purpose of the film: telling the story.
Then again, he wasn’t given much of a story to work with. Unlike the dynamic and balanced 2008 film, Hulk is unsatisfying, misconceived, with poorly paced plotting and a tedious script, sadly lacking in excitement or humour, except of course for Bana’s glue-on beard in the epilogue. It’s a shame, because there is a ton of potential here: but this Hulk is far from incredible.