Hulk

June 26th, 2003 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Director: Ang Lee

Starring; Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Josh Lucas, Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte

In deciding to direct the big budget remake of The Hulk, Ang Lee entered very dangerous territory. Known for Jane Austen adaptation Sense & Sensibility and his razor sharp satire of American suburbia’s moral hypocrisy in The Ice Storm, he again chose a completely new genre to work in with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

After the beauty, success and appeal of Crouching Tiger — despite staggering commercial success — Lee somehow retained his indie chic. But in overseeing yet another big studio comic strip project, he’s wandered into a strange land where hype supplants story and cross-promotional deals bulldoze filmmaking quality; that of the commercial blockbuster.

He could have been just another formerly exciting independent director seduced (and neutered) by the big bucks of mainstream Hollywood — think Philip Noyce before Rabbit Proof Fence and Lee Tamahori after Mulholland Falls.

It didn’t bode well. The trailers showed a lot of explosions and destruction, and it looked like Lee had morphed into another CG-systems-manager-for-hire.

Thankfully, some part of his independent polish has won through and Hulk is more a Spider Man-style blockbuster than a Pearl Harbour-style one.

And like Sam Raimi and his lycra-clad superhero of last year, the story drives the effects and not the other way around — a very refreshing change.

We don’t even see the first payoff Hulk sequence until half an hour into the movie. A thorough job is done of setting up Bruce Banner’s back story and the reasons for him becoming what he does (more so than the 70’s TV series ever did).

It’s not completely devoid of a dumb blockbuster premise, set-ups or two-dimensional emotional states, but for once, you’re not sitting through a lot of dreary and pointless dialogue when you and the director both know you’re just waiting for the next outbreak of computer animated action.

The Hulk himself is a standout achievement. Apparently cause for debate about whether to use a real (huge) actor or computer animation, the script calls for a creature that simply couldn’t exist anywhere but on a hard drive.

Now the Jar Jar Binks days of bit-part CG characters are gone, bigger and better software (and grunt) to render realistic animation means synthespians can take centre stage. You can still tell, but they’ve done an astounding bringing Banner’s better half to life.

If anything, he’s too big and superhuman. He’s about twelve feet tall now, and (in a faintly ridiculous turn) can run in steps so many kilometres apart he’s virtually flying.

Aussie boy on the rise (destined to outshine Russell Crowe sooner or later) Eric Bana fits easily into the mainstream movie hero mould as Bruce, veteran actress Jennifer Connelly (who dazzled in Labyrinth all those years ago and A Beautiful Mind last year) is gorgeously warm as his heroine. There’s a dastardly villain in Josh Lucas, very Freudian father son themes thanks to Banner’s father and ‘creator’ Nick Nolte, and a heft military presence behind the heroine’s father, Army General Sam Elliott.

There’s also a few big remake mainstays to watch out for. Being a Marvel comic strip, keep your eyes open for the inevitable Stan Lee cameo — he’s the security guard leaving the building as Bruce first arrives at his university lab. And look closely at the other guard with him — it’s none other than Lou Ferringo, who got down and green as the Hulk for the TV series.

The increasingly omnipresent product placement continues to subsidise your price of admission — look for current model Apple iMacs in university offices (definitely fiction, then). There’s even a smarmy jab at the biotechnology patents-on-life debate.

Stylistically, bursts of split screen effects try to make it look like a comic strip. At best they’re amusing and silly, at worst bloody irritating — the palette and content convey the comic strip adequately on their own.

The effects and action look fantastic, the story travels along at a good pace and takes you with it — what more can you ask of a blockbuster?

Actually, you could ask one thing; what is a six foot tall man doing wearing enormous purple shorts — when he turns into a three metre tall strongman monster, that’s all he ever manages to keep on?


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