Hulk (2003)

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Hulk (2003)

Post  BoG on Mon Nov 03, 2014 4:59 pm

This was the first big budget film version of the famous Marvel Comics monster/super-hero, followed by a 2008 reboot. There was the famous TV series in the late seventies and 3 TV movies in the late eighties, but comparing this to those is like apples & oranges; the TV version was developed based on the severe limitations of a TV budget. This film version had almost no limitations in that regard - the expense for the computer FX, detailed in such places as IMDb trivia, was staggering, with multitudes of technicians to work it out. But, it didn't impress. Though this was in development for over a decade, I think the main reason it finally came about was the huge success of the X-Men and Spider-Man films.  Most fans also figured that this film would enjoy similar success. But, director Ang Lee had his own agenda in crafting this film: it was less about the true nature of such a Marvel super-character and more about Lee's stylistic intentions - he fixated on odd patterns, such as son-father relations, terrain and foliage, comic book panel ambiance. This last was the most debilitating; his intent to recreate the look of several comic book panels on screen was distracting and called too much attention to the technique whenever it was used.
The film actually begins with Bruce Banner's father, David Banner, back in the sixties; he's the one who obsesses about changing DNA to create super soldiers. This long prologue actually works better than most of the remaining film, eerie in its depiction of life in the desert and a hint of madness from the older Banner. The story drifts off-course early on, switching to Berkeley, CA as the locale for Bruce Banner's life (before first Hulking-out) when it should have remained in the eerie desert. Banner (Eric Bana) works as a geneticist with fellow scientist Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), daughter of General Ross (Sam Elliott). Some drama and tension is injected with the other intro, that of Major Talbot (Josh Lucas), a government agent and former Ross subordinate who turns out to be an opportunistic sadist. It then re-introduces the main villain, Banner's father (Nick Nolte), and pretty much makes him the main character. I can't fault Nolte's performance as a mad scientist, but he belongs in another picture. Towards the end, he's transformed into this movie's version of Marvel Comics long-time villain The Absorbing Man, just one of the plot diversions that occur for no reason. Abruptly, there's a lab accident and Bruce Banner gets a dose of Gamma radiation, with delayed effects. It doesn't come across like some momentous event, certainly less dramatic than previous versions.
The Hulk's first appearance is in the dark and I suspect this was done to cover-up unconvincing computer FX. Later, he grows in size from bullet impacts - again, a plot twist deviating from the comic book version of the character to, what, let the animators show off a larger Hulk? The scenes of the Hulk raging are rather flat and uninspired. Ang Lee himself, as revealed behind-the-scenes, stepped in to use motion-capture computer technology to map out the Hulk's movements; he might have been better off using a professional mime or actor. The script and dialog are clumsy, with most characters blabbing on about uninteresting things and the plot meandering back 'n' forth between the Bay Area and the desert, as if it can't make up its mind on which way is best. It's quite dull in most places.  In the final act, the military (the one aspect from the comics they got right) lets the two super-powered beings sit together and stand back to watch until they both explode into final battle. I don't pretend to understand the strategy there. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the 3 dogs, yet. With several good villains to choose from (The Leader, The Abomination, etc.) the filmmakers choose to have the Hulk scrap with three mutated mutts, including a poodle. Maybe they were saving better foes for the sequel. Never save the good stuff for a film which may never happen.  BoG's Score: 4 out of 10

Hulking Trivia: cameos by Stan Lee & Lou Ferrigno as a pair of security officers; though this had a fairly large opening weekend at that time - $62 million - it also had one of the biggest 2nd weekend drops in attendance, almost 70%, to only $19 million; its final gross of $132 million places it on the lower rung of grosses for Marvel Super-Hero movies, far below Spider-Man, Iron Man and X-Men. The 2008 reboot featured a new cast, but didn't gross more, and then the Hulk returned in the very popular Avengers film of 2012.
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