Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Hulk (2003)

This is the first time that I’ve seen this, and having heard a lot of criticism, I really expected to dislike the film. I was pleasantly surprised. There are certainly problems with it, but nothing so fatal as to deserve some of the vitriol poured on to it. Sandwiched between the wonderful Crouching Tiger, and the audacious Brokeback Mountain, Hulk was a very interesting playground for director Ang Lee; and he certainly brings a certain style to the film.

The most obvious technique is the use of split screens to give the feel of a comic book. This works particularly well near the beginning of the film, especially when the same scene is shot from several angles. Some of the transitions between scenes were also very slick, and put me very much in mind of Ugly Betty (confession!). Most of the action is pretty good, in particular I thought the scene where Hulk is pulling apart the tanks was quite impressive; however the fight with the mutant dogs was a bit silly. Not as bad as I had imagined, having read about it, but underwhelming. Think King Kong fighting three T-Rexs, but on a much smaller scale!

I felt that the cast were a bit of a mixed bag. I’ve never read any of the comics, so the only Bruce Banner that I can compare Eric Bana’s to is Mark Ruffalo’s in The Avengers; however, Bana isn’t a patch on Ruffalo. Bana just looked bored and bemused for most of the film; he did look like he was getting a handle on things and looked more emotional when he returned to human form after a transformation, but then continued to sleepwalk his way through to the next appearance of the big guy. Jennifer Connelly was great as Betty Ross, she was a pleasure to watch, especially when she had scenes with the excellent Sam Elliott who plays her father. Nick Nolte is fairly crazy as Banner senior, and becomes even more crazy at the end, I just felt that more could have been made of his mutation. Certainly the best characters are the Ross father and daughter team, and if Connelly and Elliott hadn’t been as good as they are, the whole film could have been a total bust.

But this film is about the Incredible Hulk yes? So what of it? Well, he looks fairly cartoony, I don’t know whether this was a design choice or the CG just wasn’t that thorough; either way he looks pretty good. Except for the face. I’m not sure why, but when Bruce Bana (see what did there?) turns into the Hulk his face becomes that of a 14 year old boy! Actually looking at a picture now, I think he looks like an angry Harry Potter! I found this quite off-putting. The other problem came when he was jumping around, he really had no mass and he looked like a jelly bean or something just bouncing around Arches National Park. The size of the Hulk was quite inconsistent too, he seemed to grow or shrink depending if he had to look particularly intimidating or fit into some small tunnels.

Clocking in at 138 minutes Hulk isn’t a short film and while the pace didn’t bore me it could have easily lost 38 minutes and still been fine. Usually a longer film allows the exploration of the characters some more, but since we don’t find out that much of Banner’s history until later in the film, the extra time isn’t really necessary. Then after 130 minutes of story, Ang Lee obviously gave the script to a drunk monkey, because the end is very confused and silly! Banner senior bites a large power cable and transforms into some sort of huge energy monster. Hulk then drags him off to a lake somewhere, which freezes and then doesn’t, then both are contained in some big bubble which is then nuked by the military. Huh?

Having said that I did enjoy the film despite all its flaws: a couple of great performances, some good action scenes and a great style to the film. I’m now interested to see Louis Leterrier’s interpretation.