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The Hulk

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Hulk

Starring: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly
Director: Ang Lee
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 140 Minutes
Release Date: June 2003
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte, Brooke Langton, Cara Buono

Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

If you came of age during the 1950's not at all likely if you're part of the target audience for "Hulk" you probably got tired of hearing the concluding line of so many sci-fi movies from the works of James Whaley to the adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson: "Perhaps mankind was not meant to tamper with the laws of nature." Not such good advice: after all nature is neither neutral nor terminally beneficent. If we did not tamper with nature's laws, we'd be traveling to Europe by sailboat and communicating with smoke signals. Ah, but there's a difference, one that's cited right now in the headlines. Is it right to human beings to tamper with cells for the purpose of cloning other human beings? While politicians debate, Ang Lee's film could conceivably be used by the White House for ammunition against tampering. "Hulk," the not-so-jolly green giant who unfortunately bears a resemblance to Shrek, is a mammoth being with superhuman powers, able to resist bullets and possibly even a nuclear blast. Does he use his powers like Superman, Captain Marvel, or Wonder Woman? Alas, no. His aim, like that of the near-zombies in Danny Boyle's unscary horror pic "28 Days Later," is simple vengeance against those who torment. Like a Frankenstein monster who could be gentle to those who treat him well, Hulk has issues with the military and most of all with his own father. Some of the mostly teen audience of comic-book fans who should put "Hulk" at the top fo the box office list on opening weekend should find common cause with the anti-hero whose ultimate battle is with the man who abused him, his own dad. The theme of a female research worker who has her own reasons for feeling distant from her father should resonate with the young women who take their seats for this summer blockbuster.

Unlike Danny Boyle who makes little attempt to develop the characters in his "28 Days Later," Ang Lee a visually imaginative director whose resume is filled with arthouse works like "Sense and Sensibility" (about newly impoverished sisters, one forced to suppress her feelings of love), "The Ice Storm" (a chronicle of repressed and unleashed sexuality) and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (a stunning mixture of romance, epic, and martial arts) puts as much care into exploring Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) as he does in his scenes of mayhem. A scientist (Paul Kersey) dabbling in genetic modification passes his converted genes on to his the newborn son of his wife, Edith (Cara Buono). During the boy's first four years of life, an incident occurs that is so traumatic that he has repressed its memory and accepts the view that both of his parents had died. So repressed is this Bruce that he is unable to take his relationship with his co-researcher, Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) to the next logical step. When Bruce receives what should have been a fatal dose of gamma radiation but which he survives thanks to his mutated genes, feelings of inner rage emerge from his repressed, nerdish shell transforming him into Hulk a giant who can leap tall buildings with a single bound and laugh at bullets that bounce from his Charles-Atlas body like badminton cocks.

Though Ang Lee uses computer generated graphics to create the monster, he should have no problem in that he is, after all, following the conventions of comic books. Taking the comic- book sensibility to its limit, Lee uses the imagination previously exhibited in "Crouching Tiger" to create split screens and wipes to stunning effect, but never at the cost of focusing on the logical result of Bruce Banner's newly released energy.

Though "Hulk" is an original, the film borrows of course from James Whaley's Frankenstein monster, from Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and from Merian C. Cooper's 1933 film "King Kong," even from Philip Kaufman's "The Right Stuff." While the themes are interwoven, Ang Lee has really set down two movies: the better one involves the struggles against dad by Bruce, whose father, played by Nick Nolte, not only unwittingly causes the boy's mutation but even worse, stretches his limitless ego by pushing the lad to greater misdeeds) and by Betty, whose cold, calculating father played by Sam Elliott represents the essence of military thinking, one which served the mustachioed fellow well in earning him a generalship.

Surprisingly, the best scene occurs in the epilogue of the final minutes that finds a South America guerrilla suddenly challenged by an angry man while stealing medicines from a poor family. "Hulk" is still Lee in his "Sense and Sensibility" mode but the great director uses his imagination well to appeal to a much broader community.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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