Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Incredulous Hulk!

Staying in the Marvel Universe, we decided to give Ang Lee's Hulk a try. I want to start by asking, "Why?" Who thought up giving this movie to a director known for his sensitive family relationship dramas like Eat Drink Man Woman and Brokeback Mountain? Did some producer say, "Get me that Chinese director", thinking of John Woo? OK, it was probably his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but still.

In Lee's version (Ang, not Stan), the Hulk's story goes back to his childhood, when his atomic scientist father does genetic experiments on himself before conceiving like Bruce Banner. Then, when Bruce is a toddler in Almagordo, he is exposed to the blast of a nuclear test. Much later, as a grad student at Berkeley (yay, location shooting), he ingests nanomeds and is finally belted by gamma rays. If that won't turn you into the Hulk, nothing will.

So, what does this art-house director bring to the tale of the Jolly Green Giant? I'd say two things. First, and least important, he gives the flashback scenes in New Mexico a lovely 50s/60s sheen of nostalgia, moderne, and suburban desperation. He seems to have a real talent for this. Is this what The Ice Storm is like?

More importantly, he uses camera and editing techniques to make film inspired by comic book style. The most obvious is splitting the screen into comic style panels. But there are also quick camera movements and zooms that shift perspective as if from one panel to the next. Colors paly an interesting role too.

As for the Hulk itself, and other special effects, I'd say they are both convincing and effective. Hulk looks like Hulk, but you can see a little of Eric Bana (who plays the human side) as well.

Bana is a bit of a cypher, he comes across as blank nerd. But I understand this was an acting decision - Bana is usually known as an action hero. His girlfriend Betty Ross is played by Jennifer Connelly, who also seems to be dialing down the charisma - going for repressed?

Her dad, General Ross is Sam Elliott, as perfect as can be. Banner's dad is played by Nick Nolte, looking just like his famous mugshot. He makes a great mad scientist, trying to love his son, but much too crazy.

In fact, the two fathers might be the heart of this film: Ross, who loves his daughter and will destroy anything that he thinks threatens her, even the Hulk. Whereas Banner's dad is interested in science first, then his own success, then much further down the line, his son. And he may only love his son because he was a successful experiment.

So, great movie, good action, moving family drama. But as a Hulk movie, not so great. Sure, eventually Hulk smash. But he doesn't even appear until 40 minutes into the movie.


mr. schprock said...

Reading this makes me want to see it again. Leaving the theatre, I predicted there wouldn't be a Hulk 2, because the pacing on that one should have killed the franchise while still in the womb. However, it turned out there was a second Hulk movie, this time with Edward Norton, and I thought they finally got it right . . . but I guess I was wrong again, because even the studio considered this second Hulk a lost cause. Ah, poor Hulk. Him so misunderstood. Me wish for more Hulk.

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

The way I see it, the Ed Norton Hulk movie was a better Hulk movie, but the Ang Lee was a better movie. But a much worse Hulk movie.

Although he did get to whoop the heck out of a bunch of tanks...