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Hulk

dir: Ang Lee
[img_assist|nid=1016|title=Someone needs a nice moisturiser. And maybe some conditioner. That must be why hes so angry all the time|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=324]
Ang Lee's Hulk is an incredible achievement, but not so incredible
when you consider the films the man keeps making. Upon first hearing
that Ang was making a comic-book adaptation I thought, "Great, they're
trying to turn Lee into a John Woo. Soon he'll be making Mission:
Impossible
films alongside Tom Cruise's healthy ego". I need not have
worried. Here he has made the film least likely: it's dramatically
compelling, it's incredibly well put together, it looks incredible
(which is kind of crucial for the film medium, I believe), and it
achieves a level of depth that is nothing short of amazing in a film
you were expecting to be nothing but action.

Essential to the story is the emphasis on various parent - child
dynamics, but central even more so than that is the idea that parents
can sometimes severely damage their own children unintentionally. Thus
the story focuses on two people whose fathers have left indelible
scars upon their psyches, and in one case the damage goes even deeper
than that.

Before I continue gushing I will say this: I cannot imagine this film
going over well with audiences in general. The subject matter is
treated seriously, there are few laughs and the action, when it comes,
occurs late enough in the film that many people's goodwill could have
been eroded with the first hour or so of dialogue and character
development. I'm sure there are plenty of people that want to just
watch the Hulk smash the shit out of everything without the need for
anything resembling an emotionally engaging plot. Thusly the enjoyment
factor is not the same type as that from, let's say, either of the X
Men
films or Spider-Man. Lee's Hulk does end up making those
previously mentioned films look fairly banal and trite in comparison.
It certainly doesn't have access to the same sense of fun that they
have.

And again I will say that as much as I loved it, a dear friend of mine
who I've been friends with since we were 14 thought the film was an
absolute bore. His opinion (he hated it) is completely at the other
end of the spectrum from mine though usually our film tastes are
pretty similar. So don't take my word for it. I may be completely
insane. At least that's what the doctors in the lab coats keep telling
me.

The character of the Hulk is something of an oddity in the superhero
genre, at least as portrayed here. He's not actually a guy with
superpowers who fights for Truth, Justice and the "Let's Have a War"
Way. He is a man whose "superpower" is not represented in his
conscious life. When he becomes the Hulk, generally against his will,
he has no control over it, and basically just sets about belting the
crap out of everything around him. When confronted with a stressor or
trigger, his own repressed nature forces the physical manifestation of
the beast that resides within to come forth and wreck vengeance upon
this earth. But its presence inside him is meant to illustrate that
which lurks within all of us. These various factors all combine to, at
certain times, strip back the layers of civilisation to reveal what
Robert E. Howard once poetically referred to as "the dark Barbarian
that towers over all". Of course alcohol tends to have the same effect
in my neighbourhood.

It becomes fairly obvious that the physical alterations that Bruce
Banner undergoes and the genetic changes passed on to him by his
father notwithstanding, the reason for the existence of the Hulk
persona is due to a horrific event in Bruce's childhood. Thus David
Banner's (played like a homeless crazy man by Nick Nolte) damage to
his son is twofold. Even though the man was 'trying' to do the right
thing, in both cases. In the first he wished to 'improve' his own son,
as do all parents, but not with the same access to technology. In the
second he had decided that the world needed to be protected from his
own creation, which leads to the tragic event in question.

The child grows up with foster parents, leading a relatively normal
life, but is reserved, almost standoffish, and a bit of a nerd. As an
adult we are introduced to him (played by Eric Bana) and his
ex-girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), who are doing a
light-hearted autopsy on their recently dead relationship. We learn
two things in between their seemingly idle banter: Bruce is
emotionally closed off in Betty's opinion, but also that she is
obsessed with emotionally inaccessible men, due to her own childhood.

They also throw in a bunch of details regarding their laboratory work
(they are scientists working on some nanotechnology project with
medical applications together), all in short order. I'm only
mentioning it because I thought it was decent scriptwriting to do so
in such an appropriate manner, it didn't come across as being forced
and is substantially elaborated upon as the film progresses. It's
refreshing to have a well-scripted film even with subject matter
substantially outside of the norm.

The plot needs no further synopsis, I will just say that at most times
the plot seems to be moving along in a manner that makes a lot of sense, even for
sci-fi, though they do throw in plenty of action staples that you'd
expect, nay, demand in a comic book adaptation. The funny part is that
those moments (the fight with the Hulk dogs, as an example) seem
almost out of place.

The fathers, both Bruce's and Betty's, come back into their kid's
lives, claiming to want to do the right thing and protect their kids
from harm, but essentially do it out of selfishness. Betty's father,
General Ross, is played perfectly by Sam Elliot, who is as always
superb. He doesn't really have to do much apart from look perpetually
pissed-off, but he does it well enough to give a sense of a character
as opposed to a plot device. His portrayal also ends up making sense
in terms of Betty's lingering issues in her life.

Much has been made of the use of complete CGI for the representation
of the Hulk, and I will say that all the crap people bleated on about
after seeing the initial trailers is just that: crap. The Hulk looks
and moves exceptionally well. To date it is the most comprehensive and
most believable use of an entirely CGI character, in my opinion, with
the possible exception of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings films.
This Hulk makes more sense, and is more decidely monstrous in the vein
of the original comics rather than a deaf body builder covered in
green paint like the TV series. I had no issues with the manifestation
of the Hulk, though I did notice that they cut costs noticeably by
having many of the Hulk's scenes set at night.

His physicality has a solidity that is generally lacking from CGI
creations. The texture mapping is excellent, he looks weighty and
three dimensional, and his face has a believable level of expression,
able to convey the few emotions that the Hulk requires (pure rage,
lesser rage, confusion, and maybe love).

And let's never doubt the transformative power of love, eh? Bruce and
Betty interact in a believable manner, and do the groundwork early on
for their interactions to have resonance later on. Eric Bana and
Jennifer Connelly are excellent in their roles, Eric because he knows
how to play the repressed guy and the guy whose rage sets him free. I
love Jennifer Connelly, so I can't really regard her performance
objectively. She is wonderful in everything as far as I can tell, and
she seemed to be good support to Bruce's raging sub-conscious.

I've been lamenting recently that the endings of films is where they
all seem to run out of steam or ideas. From my own point of view, I
think the ending to this film (the final Oedipal showdown) is
brilliant. Well, I could say that if I could understand it completely.
I can't honestly say that I got everything that was going on. I know
how it starts, and the symbolic impetus from the father's point of
view whose selfishness tries to unleash one final horror upon his own
child, but the way it is represented is surreal and unclear. The
outcome is not in dispute. But the imagery, whilst amazing, is
strange, and at least in my case, incomprehensible. I will need to
watch it again and have my seeing-eye dog explain it to me.

The Hulk also gets two lines of dialogue. I found the first line
amusing, and the last line utterly devastating. Suffice to say that
neither of the lines, the first of which is played more for a sardonic
laugh and a nod to the comic than anything else, is "HULK SMASH! The
second line, the scream of the child within at its parent, was like a
punch from one of Hulk's massive fists in my chest. A truly powerful
moment.

I guess I really shouldn't have been surprised at the imagery that is
in the film. Ang Lee directed The Ice Storm, after all, and in this as
well he uses landscape imagery and shots of desert flowers, rock
formations and twisted deadwood to symbolically enhance the
proceedings. The editing as well is nothing short of staggering. I'm
sure there are plenty of people who will consider its use gimmicky,
but I think it perfectly complemented the movie throughout its length
and didn't outstay its welcome at all. I'm sure the techniques are
going to be ripped off shamelessly over the next few years, but it is
an amazing achievement in and of itself.

Further towards the end of the film, where there is more action, I
felt that even that was 'filmed' and constructed in a beautiful
manner, and that the action was generally done in interesting ways
(including Hulk's battle with various tanks and helicopters, which was
amusing and entertaining at the same time). The Hulkster also takes a
short trip into the starry, starry night on top of a fighter plane,
which, apart from anything else, looked just amazing.

Truly, Ang Lee continues to amaze me. The man is so readily adaptable
to different genres, and consistently makes interesting films with
compelling characters. I shouldn't have feared that the same man that
made interesting films from a Jane Austen novel, a family story from
the 70s that has bad polyester and a key party, a story set during the
Civil War told from the point of view of Southern Bushwhackers, could
make a decent film out of a Marvel comic. I should have trusted in the
magic that is Lee. Ang Lee, not Stan Lee. Stan Lee is a loon of the
first order, and I laughed at his cameo with Lou Ferrigno at film's
beginning.

Of course, when the studio sees how much money they're going to lose
from this, he'll never work again. The audience I saw the film with
seemed to be predominantly scratching their heads and saying "What the
fuck was that all about?" whilst leaving the cinema disappointed and
feeling gypped. I don't blame them. Someone going in expecting popcorn
fun is going to hate the film. Someone wanting to watch something with
substance that blends the surreal with the primal might enjoy it. God
knows I did.

8 pairs of purple pants out of 10

--
"You're making me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry" - Hulk

Rating: