- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jan
What happens when you hire a poet to direct a comic book action movie? You get
It sounds like an unlikely project to begin with: "From the director of
What is surprising about the film is Lee's inventive use of comic book framing devices. Instead of going for simplified imagery or an emphasis on primary colors, he turns the screen into a series of shifting frames that show us scenes from multiple perspectives. One scene leads to another with screen wipes that feel like turning a page. It's a wonderful, dizzying style, most of the time. But occasionally it becomes distracting, and later in the film it seems to disappear altogether.
But that is the only thing "comic" about the film. Lee asks us to take his characters seriously. His cast members convince us of the extraordinary things happening to them.
Eric Bana turns the temperamental Bruce Banner into a troubled adult who is afraid to unearth frightful repressed memories. But those memories hold the key to the secret of the monstrous transformation that comes over him when he gets angry. And what a transformation. The effects are sometimes awe-inspiring as Banner lets loose his angry inner child and suddenly resembles a green, overgrown toddler throwing a tantrum in his terrible twos. We may not understand how he got these abilities from a few "gamma rays" and some starfish genes, but hey, who wants to quibble about scientific gobbledygook when the Hulk puts on such a show!
When this happens, Bana portrays both fear at what is happening to him and a wicked glint of exhilaration at realizing what he can do. Thus the story asks us to admit the thrill we all can know in wielding power over others, and then to consider the consequences of such power and the need for responsibility. As the beautiful and brainy Betty Ross, Jennifer Connelly basically repeats her Oscar-winning performance from
In contrast to Betty's peaceful solution, her frowning father, the decorated General Ross (Sam Elliott), has been sent by the U.S. Government to apprehend the Hulk so the military can get its hands on his genetic secrets for weapons development. If Hulk proves too much trouble, though, Ross will have to destroy him. Elliott steers Ross away from being a stock villain, making him a complicated officer with good intentions and a grudge. The lesson here: military action is not an effective anger management technique. It's a timely and effective metaphor.
But the story's central lesson comes from the struggle between the Banners. Bruce's father (Nick Nolte) is a mad scientist with a warped desire for power, and his genetic meddlings have had a hand in Bruce's strange development. When Bruce finally uncovers the truth about his origins, he marches toward a spectacular confrontation in which the full consequences of his father's sins will threaten to consume them both.
The Hulk's rampages are an amazing feat of special effects and choreography. You can't take your eyes off him, even if the animation is occasionally undercooked. (At times he's a convincing, complex, superhuman brute, and at others he looks more like Shrek's crazy uncle or a Jolly Green Mr. Hyde.) Audiences will cheer as Hulk takes on pit bulls that look like they're literally "from the pit" and then again as he takes on a troop of tanks in the desert. Lee once again indulges his love of heroes who can soar through the sky—Hulk's mile-long leaps are exhilarating.
These sequences offer some relief from the poorly written, angst-heavy dialogue of the in-between scenes. I have no problem with the plot, and I like action movies that take their time. But the lines these talented actors must deliver are bland and often silly. The film's weakest link is Nick Nolte's crazed genetic engineer, who is prone to melodramatic rants that become inadvertently funny. And the film's culminating confrontation between power-mad father and tormented son overtaxes our imaginations, venturing too far into the implausible and abstract to be compelling.
In spite of these disappointments, it is exciting to see another comic book movie going beyond the call of duty to challenge audiences and give them more to think about than the typical summer blockbuster. Ang Lee's
Nevertheless, there are some remarkable things about this challenging, ambitious comic-book/art film.
Dick Staub (Culture Watch) muses, "When you strip away all the special effects, at a very significant level this is a story about fathers and children. Banner's father clearly wants to move beyond the boundaries established by God and makes a vague reference to the role of human religion in making the human soul inferior. His 'mad scientist' mentality is shaped by man's age-old desire to 'be God.' In
Jay Levitz (Christian Spotlight) says, "Don't believe the Hulk is demonic, despite his green, frightening appearance. He's the true nature of all human flesh made manifest—self-serving, cunning, and evil. This is one film where Hollywood gets sin right. There is no 'power within' Bruce Banner to help him conquer the monster who keeps rearing its ugly head each time he gets angry. Only love seems to appease him. The Hulk is a frightening, relevant reflection of a society willing to defy God in pursuit of more power, of fathers deserting and destroying their own offspring, and of children seeking ways to move beyond their parents' self-serving power struggles in order to find real life and hope."
Both Mike Furches and David Bruce review
While I thought the film's finale was a major letdown, I too appreciated its spiritual metaphors, forays into mythology, and questions of a moral nature. My full review is at Looking Closer.
But Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "Lee seems to be reaching for a profundity that neither the film nor its actors can support. [He] eventually reaches too far, and the film ends as a muddled excess of sound and fury … signifying nothing."
Anne Navarro (Catholic News Service) says, "Lee's steady hand in the first half of the film uncharacteristically shakes in the latter part as the script becomes overwhelmed in its attempt to tie together too many loose plot strands."
Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) says, "It's too talky and about 30 minutes too long. Lee's overuse of comic book-style visuals … becomes a distraction. So instead of drawing us into their world, Lee constantly reminds us that we're on the outside watching a comic book, which distances us emotionally from what's going on."
Ted Baehr (
Michael Medved (Crosswalk) concludes, "[
Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says, "I went to this movie expecting it to be an action-packed, thrill-a-minute adventure, but what I didn't expect was how intense, dark, and violent it turned out to be. Granted, I realize this story is about a dark character, but somehow I remembered the TV show being a little lighter and funnier."
Mainstream critics debate Hulk's strengths and weaknesses here.