U.S. Release Date: June 20, 2003
Distributor: Universal
Director: Ang Lee
Writer: Michael France, James Schamus
Producer: Avi Arad, Kevin Feige ((executive)), Larry J. Franco, Gale Anne Hurd, Stan Lee (executive)
Composer: Danny Elfman
Cast: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (sci-fi action violence, some disturbing images, brief partial nudity)

The Introspective Hulk
by Scott Holleran

Director Ang Lee attempts to breathe new life into the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde theme of the comic book character The Incredible Hulk, and he succeeds better than one might expect. Fans of the comics are likely to be pleased with, if not thrilled by, Lee's father/son psychodrama, The Hulk.

Others will find it overwrought. But there is something for everyone, including, for The Hulk's first half, an interesting story and some stylized strokes for the comic book genre.

Lee (The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is always more interested in the striking visual than in the perfect plot, and The Hulk is another example. His scenes rotate, blend and split seamlessly, evoking the comic book style with a master's touch. Though Lee gets carried away—the multiple shot style is sometimes distracting—his gentle approach works.

The opening sequence explains the Hulk's origins, which stem from a father's passion for science. Army scientist David Banner (Paul Kersey) is striving to produce a regenerating human and, against the wishes of base commander Ross (Todd Tesen), Banner conducts the experiment on himself. Before he completes his studies, Banner's wife (Cara Buono) tells him she's pregnant, which raises interesting (and unanswered) ethical questions about Banner's self-experimentation. Baby Bruce Banner is born with catastrophic results.

Exactly what happened on the base fuels the plot as it moves to the present. Bruce Banner—having been raised by adoptive parents—has grown up to be a scientist (intense Eric Bana) working on enhancing human physiology using something called "nanomeds." Banner is assisted by Betty Ross (a gaunt Jennifer Connelly), who happens to be the Army commander's daughter and the object of Bruce's affections.

Just as the puzzle of Bruce's past catches up to the present—with help from Bruce's real father (Nick Nolte, looking like his mug shot) and Betty's Army dad (gruff Sam Elliott), a laboratory accident triggers Bruce's inner Hulk—a state brought on by his repressed anger breaking free—and all hell breaks loose in comic book green. Remarkably, Lee holds off producing the Hulk on screen for almost an hour.

Cinematically, the Hulk is fine—he's expressive, he's thunderous and he jumps—though the transition isn't always smooth. It's unclear how and why the Hulk returns to being Bruce Banner, who emerges from Hulkhood with and without clothes and no explanation. The Hulk, apparently, is impenetrable to bullets but not to thin air. Does that mean his skin regenerates but his lungs don't? Don't ask about the oversized feet.

The puzzle of Bruce's identity doesn't come together, and it doesn't matter as much as we've been led to believe. Lee unleashes a staggering series of subplots (Bana's and Connelly's romantic tension dissipates) and mere suggestions of mixed themes: making money is bad, primitive is good, man is puny. Something for everyone becomes something to please everyone.

The Hulk's villains, Nolte's mad scientist father and a greedy businessman (blow-dried Josh Lucas, who is wasted), both wind up looking ridiculous. Nolte's woozy, rambling speech is the movie's worst scene. Cast standouts include Kersey as the young David Banner and Celia Weston as Bruce's adoptive mother.

The Hulk's action, heightened by Danny Elfman's tense score, is exciting, casting is good, and it's refreshing to see comics creator Stan Lee's Hulk character portrayed as an emblem of the scientist's unsolved equations, not as a full-fledged Frankenstein.

Ang Lee creates a successful transformation of man to monster and, for a while, he gives it depth as part of a quest for man's best. But he also neglects to follow through on a single theme, which makes it impossible to care about the Hulk, Bruce Banner or their larger than life adventures.

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