A review of “The Hulk” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for extreme intensity and violent situations

Run Time: 2 hours, 18 minutes

 

 

Hands-on auteur Ang Lee has mastered the seemingly impossible, crafting a slick and brooding screen version of the repressed Marvel Comics superhero Hulk.

The A-list support staff doesn’t hurt.  From a magnificently fluid Danny Elfman score to Industrial Light & Magic’s accomplished CGI, “Hulk” has got the edge on the tepid summer cinema scene. 

A well-executed first hour sets the stage with style.  Bruce Banner comes into the world as the son of an eccentric scientist who’s making clandestine mischief with lab DNA.  Since Dad got passed over for that grant and has been experimenting on himself, it’s only natural for Bruce to have inherited Dad’s “gifts”. 

The adult Bruce (Eric Bana) is a sexy nerd with a brilliant scientific mind, toiling away in a nuclear biotechnology lab in Berkeley alongside the brainy and beautiful Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly).  Bruce and Betty’s on-again, off-again romance is heightened by the pleasure of a near-breakthrough in animal cell regeneration. But a tragic lab accident alters the landscape, nearly killing a co-worker and dealing Bruce a serious steroid setback and a tendency to turn green and mean.

Up to this point the film is sheer brilliance, punctuated by unique transitions, master technique and an efficient, laid-back quality.  Dream sequences of nightmares past (what really happened to Bruce’s birth parents?) are a pastiche of vibrant color and tension.  The weird factor is ratcheted up a la a deliciously freakish turn by Nick Nolte as long-lost-daddy David Banner, the voice of doom.

Once the genetic alteration is unleashed on the world, it’s a conventional cacophony of CGI and mayhem.  Hulk leaps and bounces with desperate abandon while fleeing the armies of tanks and heavy artillery that seek to destroy him.  The underwhelming subtext is that Hulk is misunderstood, but the symbiosis of Bruce and his alter-ego is too remote an affiliation to connect the dots.  A couple of traumatic battle scenes (Hulk vs. mutant dogs, Hulk vs. the SFPD) more than earn their PG-13 rating, pushing the envelope of adolescent-acceptable carnage.

Performances are top-notch, with Bana and Connelly fanning the flames with unobtrusive desire, and the aforementioned Nolte and Sam Elliott (as Betty’s distant father-figure General “Thunderbolt” Ross) playing it over-the-top as arch enemies with disreputable pasts.

Lee’s imprint is on every frame; pulsing with passion and the desire to construct the best product possible (as opposed to keeping an eye on the bottom line).  A noble and skillful effort in a season sorely lacking them.