A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 232 – Hulk (2003)

Hulk (2003) – October 18th, 2010

I will freely admit that nowhere in my dalliances with comic books have I delved into The Hulk’s canon. The closest I’ve ever gotten is the occasional guest cameo in other storylines. I know enough about the character to have the basics down. Dude was exposed to gamma radiation and subsequently when he got mad he got all green and muscley. Yeah, I got that. I always assumed it was a reference to Jekyll and Hyde, and as far as I can tell Stan Lee has flat out stated that. Jekyll and Hyde combined with Frankenstein’s monster. Classic horror movie stuff. But neither one has ever been my thing. Bruce Banner’s cool, all brainy mild mannered scientist, but eh. If I may steal a line from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I don’t like men with too many muscles.

As a result of me not being particularly interested in the Hulk as a character, I’ve never bothered to watch any of the film or television versions until now. This one included. Sure, I’ve seen clips from the television show, but the movies just weren’t priorities for me. I’d heard this one was a mite bit slow and somewhat thoughtful. More concerned with the psychology of the Hulk than the smashing. And that’s fairly true. The movie takes a bit to get going. As you might guess, I’m not really a great resource when it comes to speaking to accuracy to the comic canon for the character, so I’ll just speak to the movie itself. And it is on the slower side. There’s a lot of talking and thinking and meaningful looks and flashbacks. There’s a romance built into the movie’s plot and that, along with some repressed memories, make for a significant portion of the film’s thrust. I’m not sure about that choice. It’s an interesting one, and it makes for a deeper movie than I might have expected if I hadn’t heard exactly that.

In this movie, Bruce is a scientist whose childhood is largely unknown to him. He believes his biological parents to be dead and doesn’t really open up about anything even to his girlfriend. So they’re broken up, but they work together and it all seems like it would be horribly awkward, and it is, but that’s the point. Their work together is what catalyzes Bruce’s transformation into his Hulk form, but in this movie Bruce already had the potential for the transformation in him, thanks to work his father did before Bruce was born. And I don’t know if that comes from any version of the comic canon, but I kind of like the idea. It makes for a Bruce/Hulk with some deep-seated psychological issues, and makes the whole division between his two forms more of a metaphor. I think it really always was, but it’s emphasized here. Purposefully. Because that’s a lot of the focus of the movie. It wasn’t done and cast aside. It’s a big deal from beginning to end. Bruce’s issues are dealt with bit by bit, but never completely. We hear about how closed off he is as a child and then still as an adult, since that’s Betty’s major complaint about him. And she’s the one who tries to help him later on, exploring some of the sources of his memories in order to try and get control over himself.

This whole approach also gives some material for the villain of the film. I don’t think it’s a big-ass deal to go explaining that Bruce’s father is not a great dude, and eventually goes full-on villain. And as villains go, he does a good job. He’s unstable, in more ways than one, and to be honest, I’m not even sure what his goals were in the end, but I’m not sure I need to know. He wanted to tear shit down. Destroy things. Get back at the military and government who wouldn’t let him do what he wanted. Okay. Not unique as villainous intentions go, but it works. The movie sets up Bruce’s father in one corner, and then Betty’s father as a high ranking military officer in another, and they’ve had dealings before, so that whole plot works rather well. The fathers, the children, the results of research that should never have happened, children rebelling against their parents. Great themes, and they’re worked in together nicely. Except there’s a secondary villain, and he’s where I think things get sloppy.

The two-pronged villain approach has been done in other movies, notably both of the Iron Man films. There’s a petty villain and the true villain, superpowered if we’re going that way, and we are here. I just don’t know if this movie really pulls it off. I think I like it best when the petty villain has some connection to the true villain, or at least fits into his plot somehow. But in this movie our petty villain is a man named Talbot. He seems to have some sort of background with Betty, and he runs some big company that wants to buy Bruce and Betty’s lab and take over their research. It’s implied that he works with the military, but isn’t military himself, so there’s some rivalry between him and Betty’s father, but we’re never given much on him. Talbot and our main villain here are pretty disconnected. The only things they have in common are connections (somewhat antagonistic) to Betty’s father and wanting to use Bruce/the Hulk for their own purposes. Talbot gets his ass kicked six ways to Sunday and he’s really not too bright when you get down to it, so he really is petty. He seems less a villain than a tool, and a clumsy one at that. His whole role in the movie bothered me. It felt disjointed and poorly incorporated into the rest of the movie, I think because it had so few connections with the rest of the background plot and because it doesn’t play into the more serious aspects of the story at all.

I liked some aspects of this movie. I liked that it tried to so some serious looking into the character and that it still had fun action scenes. I can’t complain about the performances. Eric Bana did well with the split character of Bruce/Hulk, and Jennifer Connolly did a nice job with Betty. Nick Nolte seems to have jumped right into the role of Bruce’s father, and Sam Elliott was great as Betty’s father. And those are the truly important roles. But there were bits that felt uneven. The Hulked-out dogs and Talbot being the most notable. They’re weak and/or silly in a movie that’s dealing with strong and serious issues. I’m all for adding some tongue-in-cheek nods to the pulpy comic canon and background of the material. Cameos by Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno in the beginning are the right touch there. But a giant snarling poodle getting smashed into green dust (what, are they fungi now?) just don’t fit for me. It left me frustrated. Maybe if I loved the character and the canon I’d have let it go, or maybe it would bug me more. I don’t know. But I’m not so into the story that I can overlook some unevenness in the plot. So while I liked the movie fine, it just doesn’t excite me. But I guess since I’m not a fan of the original comics, they didn’t make it for me.

October 18, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 1 Comment

Hulk (2003)

October 18, 2010

Hulk (2003)

This movie is an enigma to me. Ever since it came out it’s been a punchline – a joke about what a colossal failure the movie was. People said that the film was too cerebral. That it didn’t have enough action or enough Hulk or something. I’ve just never understood it. True, you don’t get to see the big green lug until more than forty minutes into the film, but that’s just sort of in the nature of an origin story. Maybe the problem lies in the liberties that have been taken with the cannon?

Amanda’s talking in her review about how she never really was exposed to the Hulk. I’ll admit that I never read any of the Hulk comic books, but he was very much a part of my youth. Staples of my Saturday morning cartoon viewing were the Hulk cartoons of the eighties. I watched the live action Hulk on TV every week. (It was part of a youth oriented block of programs on Chanel 25 – The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman and Buck Rogers.) So, yeah, I kind of grew up with Bruce Banner and his alter-ego and his constant battle with his own nature. There’s a certain simple rhythm to a Hulk episode. Banner arrives in some new location. He befriends the locals. The military (or some other group of nefarious bad guys) shows up and causes havoc either in the pursuit of the Hulk or for their own reasons. Banner hulks out and the Hulk wreaks havoc. Then Bruce has to go into hiding again before his past can catch up with him, leaving his new found friends. It must have been a challenge for the writers to keep such a simple and monotonous theme fresh.

So, no, in the end this isn’t just another Hulk episode. Oh, it is exactly what you would expect from a big budget movie version of the franchise. The Hulk does battle with the entire power of the U.S. Military. He fights a mega-powered super-foe. But at the same time something new needed to be injected into the formula, and in this case what they’ve decided to insert is a heaping helping of back story. The Bruce Banner of this movie is haunted by nightmares that stem from some traumatic event that occurred when he was a young boy. Much of it comes from some event that happened at the end of the lengthy opening credit sequence. His father in this adaptation is a brilliant but mad scientist himself who was denied permission to expand his research into genetic modification with a goal towards developing regenerating immortal super-soldiers into human trials. (I can’t imagine why.) So like any self-respecting mad scientist the father experiments on himself – mutating his own genes and passing on the mutation to his son. Then there’s a falling out with the military officer who commands the base on which Dr. Banner is working and all his research is eliminated – in a rage Dr. Banner returns home and does… something which isn’t really explained until about two thirds of the way through the movie.

The upshot of this whole thing is that thirty years later, when Bruce – the son – is working on experiments involving gamma rays and “nanno meds” (which are some kind of microscopic healing agent) the inevitable disaster that should have killed him actually awakens some potential hidden in his altered genetic code. This, blended with the mysterious (but heavily telegraphed) traumatic event in his childhood, is what creates the Hulk. I actually think all of this works quite well. The only bit of the plot that feels odd to me is the strange coincidence that finds Bruce Banner working on his experiments with the daughter of the officer that first put the kibosh on his father’s experiments. A girl, by the way, who was supposedly on the same military base the Bruce was born on. Still – such synchronicities happen in this kind of movie so I can pretty easily ignore it. I like that there’s a bit more of a background to the event that creates the Hulk than just the magic of irradiation. Massive doses of radiation might have been enough to explain super heroes in the comic books of the sixties, but nowadays they’re more likely to explain cancer and corpses – so it’s nice to have at least an attempt to explain why Bruce is so special.

I will admit that much of the dialog in the movie has all the subtlety of a hammer blow to the face. At the start of the movie when Betty Ross is talking to Bruce about why they just broke up (which break-up never really makes sense in that there is never any feel that there’s any friction of any kind between the two characters) the lines are almost wince-inducing. Luckily that ham-fisted dialog is coming from the mouth of the very accomplished Jennifer Connelly, and she manages to make it almost work. Indeed the casting throughout this movie is very well done. Sam Elliott is perfect as Betsy’s steely-eyed military father. He’s great at playing the driven man with a purpose (although having already reviewed Ghost Rider both Amanda and I chuckled when he referred to Bruce as “cursed.”) Bruce’s father is played by a very creepy and dishevelled Nick Nolte. (No doubt you will recall the mugshots from that time – apparently Nick is a method actor and didn’t get out of character.) Bruce Banner himself is played by Eric Bana, who does a great job of acting like a timid guy with a raging temper he is afraid to let go. And the Hulk is played – Andy Serkis style – by director Ang Lee in a motion capture suit.

I recall that most of the promotional material from Universal at the time this movie was released concentrated on the gritty realism of the digital Hulk created by the wizards at ILM. For the most part I think that those special effects worked well. There are a LOT of effects shots in this movie. After that long build up over the first forty minutes the Hulk does get to wreak some big-budget movie mayhem, and I enjoy watching it unfold. He has a sense of mass and power to him which sells it I think. It’s just fun to watch the Hulk ripping apart a military base, beating up tanks and helicopters and generally being responsible for massive amounts of property damage. (The battle with a trio of silly looking Hulk Dogs works somewhat less well… really that bit should have ended up on the cutting room floor, but maybe they spent too much money on the scene to lose it?) I even like the final father/son confrontation – even if it has a bit of a quick cop-out ending.

One thing that definitely stands out about this movie is the almost experimental film techniques that Ang Lee employs. He breaks up the action into panels inspired by a comic book page a lot, which only really works about half the time. It’s an ambitious thing to have tried. Perhaps too ambitious. I understand what he’s going for, but in order to pull it off he needs to create an entirely new visual vocabulary, or at least find a way to transport that of a well established medium to film. Sometimes it does add to the action with its sense of frenetic pace and things going on simultaneously in several places, but much of the time it is simply jarring. Comic book artists have had decades to refine the art of composition on the page to allow the action to flow properly, and I don’t think that in the space of a single movie Ang could really hope to capture it too well. It’s an odd stylistic choice which certainly sets this film apart from everything else in the genre, but like I said it doesn’t quite work.

Overall though I have to say I enjoy this movie. It has some fun Hulk smashing action. It has some back story which makes it feel richer than your average comic book adaptation. It has a fantastic cast and some super special effects. Yeah, it’s not perfect, but I’ve never understood why it is so often lambasted. I’d say of the two Hulk movies I own it is the better one.

October 18, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment