Monday, June 23, 2003


Yes... Yes, I liked The Hulk.

But first, let us talk of trailers. Sure, seeing the Legally Blonde 2 preview for the 100th time was painful ("hey, there's Bob Newhart in a movie I'll never see! Why, Bob, why?"). But The Punisher teaser looks like it may be worth watching (or at least, worth watching if your inclined to like The Punisher), and I do love the look of The Cat In The Hat, which seemed to have disaster written all over it. And I'm stunned at how great Peter Pan looks - I knew a live-action version was in the works, but this looks like it could be something really special. Meanwhile, Tomb Raider 2 is just coming out too late; I was actually pretty curious a month or two ago, but now I can't help but remember how much the first one stank.

And how hard would it be to cut a good trailer for The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen? You run the camera through a library - or, better yet, a 19th Century reading room - stopping occasionally at leather bound volumes of King Solomon's Mines, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, etc., with grainy black-and-white clips appearing on the side while the narrator intones "Allan Quartermain, the century's greatest adventurer... Willhemina Murray, the beloved of Dracula... Edward Griffin, a man made invisible by his own experiments..." - and so on until you reach the other side of the room and the League stands there - "What threat could bring them together?"- then cue some action scenes. Sell what's cool and unique about the movie, rather than the rather generic trailer that's playing now.

But, that's not the comic book movie I saw today. I saw The Hulk, and enjoyed nearly every minute of it. I'd been afraid that Ang Lee would make a somewhat restrained picture - I loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it was sort of "Sense And Sensibility with martial arts", as he himself described it, a very proper kung fu film. Instead, though, this movie embraces its comic book roots, from the lettering of the credits and intertitles to the great cameo by Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno to the brilliant transitions and split-screens. Lee didn't invent this - you see a lot of the techniques used on 24, or in Star Wars, or in film much older. But he does use it to keep the screen in motion; even when there's nothing going on but two people talking to each other, this still feels like an action movie. And when he uses it to show the Hulk bounding across the desert by having three backdrops... But no, the visual defies easy description despite being so simple - see it yourself.

The Hulk is the film's main special effect, and he's a doozy. There were one or two scenes that didn't feel right, but for the most part the Green Goliath is solid and moves like I'd expect a ten-foot-tall mass of muscle and rage to move. The monsters he gets to fight aren't quite so good - some gamma-irradiated dogs look borderline cartoony, and a villain based upon frequent Hulk sparring partner The Absorbing Man looks very cool at times and very lame at others. You'll get no complaint from me, though, about the film's main showpiece, when the Hulk escapes from an underground bunker and General "Thunderbolt" Ross sends the military out after him. It's big and exciting, straddling the line between fantasy and realism almost perfectly. Really, I'm not sure why the filmmakers found a need to tack another set piece on afterward.

Performances are good enough. Everyone gives exactly what their character needs: Sam Elliot makes Thunderbolt Ross a heck of a lot more interesting than the comic ever did, and Nick Nolte knows when to be mysterious and when to be theatrical as David Banner, Bruce's father. Jennifer Connelly is a great choice as Betty, smart and playful and fully aware that her involvement with Bruce is because she never was able to connect with her emotionally unavailable father. She also singlehandedly makes the "Hulk Dogs" sequence work by being absolutely convincing as a woman whose life has just turned into a scene from Jurassic Park. Eric Bana kind of gets the short end of the stick by design - I completely buy him as a repressed Bruce Banner, but whenever his character has a strong emotion, out comes the CGI. I am glad they went with an unknown, though - like Hugh Jackman in X-Men, I see Bruce Banner, not a movie star.

The screenplay takes liberties with the details of The Hulk's story, as created by Lee and Kirby, but I don't mind that. They took the basic themes - repressed emotion, science gone amuck, et al - and built a story that works as a movie. That it's partially a new story is a bonus - even longtime Hulk fans will have a chance to be surprised and astounded. No, it's not Stan Lee's Hulk (or Peter David's, or Bruce Jones's, or Mark Millar's...), but it being James Schamus's and Ang Lee's is no small thing.

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