Review: The Hulk

In late April, I was feeling concerned because all of my reviews had been favorable. I wrote in that review "At this point, you are wondering if I ever pan a film."

The time has come, the movie is The Hulk and to cut to the quick, don't waste your money.

If you see 52 movies this year (basically what I see in an average year), I would suggest waiting until you are sick, in bed, in the middle of the day with no cable and must choose between watching The Hulk on network TV or watching a copy of Nightfall on video tape.

Let me give you a basic rationale:

To start with, it's always difficult to do the introductory movie for any long-running series of books or comic books. Comic books seem particularly bad because they tend to have a lot of characters, but that was helped along a bit by the relatively small number of main characters in The Hulk. Generally, in films like X-Men, you have a lot of characters to set up and quite a bit of background information to give. In that film, it was actually done well by letting the information filter in through each of the characters until you had a sufficient basic understanding of the premise. The Hulk, on the other hand, takes a relatively simple premise and provides a very lengthy introduction in the form of the initial sequence, followed by "dramatically" drawing out some of the key elements. I put dramatically in quotes, because they have broken the important barrier between drama and torture. This film is so slow and self-involved that it scarcely ever gets to a point fast enough.

Which brings me to my next point, this film is infatuated with its own film- making cleverness. In Star Wars (the original), George Lucas was hailed for making use of certain archaic transitions in a modern film because of the dramatic effect and because they were appropriate to his serial genre. Quite frankly, somebody let the director (Ang Lee of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame) too close to a copy of Final Cut Pro. The man was so enamored of various fly-in and box transition effects, not to mentione partial split screen that it was excruciatingly distracting. Now, in deference to Roger Ebert, and the rest of the film reviewing community, I realized as I was sitting in the film what was being done. I thought, "Hmmm. How cleaver, he's using the floating box transitions to give us the feeling of a comic book." I also realized that I'd completely disengaged from the film in order to make that observation. Instead of the Star Wars transitions, that revealed the new worlds in a way that kept the excitement up, I felt the busyness of the box transitions was so intense that at the first sight of them, I would cringe and fall out of whatever suspension of disbelief I had accumulated at the time.

Speaking of time, let's talk about length. There's no reason this film needed to be longer than two hours (or, for that matter, longer than the first episode of the 1980's TV series). I found myself looking at my watch at least a half-dozen times, half hoping it would be over and half calculating whether there was time to save the film in the remaining time. Unfortunately, it wasn't saved. As the film went on, the pace did quicken a bit, but the movie was intolerably slow throughout, and lacked scenery enough to make it worthwhile. Makes you wonder what they spent $120M on.

Let's talk physics. I know, you are wondering where my willing suspension of disbelief went. Well, when the set-up is that the movie is to represent mysticism (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), then I revel in the gravity- defying portrayals. However, in a film that is supposedly set in modern-day America with a cast that is predominately scientists and where they talk scientific mumbo-jumbo regularly, I expect somebody to have paid attention to getting the physics relatively correct. The Hulk's strength is supposed to come from actual strength, not from mind power. As such, I expect to see feats of strength relative to the muscle mass and total mass relationship. I'm not suggesting that if something couldn't have been lifted by Lou Ferrigno it shouldn't have been in the film, but I do suggest that the leaping and landing sequences were terribly an jolted me back to reality every time.

Then there was the acting. It wasn't as bad as many of the effects. Sam Elliot did a great job portraying his character of the general/father whose daughter is in love with the man-cum- beast, but I hope he sticks to better work in the future. Eric Bana, who plays Bruce Banner, Hulk's alter-ego, is hard to evaluate, because the Bruce character is supposed to be cold and distant, which is achieved with aplomb, but it is hard to tell if that part couldn't have been played just as well by an actor with a history of cold and distant portrayals. We'll see if/when he gets another film.

The most interesting performance is that of Nick Nolte. During much of the film, where he plays Bruce's father, David, he provides a complex, but over-the-top portrayal. In typical Nolte fashion, the emotions are only slightly under the surface and he does a good job of letting the audience know. However, as the end of the film rolls around, there is a scene that looks like it was taken out of a one-man or two-man off-broadway play about a communist renegade captured in South America and placed in solitary confinement for years where his only acknowledgment of his existence is screaming his ideological principles at the invisible guards. A bit much.

All-in-all, I'd suggest there are many better films out there in just about any genre this week and you should choose one of them. If you haven't seen it, maybe you should try Bend it like Beckham, since the story line got an added boost this week by the player moving to Spain..html