A brilliant genetic scientist working with cutting-edge technology absorbs a normally deadly dose of gamma radiation which, when combined with his own altered DNA, turns him into an impossibly strong, rampaging creature known as the Hulk.
Based on a series of six Marvel Comics created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in 1962, The Hulk revolves around a scientist named Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), who, following a laboratory snafu, absorbs a normally deadly dose of gamma radiation. Bruce thinks he has escaped unscathed--until he gets mad ... real mad, which causes him to turn into a huge, rampaging green monster known as the Hulk. In order to make this 40-year-old gamma theory somewhat more believable for today's science-savvy moviegoers, screenwriter James Schamus and his team decided to arm the script with a somewhat more convincing scientific rationale. The story follows Bruce's father David Banner (Nick Nolte), who, as a young scientist conducted prohibited genetic experiments on himself, thus changing his son's life before he was even out of the womb. While modernizing the scientific reasoning behind Bruce's transformation makes sense, it's a pity it had to be done in such a heavy-handed way. By adding such an elaborate layer to the story, The Hulk becomes more about Bruce and David's tormented past, and any semblance of a plot is buried in melodramatic dialogue between the characters. The result is a comic book adaptation that is much too serious for its own genre.
Despite the theatrical discourse, don't expect complex characters to emerge from The Hulk. Although Bana (Black Hawk Down) is a good choice for the lead of the nerdy scientist and reluctant hero, his character is so busy pretending he doesn't have any problems that the audience never gets to see his emotional side. Bana's character grimaces convincingly as he represses his anger, for example, but he fails ever to open up on a personal level to his love interest in the film, his co-worker Betty, played by Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind). Betty is Bruce's old flame but the two are obviously still in love: she is obsessed with fixing whatever is broken about him. As the Hulk, Bruce need only look at Betty once for his anger to subside and allow him to morph back into human form. They have weighty discussions about the significance of their dreams and Bruce's past, yet they never seem to connect on any level. One of the film's best performances comes from Nolte (The Good Thief) in the role of Bruce's mad scientist father David. Almost Shakespearean at times, Nolte--scraggly hair and all-- completely immerses himself in the role. The cast's performances, however, are muted by the general heaviness of this would-be actioner. Look for quick cameo appearances by Lou Ferrigno (from the 1970s TV series The Incredible Hulk) and Marvel legend Stan Lee.
For his follow-up to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee has turned to bigger, greener matters. The Hulk, the director's visual effects-intense picture (with a little help from Industrial Light & Magic), is stunning and startlingly well done. The green beast's computer generated movements, from his heaving chest to the single leaps that spring him well into a different zip code, are convincingly real. Not only does the ground shake when this goliath lands, but his momentum even throws him off balance at times, sending his lumbering arms flailing. But while the CGI Hulk has been meticulously honed, Lee's homage to the world of print comic books--using multiple screens to present concurrent storylines and alternate angles of the same scene--is off-putting: Rival researcher Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) suspiciously walks out of the lab, Betty reacts in one panel, Bruce sits back in another. The simultaneous screens don't necessarily show anything pertinent going on, making the far and wide, close and medium shots of the character's reactions a distraction rather than a helpful storytelling technique. But the most disconcerting thing about the film is that, in its leap from the four-color paneled pages to the big screen, it lost its wit.
Although Ang Lee successfully brings the green giant from the pages of Marvel Comics to life on the big screen, The Hulk loses itself in a heavy-handed story, and the characters' inner turmoil will make your own head hurt.