Bruce Banner grew up on a military base in the 1960s, ending with something so horrible that, now in his 30s (Bana), he's repressed all memory of it. Raised by adoptive parents, he's now a brilliant scientist just like his forgotten father (Nolte) who now lurks around disguised as a janitor. Then an accident in his work with colleague Betty (Connolly) causes a change reaction that makes him turn into a hulking green monster when he gets angry. Betty's father (Elliott) is a gung-ho military man who strides in to take over, but his clean-up operation isn't as easy as he thought it would be. And Banner has a lot to discover about his past.
The significant difference between this and most comic book adaptations is its structure; until the requisite whopping final action sequence, Ang Lee completely rejects the Hollywood formula and focuses on the interpersonal drama and internal angst. This effectively draws us into the story and makes both Bruce and Betty into characters we can feel for. But it also hangs the entire film on two overwrought father-child relationships that never amount to much. This is a massive movie that's the length of a sweeping epic, and yet the plot would barely fill an after-school TV special. But it certainly doesn't look like one!
Lee's visual sense has always been assured, but here he combines his confidence with a busy, tricky style that plays delightfully with our eyes and brains. These are the kind of whizzy transition effects that are usually relegated to an opening title sequence, but Lee continues all the way to the end, turning scenes in on themselves, pushing and pulling us into one scene and then through another. It's exhilarating as it echoes comic book frames pulsing with energy, humour and raw life. But everything else is uneven.
Bana and Connolly hold down the dramatic centre nicely as the mopey-weepy Bruce and Betty, while Elliott is a complex and sympathetic semi-villain. But Lucas fares less well is the jealous hothead role, and Nolte veers wildly from intriguingly enigmatic to just plain nuts. And the hulk is patchy as well, sometimes goofily cartoonish and sometimes strangely realistic. Perhaps the main problem is with his incredible stretching trousers! Whatever, this is a film you have to see for yourself. It's perhaps the most original spin on a superhero movie since Tim Burton first tried his hand at Batman.
dir Ang Lee|
scr James Schamus, John Turman, Michael France
with Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Celia Weston, Cara Buono, Kevin Rankin, Paul Kersey, Todd Tesen, Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno
release US 20.Jun.03; UK 18.Jul.03
"You won't like me when I'm angry!" Connolly and Bana, below.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)
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