Hulk (2003) Review
Bruce Banner: He wanted me to change into that mindless hulk. Why would he want that?
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
Back in a time when the Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe were merely dreams (if they were even that), director Ang Lee released the first movie take on the hero known as the Hulk. This would easily turn out to be one of the biggest comic book movie mistakes ever made. It proved to be too dramatic and slow paced and just overall boring. Which is no easy task considering Hulk is simply a giant green monster that smashes things. So let’s take a look at this awkward experiment.
Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is a scientist with repressed memories of his childhood. Working alongside him on an experiment regarding gamma radiation is his ex-girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly). When the experiment goes horribly wrong Bruce is exposed to the gamma radiation causing him turn into the mindless giant green monster known as the Hulk whenever he gets angry. Over the course of the movie Hulk finds himself going up against a series of villains including the United States military led by General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Sam Elliot), Glen Talbot (Josh Lucas), and Bruce’s own father David Banner (Nick Nolte).
The main problem with the movie is that it spends too much time on the origin story with there not being enough of the Hulk (given that he’s the title character). It drags on with the characters talking about things such as Bruce’s repressed childhood memories, the memories he has with Betty, etc. There’s no sense of excitement or development within the characters. It’s not until 45 minutes in to the movie that we actually get to see the Hulk. This would work if the scenes prior had any build-up towards it but not only do they connect very to the Hulk but when he first transforms it’s seems to happen out of nowhere.
The movie also attempts to give all sorts of weird scene transitions in trying to recreate the feeling of a comic book. So the movie overlaps with side-by-side shots, speed lines, and the elements of space and time. A few of the transitions are look kind of cool but there are problems with them as well. The transitions are all over the movie so it’s very distracting from the world the movie is trying to provide. What’s worse is that the wacky transitions don’t match up with the tone of the movie.
The action in this movie is ok to say the least. The battle in the desert against the military is one of the better things about the movie. It’s cool to see the Hulk throw some tanks and go on a massive rampage smashing things. Alas that is the only good action scene in the movie. The first action scene against the dogs mostly comes across as silly which I don’t think was intentional. They’re supposed to be intimidating but they just look goofy. The final action scene against Bruce and his father is easily the worst of the three. There is very little leading up to it as the movie doesn’t focus on much of any conflict between them. And it’s impossible to see what’s going on throughout the battle.
Eric Bana as Bruce Banner and Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross aren’t very interesting characters nor are their performances very charismatic or entertaining. Both their performances come across as bland. When Bruce expresses the pain and horror as the Hulk he doesn’t have much conviction in what he’s saying. And when there’s little to no interest in the characters there can’t be much interest in the story.
Josh Lucas as Glen Talbot doesn’t have much to him either. He’s mostly just a generic rival and bully to Bruce. He’s just spends most of the movie trying to get in the way of Bruce’s experiments and steal Betty.
Sam Elliot as General Ross and Nick Nolte as David Banner are all right villains. Ross plays the part very well as a man with a military man with a vengeance. Nick Nolte as David Banner is also a good villain being a ruthless, diabolical, cold-hearted individual. And there are times where he’s hamming it up so much to the point that it’s unintentionally funny.
The CGI Hulk is to be frank bad. Sure it’s expressive but the Hulk himself doesn’t look all that realistic so it’s difficult for the audience to be in the moment with him during his scenes.
Hulk despite having some neat visuals, cool action, decent villains, and a few clever scene transitions is bogged down by an uninteresting story and uninteresting heroes. The director may have found his footing again with other movies years after this one but much like Bruce Banner it made many comic book fans angry and would continue to haunt them for years to come.