STARRING: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Paul Kersey

2003, 138 Minutes, Directed by: Ang Lee

Description: Based on the Marvel comic created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. After accidental exposure to gamma radiation, scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) turns into the huge, green, and indestructible Hulk when provoked, and repressed childhood memories fuel his fury.

The two major strands of Hulk never really gel. On the one hand, Hulk is a serious drama about the emotional damage parents can inflict upon their children. On the other, it has a huge green monster hurling a U.S. army tank through the air the same way an Olympic athlete would throw a discus . . .

Hulk is of course based on the 1960s Marvel comic book of the same name about a mild-mannered, er, scientist who turns into a huge raging green monster whenever he becomes angry. “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry,” he warns one tormentor.

The Hulk movie is more inspired by the comics than by the late 1970s TV series (of which most people have tried to block their memories of). Interestingly enough, the character in the comics was named Bruce Banner while the one in the TV series was David Banner. I suppose TV execs didn’t think that Bruce was a macho enough name or something. I don’t know.

However, back in the 1960s said Bruce Banner turned into the Hulk after being bathed in gamma rays during an accident with nuclear bomb test.

"A schizophrenic affair, not certain whether it is a drama about parental abuse or King Kong . . ."

Nowadays, fear of the atom in science fiction has been superseded by a concern with genetic tampering. So cue a subplot of Oedipal proportions as a young Bruce is born with unexplained hereditary genetic deformities because his father (Nick Nolte looking like a homeless person) using himself as a human experimented upon himself.

After a very slow start, we finally have the Hulk battling mutant poodles, the U.S. army and Nick Nolte who has mutated into a CGI effect straight out of a 1980s Spielberg movie. However, all this makes the movie sounds very different from what it really is.

Nowadays Hollywood blockbusters earn megabucks at the box office on their opening weekend amidst a flurry of hype. Each successive weekend however, the box office tallies fall dramatically. Either because of bad word of mouth, or because practically everyone who had wanted to see the movie in the first place had done so already in that first weekend, or because of competition from other high-profile blockbusters. However, few movies fell as dramatically as Hulk did. In its first weekend in the USA, Hulk earned a staggering $62 million. The weekend after that, it fell to $18 million. And to $8 million the weekend after that!

Considering that the movie was budgeted at $120 million, it is doubtful that Hulk would turn a profit for its studio, so don’t go holding your breath for any sequel soon. Even with the overseas market and lucrative video rentals, DVD sales and TV screening rights, Hulk will have a tough time at it. (Remember that the movie’s stated budget excludes marketing costs, which is also enormous in itself.) Personally, I suspect that bad word of mouth finally sank Hulk. Very much like the recent Solaris remake, Hulk isn’t exactly what audiences were expecting.

All of this is a bit of a pity because Hulk tries to transcend its roots as a comic book roots by adding an emotional back-story and trying to get audiences involved with its characters. Audiences weren’t exactly expecting the “emotional damage” bit, but expecting some more Hulk smashing the U.S. army action.

Some small boys I saw in the cinema foyer afterwards were quite excited by these particular scenes, and so were the little boy in me too. Until then the movie was a respectable drama, but those scenes made one wish for more mayhem. None was in store however, and director Ang Lee (The Ice Storm and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) confuses the matter more by using some interesting split screen effects designed to imitate the panels of a comic book.

Unfortunately, this all seems out of place and Hulk seems like an unwieldy melding together of two very different movies. That doesn’t mean that I had a bad time. The special effects aren’t as bad some people have remarked, and are quite fun really. Also, who can’t love the funniest scene involving a poodle since 1992’s Batman Returns? Or the scene of Hulk chewing off the head of a missile and spitting it out again?

The cast ranges between the catatonic Eric Bana and the wildly over-the-top Nick Nolte. In-between we have the always reliable and lovely Jennifer Connelly. However, like its title protagonist, Hulk is a schizophrenic affair, not certain whether it is Affliction (the 1997 drama about parental abuse, which ironically earned Nolte an Oscar nomination as best actor) or King Kong . . .

Incidentally, Marvel is the main rival to DC Comics, who owns characters such as Superman and Batman. Once upon a time DC Comics got the best movie versions while all poor Marvel got was Dolph Lundgren as The Punisher and the dreadful Albert Pyun’s terrible Captain America. Now the process seems to be reversed: after the pathetic Batman & Robin, Hollywood seems loathe continuing that particular franchise or even restarting the Superman franchise.

In contrast, this is the sixth Marvel title to get its own big screen Hollywood adaptation in recent years. The others were Men In Black (in 1997 and Men in Black II in 2002),  Blade (in 1998, and its 2002 sequel), X-Men (in 2000 and its 2003 X2 sequel), Spider-man (2002) and Daredevil (2003).

No sign of the Fantastic Four though: a by all accounts terrible movie was made in 1994, but never released. Apparently, it was only made so that the company who has the rights to that property can keep it and do a proper version one day.



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