Review by James Harvey
A controversial movie upon release, Hulk split fans down the middle. Some appreciated the very dark and somber approach the movie took toward the title character, relying more on character dynamics to sell the premise. Other fans, however, were let down by the lack of action and metaphorical ending that, well, confused a lot of people. But now with the new The Incredible Hulk feature hitting theatres, it's time to look back at Green Goliath's first attempt at a big-screen franchise and why it's actually a better movie than most people realize. So, let's check the synopsis and get on with the review!
Adopted as a child, Bruce (Eric Bana) knows nothing about his parents and their story. Plagued by unexpected nightmares and teased by classmates, Bruce continually struggles with tumulous fits of embarrassment, anxiety and rage. As a genetic scientist studying the regenerative effects of gamma radiation on damaged tissue, Bruce wages an escalating battle with an unknown monster inside him. Catalysed by a freak lab accident, Bruce's inner conflict culminates when he becomes the most powerful being on the face of the earth - the Hulk. General 'Thunderbolt' Ross (Sam Elliot) - backed by an army of tanks, helicopters and soldiers - aims to destroy the powerful and ever-growing Hulk. Banner - a hunted abomination - strives to mend his relationship with General Ross's daughter, Betty (Jennifer Connelly), and uncover the answers to his enigmatic past.
Now, let me get this out of the way by saying that I loved this movie. Even with the problematic ending, I still loved it. I thought the special effects were absolutely stunning, I thought the story was great, and I thought the acting was right on par. I thought it was a hit right out of the park. However, I did happen to notice a substantial lack of smashing, but that didn't bother me one bit. But I know it bothered others, and boy did it ever. After a smashing first weekend, the movie fell hard and eventually disappeared before gaining somewhat of a second life on DVD. And now that the new The Incredible Hulk is upon us, I wouldn't be surprised if more than a few people turn their eyes back toward this excellent 2003 movie.Discuss this review on the Toonzone Forums!
Instead of progressing through this move in a somewhat chronological order, I'm just going to jump right to the end of it, the final climactic battle. Now, it's definitely not a battle that people expected. It's a showdown between the Hulk and his father, who's gained the ability to take on the consistency and shape of other object, basically absorbing their properties (yes, very much like the classic Thor villain The Absorbing Man). And this battle eventually ends at a lake where it seems like dear ol' dad has finished off the Hulk. However, when the Absorbing Man goes to absorb Hulk's power, it's too much to handle and we get a rather . . . metaphorical viewpoint of it. The Absorbing Man turns into a huge cloud of energy, where memories flicker here and there coupled with disjointed voices, ever-growing, until the military blows it up. And that's it.
And yes, it's more confusing than it sounds. I get what Ang Lee was going for, no question, but what we end up seeing on screen is a bit difficult to make out, especially with it splashed in so much black and darkness. I can understand why many would be upset with what is basically a very anti-climactic ending.
What astonishes me about this movie is how this would never get made today. I know, a mere five years later, but I am convinced a Hulk movie, with this script, would never pass today. Things have really changed for Marvel over the previous few years and given how much control they now have over their movies, I don't think they'd dare let this radical of a movie, with this radical of a reinvention on the character, stand. Granted, it's not that major of a change for Hulk's character, but there are enough differences to make it stray quite a bit from source material, something that will definitely displease the hard-core fans.
Now, personally, I enjoyed the film. I thought, for the most part, it was a great ride. I did have a few problems with it, namely the weak scene where Bruce Banner is doused with Gamma radiation, the death scene for one of Hulk's most petulant adversaries, and the final climactic battle which is actually engaging up until the very end of it, as it sort of peters out into an anti-climactic mess. Now, what I enjoyed about this film was how it was powered by human emotion. In fact, the majority of this movie runs on pure, complex emotions, with people trying to make sense of their complicated lives. People, who repressed themselves all their lives, dealing with the arrival of new and complicated feelings. It's very well executed, I find, and was what had me so engaged in the film in the first place. I couldn't help but watch as these people . . . interact.
And they do interact. A lot. A great majority of the film is people talking and just . . . talking everything out. If I recall, Hulk is actually on screen for about 20 or so minutes, give or take, of the entire 140 minute run time. Given the small fraction, you better believe that the movie finds other ways to fill up time. A lot of talking, a lot of symbolic shots, a lot of metaphors, all of that. In fact, this almost seems to be a very "sci-fi Shakespearean" take on the character, or a superhero opera. There's so much tragedy here that you can't help but get overwhelmed at the horrible lives these characters live. It's unbelieveable all of the tragedy, lies, and conflict that arises. But ultimately, to me, that helps to sell the movie. The human drama, which, to me, is the real epicenter of this whole movie. Sure, it's called Hulk, but there's more going on there.
For all of the flaws, for all of the dense scenes, for all of the scenes where Hulk should be smashing but doesn’t, I still found this to be a great little movie. It's definitely one movie that you have to commit yourself to watching. There is a lot that goes on within these 140 minutes and while there are some great action scenes, with CGI that still holds up to this day, it's more of an afterthought. This movie is more about the human condition, no question, and it's pulled off quite well. The actors all do a stunning job and Ang Lee directs some really tense moments between these characters. Now, it does have flaws, but I'd still say Hulk is worth checking out, and comes cautiously Recommended.
Hulk: 2-Disc Special Edition comes in the standard two-disc Amaray case, with a hinge-flap holder for the first disc. There are a few promotional inserts insides, but not cardboard sleeves. However, a few chains have been repackaging the movie with a cardboard slipcase, so keep your eye out.
As for the extras, well, they're not as incredible as they could have been. Right out of the gate, the lack of theatrical trailers/marketing is disappointing. What's even more disappointing are the forced trailers at the beginning of the DVD which can only be manually fast-forwarded through. Those are my major gripes, that, and the incomplete collection of deleted/alternate scenes, but I'll get to that in a little bit. On the positive, and before I forget, audio and video is top-notch here. Universal did a truly excellent job getting this movie onto DVD, and it shows in the final product. Okay, now, let's get back to those extras!
The extras are a bit a bit of a mixed bag and, really, not the best they should have been for a two-disc collection. We start off with a commentary by director Ang Lee which, for the most part, is really interesting. There are long stretches of silence, but, still, it's a good listen. After that we have "Hulk Cam," which allows viewers to click on an icon during the movie to see a short behind-the scenes clip. Fairly interesting, though there should have been more. Up next is a glorified section of text notes called "Hulk Anatomy." Following that is, and I kid you not, a series of Sunny Delight drink ads. As extra. I wish I was joking. We then wrap up the first disc with six minutes of deleted footage, which is incredibly disappointing since there's a lot more footage left on the cutting room floor, and cast & crew bios. That wraps up the first disc and the extras are fair so far, but could be better.
And now the second disc kicks off with "Hulkification," a rather neat extra where four comic book artists reinterpret scenes from the movie. Bios are included, and, all in all, it's a pretty sweet looking outcome. Plus, it nicely tied into the comic book-theme of both the movie itself and the DVD menu system. Next up is "Evolution of the Hulk," a fairly informative overview of the Hulk's history, from the comics to the small screen. After that, we get a very light feature on Ang Lee called, well, "The Incredible Ang Lee." Everyone tells us how great he is. 'Nuff said. We then get a 10-minute featurette on how the "dog fight" scene was created, followed up by a look at the film's unique ending, and finished off with a general overview "making off" featurette. Good stuff, but, well, could be better. Fans of the movie will likely find these features interesting, specifically the editing and fight featurettes.
Overall, I would still recommend The Hulk to anyone, but with reservations. It's not the flat-out action movie that everyone is expecting (and will get the with the The Incredible Hulk requel). It's a very close look at human relationships and emotion. Whether it's Bruce Banner dealing with his father or himself, Betty Ross with herself or her father, General Ross, who happens to be leading the squad to destroy the Hulk, well, there's a lot to take in. And it's presented in a very dense fashion, very operatic, very slow, but that's not a bad thing. I still found the movie to be excellent, even with the flaws, and worth watching, again, coming Recommended at least for a rental. It's a different approach to tackling a character like the Hulk, but a completely valid, and enjoyable, approach.