Monday, 1 August 2011

Hulk (2003) - Ang Lee

Even after seeing this film three or four times it still doesn't quite work for me. Back in 2003 not having a typical Hollywood lacky at the helm of a comic book adaptation was almost unheard of. Letting Sam Raimi and Bryan Singer have their way with Spiderman and X-Men respectively changed all that though. Ushering in what we have now - decent comic book adaptations by decent directors. Of course it doesn't always work out, just look at Catwoman and to a lesser degree Ang Lee's Hulk.

Lee does a decent job of setting up Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) as a science nerd who not only wouldn't hurt a fly, but probably couldn't. Banner's back story is well handled, although quite how he ends up with the Hollywood cliché (way hot science babe) of Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) is never really broached. However Bana & Connelly are believable as a couple and have decent enough on screen chemistry. Sam Elliott plays Betty's father, and is as much of a joy to watch here as he ever is. He's by far and away the most convincing actor in the whole film for me. Less believable is Nick Nolte as Banner the elder, who sets the whole story in motion by experimenting on himself and passing his mutant genes on to his son. Nolte is about as OTT as I've ever seen him. I'm sure he's just doing what was asked of him, but his character doesn't gel with the rest of the cast, it feels like he belongs in an earlier version of the script, but somehow managed to wangle his way through the various drafts without being rewritten. Every time he's on screen I get dragged away from any of the drama that is attempting to be built.

Talking of being dragged out of the film, Lee does an amazing job at editing Hulk to look like a Marvel comic book, sometimes the camera pulls back and reveals a comic style two page spread, before moving across and landing on a frame and continuing the story. Other times whole backgrounds fall away leaving one character who then has another background dumped in behind them. In short just like Edgar Wrights genius adaptation of Scott Pilgrim he constantly reminds you of the films comic book roots. However unlike Scott Pilgrim, it begins to wear thin after a while, Ang overuses these flashy editing techniques during the dramatic first half of the film. It's this segment that feels most like obvious Ang Lee territory, containing the family drama that he normally handles so well. However as I wrote earlier he fumbles the ball during this section. Which along with Hulk being about as flabby as Val Kilmer on an eating spree, is probably the biggest problem with the film.

So strangely enough the bit of the film that works best is when CGI Hulk is off and running in the desert, brawling with various tanks and helicopters, running along canyon walls and jumping miles into the air. Hulk smash, me like. Having the Danny Elfman by numbers score drop out and documentary style whip pans and crash zooms, make this section really effective. Sadly it's about the only section that really works for me. Much was made about the Hulk himself being totally CGI, it really felt at the time like the film was going live or die by how 'believable' he would be. Now of course he's a great big green guy who trashes anything in his path, believability should probably never have been an issue, since there wasn't a chance on earth that he would look real.

Maybe I should point out that I've never been a huge fan of The Hulk, be it the Lou Ferrigno TV version or the original comics. He's just a little too one dimensional and frankly a bit of a bore. Hulk turned out to be a box office flop, and for the follow up the producers went all out action with the rather lackluster The Incredible Hulk. Which when I saw it at the time (oh c'mon it's Edward Norton back when that actually meant something), bored the tits off me. So how mad is it that watching Hulk and not enjoying it makes me want to see the follow up that I enjoyed even less? Sometimes it's hard being a film geek.

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