3 stars


2nd January 2005

Admit it, you were a bit sceptical, weren't you? I mean, it's one thing converting a hugely popular comic book superhero into a successful movie, but a completely CGI Hulk as the main character? That'll cause a few problems, right? Hiring Ang Lee, director of The Ice Storm and Sense & Sensibility, also raised a few eyebrows - was this really the man to bring the Hulk to the big screen? Early trailers were not well received, with the CG Hulk generating more laughs than open-mouthed gasps. But despite the odd pairing of Lees Ang and Stan, Hulk has defied the odds and is not only immensely enjoyable but should set a precedent for superhero movies to come.

It's obvious the star here is Ang Lee, not the green behemoth himself. While the ILM bods have done a more-than competent job of bringing the emerald giant to the silver screen (albeit with a few ropey effects shots), it is Lee's direction and writer James Schamus's tender screenplay that truly breaths life into Marvel's creation. In any other director's hands, Hulk could have been a disaster - any comic fan worth his salt knows that the story of Bruce Banner and his inner turmoil is the real draw of the Hulk character, and this would have no doubt been lost or overlooked had the movie fallen into the hands of, say, Michael Bay or someone equally 'talented'. Lee's direction moves the film on at a lightning pace and masterful comic-book style editing (complete with split-screens, inset panels, wipes, fades and character cut-outs) makes watching Hulk like reading a living comic. Hell, Lee even stepped into the motion-capture suit himself several times to provide the correct movements for the Hulk - that's throwing yourself into your work.

Despite being the pivotal character of Bruce Banner, Eric Bana has surprisingly little screen time and his performance is always overshadowed by the fact that you can't wait for him to flip out, go mental and get busy with his bad self. However, like Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man, Bana has the face of both a science geek and a more powerful creature - with an icy glare and an excellent range of facial contortions, he's well suited to the role of the repressed Dr. Banner (if you've seen Chopper, you'll know just how terrifying this man can be). As Betty Ross, Banner's love interest, Jennifer Connelly is superb, showing heartfelt emotion and passion, although she possibly comes across slightly too calm when confronted with the monstrous Hulk for the first time. Well, you'd shit yourself, wouldn't you? Nick Nolte brings real menace to the role of Bruce's father and even Josh Lucas deserves merit for his two-dimensional comic-book villain, rival scientist Talbot. You'll forgive a few plot holes an inconsistencies when the cast is this good.

The main hang-up is still whether or not we're ready for a completely computer-generated main character, and going on what we've seen in Hulk, the jury is still out. When the Hulk is still, there's no faulting the CG work that's gone into bringing him to life, in particular the emotion shown on his face - an early confrontation between father and mutant son is both touching and visually impressive, a rare moment where a complicated effects shot doesn't hog the screen. However, in the latter parts of the movie where Hulk rampages across flatland plains, mountains and deserts, the illusion often wavers - admittedly we're already been asked to suspend our disbelief so that we can swallow a 20ft green guy, but a 20ft green guy running at 300mph? Leaping 3 miles in a single bound? Surely a biped of such immense mass would have trouble even getting into a canter? Bearing in mind Lee's insistence that the story is told in a contemporary manner (they aren't super powers per se, rather freak genetic mutations caused by Gamma radiation etc.), guys like the Hulk just shouldn't be able to do stuff like this. Still, he'd rip of Jar Jar Binks' head and shit down his throat, so he's okay by me.

Ultimately, it's Lee's direction and Schamus's screenplay that make Hulk worthwhile. It's a classic tale of inner discovery and unbridled rage handled sensibly and carefully by the director, who's also shown himself to have an unparalleled visual flair. Arresting in both visual and emotional content, Hulk should satisfy both hardened comic book fanboys and followers of Lee's esteemed career, as well as Joe Average who just wants to see a massive green dude going apeshit. If you're going to throw criticism at it, you could say that the movie occasionally takes itself too seriously and doesn't really get into gear until 45 minutes in, but this doesn't detract from what is essentially an immersive and fun picture. All in all a success, but perhaps not the franchise maker that Universal were hoping for.

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