February 22, 2020

Hulk (2003)
Grade: 39/100

Director: Ang Lee
Stars: Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte, Eric Bana

What it's about. Based on the Marvel Comics character. Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is a scientist working for the government. His co-worker is brunette bombshell Betsy (Jennifer Connelly). They have recently ended a relationship because Betsy believed Bruce was too distant. But the flame lingers on for both of them.

Bruce and Betsy are besieged by jerks. There's Talbot (Josh Lucas), a greedy and obnoxious man who wants to monetize Banner's project. Its military implications are also obvious to Ross (Sam Elliott), the high-ranking officer who runs the military bass where Bruce and Betsy are employed. Ross wants to imprison Bruce, partly to separate him from Betsy, his daughter. Worst of all is the new janitor, Nick Nolte, who is somehow able to bring his creepy dogs to work.

It turns out that Nolte is Bruce's dad. He was imprisoned for decades after accidentally killing Bruce's mother (Cara Buono) with a steak knife when the intended victim was little Bruce himself. Dad was a lab researcher also, and passed on his modified genes to Bruce. The meddlesome Nolte succeeds in turning Bruce into the Hulk, a huge green humanoid with preposterous physical strength. Bruce becomes the Hulk when he is angry, and when his temper cools, he regresses back into Bruce.

Bruce is captured by Ross' men, and held in a top security military fortress. Inevitably, Bruce gets mad and becomes the Hulk. He destroys the military base, and takes out the tanks and fighter planes dispatched by Ross to stop him. But somehow, it all ends peacefully with Bruce Banner as a missionary in South America.

Lou Ferrigno, who played the Incredible Hulk in the 1970s television series, has a cameo as a security guard, as does Stan Lee, who created the character for Marvel Comics in the 1960s.

Hulk is excluded from the Marvel Cinematic Universe series, though its reboot, The Incredible Hulk (2008), is the second film in that endless and mega-profitable franchise.

How others will see it. Hulk cost a reported 137M dollars. Nonetheless, it was a worldwide box office goliath, and finished as bright green as its title character. Festival awards were wanting, but it did receive a Saturn Award nomination for Best Science Fiction Film. The mixed reception for Hulk is demonstrated by its four categories of nominations at the Golden Schmoes: Worst Movie, Best Sci-Fi Movie, Most Underrated Movie, and Biggest Disappointment.

At imdb.com, the movie has a huge 244K user votes. The user ratings are middling at best, only 5.6 out of 10. But older viewers see it slightly better than their younger peers, probably due to boomer favorites Nolte and Elliott.

Why is Hulk a must-see movie, yet a disappointment to most viewers? To begin with, why did kids watch the 1970s Bill Bixby-Lou Ferrigno television show? Because they wanted to see Bixby turn into green-skinned, wild-eyed Ferrigno, and kick some ass. The Incredible Hulk is the person the kid viewer would like to be, when bullies, bosses, brothers, parents, teachers, or coaches make his life briefly unpleasant.

But with Hulk, one has to get past the interminable plot of the platonic Bruce and Betsy relationship, and the three jerks who interfere with it. We know that Bruce needs some sort of excuse to become Hulk, but cut to the chase already. And let's make Hulk really angry, crushing and killing, instead of a hunted goliath in the Mojave Desert.

But Ang Lee, the director of Sense and Sensibility (1995), isn't going to make the film where King Kong levels New York City, or Godzilla demolishes Tokyo, or Hulk takes out Los Angeles. In other words, it is science fantasy, instead of horror. The Hulk scenes, and their costly CGI animation, disappoint because they lack the intensity our lizard brain demands.

Which wouldn't matter much if the rest of the film was great. But Eric Bana is boring, Nick Nolte and Josh Lucas are psychopaths, Jennifer Connelly sleepwalks through her role, and Sam Elliott is all too aware that he is a comic book character.