Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon director Ang Lee unexpectedly and controversially turned his skills to a Marvel comic legend. The result is an intelligent and emotional, if uneven, take on the big green one. Bruce Banner (played by the coincidentally named Australian actor Eric Bana) has inherited his father's genetic mutations and after dosing up on gamma radiation in a lab experiment accident turns into a giant, raging green hulk and goes on the rampage. The performances Lee gets out of his key lead actors (special mention here must go to Jennifer Connelly) are particularly noteworthy.
It would be a challenge for any director to bring one of Marvel's most comic-bound characters convincingly to life in a live action feature film with anything resembling real drama or human emotion. But Lee manages to do just that. Played essentially as a ill-fated love story, Hulk works well on many levels, but like Ang Lee's much-lauded (excessively so in my view) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it is irrevocably undermined by uneven pacing and extreme switches in tone. Which is a desperate shame given that finally seeing Hulk leap from mountain top to mountain top, and playing with tanks and helicopter gunships like kids play with toys, is a pure delight for fans of the comics - like me.
Alongside Spider-Man, Hulk was one of two comics that had a huge influence on me when I was growing up (see photo right). As a result then, in a way, it's even more annoying that this falls short of being as good as one could hope by faults that could so readily have been avoided. In that respect this shares a lot with the first outing of the X-Men. But for me this has more moments of empathy and believable and affecting emotion than Bryan Singer's first X entry. Something that, to date, as comic superhero adaptations go, only Sam Raimi's superb Spider-Man has bettered. At times this is simply wonderful to behold, other moments (like the mutant dog attack), or much of Nick Nolte's clumsy acting on the other hand do this irreparable damage. Still, although I can't endorse all of Ang Lee's artistic choices, I do give credit to a Hollywood studio, Universal, for giving the director total creative freedom over the project. For good, or bad, that's something still too rare in mainstream American cinema. 7/10
Rob Dyer (November 2005)
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