Monday, March 8, 2004

Looking To The Stars: The Belated Hulk Movie Review

I really should have seen it by now. It opened up on your birthday, for crying out loud! It’s your responsibility, as a critic and a writer to see this movie so you can review it for your public! It’s been out on DVD for months!

All these thoughts scream at me as the justifications scream back. Like Gollum fighting with Smeagol. We were at a Con the whole weekend of our birthday. There’s no law that says we HAVE to see every comic book movie. We’re boycotting the local video store because they took out 2/3rds of their Cult Classic Films section and sold off their Marx Brothers movies to make more room for the best of Shannon Tweed. Everyone we knows who saw it HATES it.

So naturally, it was during this week, when I had mid-terms and way too much to do anyway, that I finally broke down and rented “The Hulk.”

I’ve never been a big fan of The Hulk. Not even at the age where monsters are coolness incarnate and you want nothing more than to be big and strong and able to crush tanks with your bare hands. This is, I think, the main reason I didn’t feel the need to rush right out and see this movie last summer, unlike Daredevil (love the comics), X-2 (dragged to it by friends) and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Sean Connery kicks ass & love the comics). That, and perhaps, the bits of negative news I heard from friends, co-workers, customers and employees alike.

That said, how did I feel about the movie now that I finally have managed to sit through it?

I really didn’t like it that much. I didn’t hate it to quite the extremes I did the Daredevil movie after the first time I watched it… but I didn’t like it at all either. If anything, my attitude toward it is complete and total indifference. And yet, I can see why so many Hulk fans… those whose passion for the character is equal to my own for Spider-Man... were unhappy with the film. But before we get drawn into the flaws of the film, let us first consider some of the good points of the movie.

1. The Cast

Say what you will, but this movie did not want for talented actors. Though the dialogue left a lot to be desired in some places, the delivery was top notch. Sam Elliot in particular, did a nice job as General Ross and Jennifer Connelly presented the first version of Betty Ross, in cartoon, TV or comic form that I did not want to slap senseless.

2. Stan Speaks!

It’s a small point, but there’s something about getting to hear Stan Lee during his cameo in one of these movies that is gratifying. It’s no small secret that Stan always wanted to be in pictures, and after his “blink and you’ll miss it” cameos in X-Men, Spider-Man and Daredevil, it’s nice to hear the voice that introduced so many fanboys to Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends as well as The Incredible Hulk every Saturday morning back in the day.

3. Musical Score

Danny Elfman does the music for yet another comic-book movie and once again finds the right note (bad pun, I know) for the character in his Hulk themes. The mournful violin plays on Bruce’s terror even as it turns powerful and strong, suggesting what is to be unleashed.

4. A More Mature Story-Line

More than any comic movie in recent memory, this one had the most advanced plot and dealt with the greatest number of adult themes. If nothing else, Hulk proved that comics are hardly kids stuff anymore.

That said, the movie is not without some significant problems as well.

1. Dark City

Much of the movie is shot way too dark. The entire section where Bruce changes into Hulk on his way to save Betty after the call from his father about half-way through is perhaps the best example of this, where even with all the lights turned out in the house, I still had trouble telling what was happening on screen. This was perhaps to disguise…

2. Crappy Animation

I know I’m probably the last person to say this, but in broad daylight, the Hulk CGI stinks on ice. I know that it is futile and bordering on the insane to complain about the realistic appearance of a fictional green-skinned giant… but The Hulk looks like the computer effect that he is and not a potentially real being. It says a lot that Hulk’s best scenes are those in which he cannot be scene, such as the dark scenes where Hulk fights the dogs to protect Betty in the middle of the movie.

3. The “Comic Book” Shooting Style.

While I didn’t feel the nausea that I heard some complain of, the “occasional” panel by panel transitions as well as the quick dissolves seemed like art for the sake of art. I appreciate the concept behind them, but it just doesn’t work in a film to shoot it like a storyboard.

4. The Complaints of the Purist

Strictly speaking, the new origin here, where Bruce is a college student who becomes the Hulk because his DNA was tampered with by his mad scientist father AND because of radiation exposure, is confusing and unneeded. It would be much simpler, if not more scientifically accurate, to stick to Bruce being an established scientist, working in the military complex who becomes the Hulk after the exposure to the radiation because of his tendency to repress his emotions and, if need be, his abusive father. The mad scientist/genetics angle did little more than to update the science a little and add one more villain to the mix besides General Ross.

Also, much like the removal of Matt Murdock’s act of heroism costing him his sight being removed from his origin in the Daredevil film, there is just something about Bruce Banner getting his powers because of his genetics that just removes some of the sense of tragedy from the character, making it only an act of senseless stupidity. In the comics, he was caught in the radioactive blast because he was trying to get a young Rick Jones out of the middle of the testing field and this act of heroism causing his transformation is what truly made Bruce Banner a tragic figure, rather than just the unlucky shlub portrayed in the movie.

5. Not Kids Stuff

The same thing that makes this movie so much more enjoyable for an adult audience also makes it all that more inaccessible to a younger audience. There is too much focus on science and Bruce’s personal problems and not nearly enough of Hulk running around and smashing things. In fact, it takes us forever to get to a scene of Hulk just running around smashing things, and he never says the infamous line even ONCE!

6. The Gamma-Poodles.

As Stan Lee himself would put it, ‘Nuff said.

All in all, I really can’t recommend The Hulk. While it is nowhere near as bad as I had been lead to believe, it is still not really a very good adaptation of its source material nor is it entertaining on its own merits.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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