Since its debut, Ang Lee’s Hulk has smashed audiences into two wildly opposing camps. On the one side are those who saw it as 2.5 hours of people sitting in yellow offices and blue laboratories and five minutes of tank-chucking in the desert. Conversely, there are those who witnessed one of the most shrewd insights into the psyche of a comic book character cinema has ever seen.
Everybody seemed blindly optimistic at the prospect of Ang Lee, fresh off the global phenomenon of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, producing a Hulk that would be graceful and thought provoking whilst he snarled and smashed up densely populated urban areas. Universal has a lot to lose if Hulk fails to perform at the box office. The film was set to be one of their top earners this year, but that is looking increasingly unlikely…and it is largely due to Lee’s participation.
The time taken to pursue the characters and relationships involved in this story is staggering. It is nearly an hour into the film before the Hulk himself actually appears, before which audiences must remain patient while a group of mentally disturbed scientists spend their days turning frogs inside out and gazing into the middle distance reminiscing about times long-past.
You have to take into account the target audience for a film like this. They’re playing to over and underweight teenage boys who can’t get laid. How well do you think this amount of emotional exposition will sit with those guys? The kids are going to switch off if they don’t see a heavy-set green guy put his fist through something every five minutes. That’s what they’ve paid to see. What Ang Lee has given them is so much more, but as a result, the film is almost too heavy to get off the ground.
We first meet David Banner before his son Bruce is even born. We are a good twenty minutes into the film before Eric Bana’s admittedly not very recognisable face even appears on screen. In the meantime, no less than three different actors have already played the main character. This is a pretty big risk for a summer movie – this requires your full attention. We follow Bruce through his youth as he suffers a major, and -until the end of the film – unseen emotional trauma that turns him, over the years, into an impregnable fortress of pent-up anger and aggression. Coupled with the genetic irregularities that have been passed down to him by his DNA-tampering father, this leads to explosive consequences when Bruce is eventually blasted with lethal gamma radiation.
Make no mistake – this guy has had a hell of a time.
Fortunately, when the Hulk is finally unleashed, it is all worthwhile. Not only does this green behemoth of rage look terrifyingly realistic, but we understand exactly where it is all coming from to the extent that we can almost believe it is really happening to this man. The confusion, sadness and ferocity that the animators have captured in Hulk’s face produce a performance of compelling honesty. And some of the things that the script calls upon him to do – or rather smash – will delight the geekiest of fan boys.
Attention teenagers everywhere – this is not this summer’s Spider-Man. Hulk is primarily an examination of parenting, a cautionary fable about taking responsibility for that which you create, be it your child, your work or the trail of carnage you leave as you walk through life. Especially if you’re a big green monster.