Written by: James Schamus, Michael France, John Turman
Starring: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte
Inheriting the sins of our parents never feels like a fair deal for coming into this world, as it puts us in a place of dealing with circumstances completely out of our control. However, we must confront them at some point, which occurs with the protagonist in Hulk with a father battling with delusions of grandeur with radiation to the point where his son is left to pick up the pieces.
After experimenting with gamma radiation, David Banner (Nick Nolte) passed on a special DNA to his son Bruce (Eric Bana). Now a scientist in his own way, Bruce’s experiment leads to the gamma radiation merging with his DNA to turn him into a giant green beast when he gets angry. This raises the eyebrows of the American military, including his girlfriend’s (Jennifer Connelly) father, Thaddeus Ross (Sam Elliot).
The place Hulk holds in the history of superhero filmmaking will forever remain a fascinating one. Before the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but after the incredible success of Spider-Man and the X-Men, it needed to be a standalone feature about a man turning into a hulking big green man when he gets angry. Something not so easy to work around especially with the intended audience members being so mainstream. While this feature contains some minimal highlights to enjoy, it mostly feels incredibly too long and becomes a laborious slog with some very dated effects.
Bruce’s story comes with a hint of tragedy because he gets inflicted with this ability through gamma radiation, not from asking for it. This has been the case for many different superheroes including Spider-Man, who receives his powers from a spider bite. However, Peter Parker still gets to be normal all of the time. Bruce, when hulking out, barely has control over himself, which moves him away from dealing with the normal issues of being a vigilante to representing a security risk the United States military needs to deal with. This struggle lays the groundwork for what could make a thoughtful film and while seeds of it do exist, especially considering it’s an Ang Lee film, it still does not quite put everything together in a resounding or resonant manner.
Part of the reason for the failure to come together comes from the blandness of the story. When choosing to tell a superhero flick through a more contemplative lens, there needs to be something to hold onto within the narrative. Something to continually make the audience care for what occurs, but it just never quite arrives here, which must come from the script. It never lays out the workings for what will be a story worthwhile about this creature. Yes, Bruce Banner’s trauma in becoming this monster withstanding but outside of that the other characters feel like they have nothing to do here.
Trying to pin the blame on the script would not be entirely fair, as some of it must also lie in Ang Lee. Breaking down his work as the director here comes with pros and cons because he does add some fun elements to the feature, including the comic book panels serving as transitions in the story almost like the audience is reading one of those books. However, the way he stages things just brings a lack of humanity and as a result feels a bit soulless. It harkens back to his recent comments about enjoying creating effects-heavy features like this one more than some of his greater works like Brokeback Mountain where he felt detached. Nearly mind-boggling to think that he looks more fondly at a generally derided film than one that came so close to actually winning Best Picture.
With extremely dated effects and a story with absolutely nothing exciting pushing it forward, Hulk finds itself in a place of trying to be contemplative but falls short. It could have tried to go all out with its superhero narrative, which would not have been a more admirable approach, but could have produced a more entertaining film. All of this goes to show that perhaps the Hulk character may not have as much intrigue to carry his own films, which has been proven true along with the rights issues Marvel Studios has. This film is one of those attempts and its failure surely does not make the case for any more venture.