Hulk (2003) (part 13 of 13)
David Zzzzzzzzzax starts sucking all the power out of San Francisco, leading to the expected shot of the city skyline as all the lights go out. Bruce Hulks out, and David Zzzzzzzzzzax turns into a lightning bolt and pulls Hulk up into the clouds, where they have an epic fight brought to us as, no exaggeration, a series of still images. The camera pans across clouds, and every time lightning flashes, we see a still image, projected on a cloud [!], of the Hulk fighting Zzzzzzzzzzzax. If I had to make a list of the most exciting ways to film an action sequence, “as a series of still life paintings” would probably not rank very high.
They crash land near a lake, and David Banner re-forms into a rock monster that still has Nick Nolte’s face. He begins to absorb the Hulk, but gets thrown into the side of a cliff, and he starts to merge with the cliff. The Hulk then lifts the cliff and throws it into the lake.
David Banner immediately merges with the lake, and becomes a big water monster. He pulls the Hulk under, absorbing him, causing the entire lake to freeze for some reason. We dive straight into the Hulk’s mind, and see his memories represented as little floating ghost-faces. We also hear David Banner’s voice, because I guess he’s telepathic now.
Bruce Banner: You think you can live with it? Take it.
The Hulk: Take it aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllll!
The Hulk starts consciously exerting all his power into David, which apparently is done via green sweat. It turns David into a swirling mass of water, and then he literally starts blowing up like a balloon, and then something bad happens.
So now, there’s a big watery blob floating over a lake, and General Ross decides that the best course of action is dropping a neutron bomb on it. I don’t think that discharging radiological weapons on U.S. soil is exactly protocol there, Thadd.
Jets fire missiles, and the blob goes up in a big green (of course) mushroom cloud. For some reason, Betty, the girl whose boyfriend just turned into a monster, killed his father, and got nuked, has to put her hand on her father’s shoulder and comfort him for doing this.
And that, of course, would have been a totally killer action sequence. However, it was only about five and a half minutes long, and a good half of it was made up of reaction shots, still-picture cloud battles, and looking at a frozen lake. Even if I give all of that to the Hulk Screen Time Count, it still only comes up to 21 minutes and 40 seconds. Out of a film that runs 2 hours and 12 minutes. That’s almost exactly a 5:1 ratio against the Hulk.
But wait! There’s more! Of course a little thing like a nuclear blast wouldn’t kill the Hulk, and we see that Bruce is alive, floating in a sea of flashbacks. In particular, he’s having tender flashbacks of his father hugging him when he was a kid. You know, the man who killed his mother, sent monsters to kill his girlfriend, and turned into a monster to kill him. How sweet. A drop falls over the picture, and a single ripple forms across a corner of the flashback.
And now, it’s one year later. Or so the caption tells us.
Betty is at (I’m guessing) her new job, and she gets a call from General Ross, who’s pacing around the desert somewhere. He says they both know that Bruce couldn’t have survived that blast, but “loonies” have reported sightings. He wonders if Betty would tell him if Bruce was still alive and trying to contact her. Betty bluntly says she wouldn’t. It’s actually a well-done emotional moment, but it’s still totally pointless, because of the very next scene.
Betty looks through her blinds at some trees, and in one last overdone transition, the blinds dissolve and we’re now somewhere in South America. Guerillas drive up to a Red Cross relief clinic in the middle of the rainforest, and start taking all the medicine. A doctor tries to stop them, and we see that the doctor is Bruce Banner. He’s now sporting long hair, a full beard, and dressed exactly like Torgo. Like father, like son, I guess.
He stares directly at a guerilla, and says, I kid you not: “Me esta enojado. No le quisiera usted enojado.” I’ll just let you guess what that means in English. I suspect you won’t have too much trouble with the translation.
Pull out to an aerial view of the rainforest, and fade to… green. Alright, whatever.
The biggest problem with this movie is that it tries too hard. It’s so earnest, and it wants so badly to be a great film that it overshoots the mark like a Hideo Kojima game.
The story is a reasonable attempt to show the psychological origins of the Hulk, and why he has so much rage. However, they tell and re-tell everything so many times that there’s barely any time left for action.
The direction and special effects are good, even innovative, and the Hulk is the product of a decade of work. However, the comic-book style shots and transitions totally obliterate the fourth wall for no good reason, and the CGI title character looks like an emo bodybuilding lime.
A villain tied in to some emotional trauma of Banner’s is a great way to explore the character, and the Absorbing Man, although not even a Hulk bad guy, has the potential for truly epic and mind-blowing fights. But they focus way too much on the character exploration and spend barely any time on the fights, and it leaves the film feeling impotent.
It’s obvious they cared enough about the origin of the Hulk to try and make it scientifically plausible. But they went way overboard with this, and made it about as convoluted as the ending to The Deathly Hallows. It’s not like we won’t accept a little bit of cheating in a comic book movie. Fantastic Four played the “radiation gives people strange powers” aspect totally straight, and nobody even cared.
Probably the most damning evidence against this movie is that they’re going right to rebooting the film franchise. It committed movie-suicide in only one installment. At the time of this writing, all we have to go on with the new film (which stars Edward Norton as Bruce Banner) is a trailer, but so far we know that the new Hulk will actually look like the Hulk, there’s an actual supervillain in the form of the Abomination, and there will actually be action scenes worth seeing. Hell, the trailer has better action scenes than this entire movie.
Now that’s what I’m talking about!
Let’s face it: comic books aren’t fine art, and the same goes for the works based on them (with the notable exception of everything Bruce Timm has ever done). They work best when they don’t try to be great socio-political statements, or deep, introspective character pieces. They have to be treated as a kind of modern opera, with flashy, larger-than-life characters living out their own personal tragedies, strangled by their own personal flaws, and disguising themselves with ridiculously ineffective masks.
The only differences between this and opera are replacing the singing with fight sequences, nobody ever argues if Orlando could beat up Escamillo, and the Phantom of the Comic Book Movie merely lurks on message boards, complaining about superhero films before they’re even released, paying good money to see them and then writing long, detailed and time-consuming reports of just how and why they fail.