Hulk (2003) (part 6 of 13)
The next day, Bruce enters the lab to find Betty and Talbot presumably talking about how much better the sex was when they were together. Talbot tries to introduce himself to Bruce, but Bruce completely shuns him. I know Talbot is a slicked-back slimeball with more smug than a Blackadder family reunion, wearing an odd three-piece vest-right-to-the-collar shirt, but if you snub him first, you’re the asshole in the bar.
Talbot offers again to buy out Bruce’s lab, giving him the same offer he gave Betty: more money to keep doing exactly what it is they’re doing now. Bruce flat-out turns him down, prompting Talbot to say this.
Maybe it’s just the Stockholm syndrome talking, but is it really such a bad thing to get paid for what you’re doing? I know I’d jump at the first big sack of money that got hurled my way. Bruce would be doing the same experiments, and I assume he’s going to sell the patents to somebody anyway. So his insistence that he’s not doing this for the money, and that he’s “just doing the basic science for everybody” sounds like… well, like exactly what you’d expect to hear from a Berkeley professor, come to think of it.
Talbot’s comment seems to really get under Bruce’s skin, and he starts to get angry. There’s a close-up of Talbot’s face, and I realize that the walls behind him are bright green. Surely, like the oranges in The Godfather, this must be a sign of an impending Hulk-out ass-kicking.
Talbot turns around… and calmly walks out. In slow motion, no less. And as he does this, there are split-screen shots of both Betty and Bruce watching him go. Ominous split-screen shots. I’m beginning to think Ang Lee really believes these simple conversations are action sequences.
Next, Bruce and Betty are in the lab, and Harper’s working on the gammasphere. Oh, I’m sure this will end well. Betty further emasculates her ex-boyfriend by saying that she’ll handle Talbot’s threats on her own, primarily by calling Daddy and getting him to throw his weight around. She even admits that she and her father are currently not speaking, and that this will give her “something to talk with him about.” Yep, she’s getting more likeable by the minute.
Harper says that something’s wrong, and that somebody should come and look at it. Bruce goes to check it out, but Harper, non-Rick-Jonesian fool that he is, manages to short out the one loose wire on the machine that controls all the computers in the next room. This has the sum effect of starting up the Frogsplosion 9000. And that’s hardly the worst design flaw in this crapshackle of an experiment.
If you’ll remember, earlier, Betty had to get the nanomeds from a special nanomed soft-serve machine, fill up a plastic bag with them, and lock the container into place before the experiment. But here, they’re already in the machine, ready to go. That’s like cleaning your gun while it’s loaded. Only, instead of bullets, your gun is loaded with gamma-powered explosion-happy microscopic killbots.
Harper gets a convenient gas mask on just as the nanomeds are released, and Bruce tells him to get out of the room before the gamma goes off. Instead, Harper just curls up into a little ball like the idiot stand-in character that he is. I was hoping that, since this movie is determined not to show us the Hulk for a very long time, it could at least give us a deserving person undergoing violent mutation explosions, but no go. Bruce has to jump in front of the gamma emitter and shield Harper with all the lead in his pants.
The screen goes all green and distorted. There’s a close-up of the Hulk’s eye. A green mushroom cloud appears, hopefully signifying that this movie has been nuked from orbit. Then there’s the sound of a heartbeat, and the screen fades to green-tinged blackness. I think this is it! He’s been gamma-fried, and now he’s a hulking monster, ready to run wild and smash things and not use pronouns and…
Bruce wakes up in a hospital bed. Yes, it was another hulktease dream sequence. And on top of that, Harper is fine.
Betty enters and tells Bruce that he should be dead. Bruce says that the nanomeds must have worked, because all of his various ailments have been completely cured, including his bad knee, which is now his “good knee”. Betty says this doesn’t make sense, because the nanomeds killed everything else in violent frogsplosions. But Bruce, like the scientist he is, decides to take everything at face value and not question things. Good show. And once again, Betty has to crap all over his parade.
Well, how do you think he was feeling at the time? Here’s a thought: How about you be happy that he didn’t die, and that the project you’ve been working on all this time is finally showing some results? They’re just scraping the bottom of the emo barrel here, trying to wring pathos out of the situation. Bruce reassures her that he’s not going to explode like their old pal Freddy. They fade out, and we fade back in to Bruce about to explode. Well, I’m hoping.
There’s another acid-trip dream sequence, featuring some sort of green (symbolism!) bacteria turning into a lizard and then… a giant floating space jellyfish? Several floating space jellyfish? I don’t know what the hell this is supposed to mean, but it’s a bad sign when your drug-fueled symbolism machine produces more compelling concepts than your actual script. Just imagine: Giant Floating Space Jellyfish: The Movie!
Then there are trees, and another shot of the frog exploding, and lichen (for the third time), and more shots of Jerry Garcia’s Fantastic Voyage that eventually transform into a desert. Then the closed door from back at Bruce’s old home opens, and a heavily shadowed Hulk appears inside. Clearly symbolizing that… well, to be honest, this is just too dada for me to make fun of. It’s like trying to criticize Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain; all you can do is say “It’s a toilet!” at the top of your lungs.
Bruce wakes up from another bad dream. This movie’s a bigger cocktease than Cloverfield. He looks over and finds the janitor is sitting there, creepily watching him. Somehow, the janitor managed to get into Bruce’s hospital room with his demon poodle, plus a golden retriever and a bulldog.
In the course of spewing out random crazy talk, the janitor reveals that Bruce’s last name is really Banner, and that he’s been keeping tabs on Bruce. He also explains that he got into Bruce’s hospital room because he works here, implying that the lab and the hospital are in the same building. So, the genetics lab at UC Berkeley has its own hospital? Doesn’t say much about their safety track record, does it?
The guy comes over to help Bruce tape his IV back to his hand, and treats us to the following monologue, which is enhanced by a close-up view of his grizzled, drunken, mad scientist hobo-face.
And if I were Bruce, I’d be thinking, Forgive you for what? Forgetting to empty my trashcan?
Bruce simply asks him to leave, so the janitor reveals that Bruce is his “physical son… but the child of my mind, too.” He says the military lied to Bruce when they said his father died, and in fact, the janitor is Bruce’s dad, and he just got out of prison after thirty years. Okay, I really have to call foul here.
Locking him up is fine. Taking away custody of his children, okay. He was kinda crazy. But not even letting him see his son? On top of all that, telling his son that his father is dead?
The movie tries to explain it away with the fact that Daddy Banner was working on a top secret project, but come on. Not even Gitmo detainees are treated like that. You could have the worst lawyer in the world and still get out of that. Jack Thompson with a bad cold, a pair of bunny ears on, and the justice system from the Phoenix Wright games could get him out of that. He goes on to say they had to let him out, because they proved he was sane. So, after thirty years, they just let him out of jail, like any other prisoner? And they didn’t even bother letting anybody else in his family know? Like, say, his long-lost son, whom we eventually find out he did Something Bad to?
There’s more psychobabble about what’s happening to Bruce, and then the phone rings. Daddy Banner slams his hand down on the phone, saying that it’s Betty, and that there’s something “troublesome” about her. Bruce finally gets his father to leave by getting angry… and then not turning into the Hulk. “We’re gonna have to watch that temper of yours,” Daddy Banner says as he leaves. Oh har har.
Back at his Janitorcave, Daddy Banner sets up a device that includes some of the nanomeds, and one of the gamma emitters from the lab. You know, I really think somebody would notice if a giant gamma ray laser gun suddenly went missing. He turns it on and uses it on a lab rat, which turns into a disgusting green monstrosity the size of a small dog. It presses up against the glass like a face hugger.
There’s a short, pointless scene where Betty tells Bruce that her father is coming to see her. Seriously, it’s all of sixteen seconds, and then we immediately go to Betty seeing her father.
Sam Elliott’s performance as General Ross is one of the few things in this film that I have nothing bad to say about. He’s just a really good actor, and even in movies like Ghost Rider, he can always pull off that easy-going, good-hearted-but-grizzled aged cowboy vibe that’s just so damn likable, even when he’s being a mysterious obfuscating asshole. I mean, the man was the spokesperson for trucks, beef, and beer all at the same time—he was personally representing a good 80% of the American economy all at once.
And in this scene where he meets Betty, he actually does a really good job of pulling off the character. He’s smiling from the moment he sees her, even though he knows that there’s trouble behind him and bad news ahead, but he’s so damn happy to see his little girl again. Ross is one of the few military people in movies who doesn’t come off like his head is shoved firmly up his ass, and Elliott’s performance is one reason why. Connelly’s not bad in this scene either, and another plus is that the scene itself is almost free of any editing tricks. Almost.
There’s a rule in film editing called the 30 Degree Rule. It states that when you cut from one shot of an object to another shot of that same object, you should move the camera at least 30 degrees around the subject between shots. If you don’t do that, it creates a disorienting jump cut effect. This scene breaks that rule three times in two minutes, and all three of them happen right in the middle of somebody’s sentence. It almost feels like I blacked out for 10 seconds and missed an entire shot. Which I’m not exactly ruling out just yet.
Anyway, this scene is just Ross telling Betty that he knows something about Bruce, blah blah blah plottity plot plot. The scene’s about the characters, and it’s a nice scene, but I’m not here to accentuate what’s nice.