May 29, 2018
Hulk (2003) (part 5 of 13)
Betty arrives at the lab the next day, and there’s another 24-style shot of a guy sitting in the waiting room. The camera stays on both of them for this entirely gripping and exciting… random small talk. At one point, there are two different split-screen angles on their conversation. We find out the guy is Glenn Talbot, and the movie strongly implies he and Betty used to be a couple.
Betty asks why he’s not in uniform, and Talbot explains he left the military to work in the private sector for more money. Then he kind of hits on Betty, coming off like that one weird cousin that always seems a little too friendly.
He makes Betty an offer to buy out her lab, and she turns him down. Bruce shows up and Talbot… leaves. Doesn’t make a big deal out of it, doesn’t say anything slimy, he just calmly walks out. Bruce doesn’t say anything either—he just looks directly at the camera as if he’s asking us if we knew what the point of that moment was.
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Meanwhile, Ross is now General Ross. We’re in the general’s office, where Major Daniel Dae Kim shows up, and apparently this is a flashback set before he got stranded on that island. He tells Ross that Talbot is trying to take over the lab where Ross’ daughter works, essentially explaining the previous scene to us.
Watching this now, it’s entirely possible we’re not supposed to realize that Betty is General Ross’ daughter. Or that Ross was the Army guy from the flashback. Granted, the average guy off the street wouldn’t be that well-versed in the secondary characters of the Hulk universe. I mean, Betty Ross is not Lois Lane and General Ross is not Commissioner Gordon. But it seems a little weird to set up a “reveal” involving popular characters that a significant chunk of your audience is probably already familiar with.
Incidentally, Ang Lee pops in on the commentary to say that he deliberately tried to use sound effects that were “cheesy” and “B-movie”, including a “page-flip” sound for scene transitions. This would have been a great thing for him to reveal sometime before all the negative reviews came in, calling the effects cheesy.
Next we see, oh joy, the spindly ass of a crotchety, hunched-over janitor. Betty walks by, and asks what happened to “Benny”. The janitor tells her that Benny died. Betty, as she normally does whenever she hears about the death of someone she was on a first-name basis with, calmly walks away with no trace of emotion.
“Benny”, incidentally, was a character from a later run on the Hulk Comics. So, if they could namedrop an insignificant character like that, why couldn’t they just call Harper “Rick Jones”? I know he’s nothing like the comics version—except for one stupid thing he’ll be doing shortly—but we’re used to that by now. And it’s better than suggesting that the screenplay writers didn’t have a search-and-replace function.
Oh, and even though we don’t see the janitor’s face, we know it’s Nick Nolte. You’ll recognize the hair from his DUI mugshot, which is by far the best thing to come about a result of this movie.
Bruce is working in his office, presumably blogging about how Betty won’t stop reminding him of the time she accidentally ran over his cat. (Wait, did they have blogs in 2003? Actually, I just realized that I don’t care.)
He stops working for some reason, and pulls out a snapshot of Betty leaning against a tree… or a canyon wall or… something. And I guess in this version, Bruce is also a wizard, because the photo suddenly comes alive, and a tiny Bruce runs into the shot. He and Betty hug, with Bruce looking about as excited to have Jennifer Connelly hanging off him as he is to do his taxes. A camera on an auto-timer takes their picture, proving this to be just another artséy flashback transition, when a simple fade could have done the job just as well. Remember, just because you can edit doesn’t mean you should.
They’re at a cabin by a lake, and it turns out it is a tree that she’s leaning against. A giant redwood, in fact, which looks completely out of place among all the surrounding regular-sized trees. There’s some meaningless romanceobabble here, and Bruce asks her what’s wrong. “It’s these dreams, doctor,” she answers with her usual smug “I’m either joking poorly or I have no awareness of social mores” tone. Bruce, apparently trying to humor her delusion, plays psychiatrist and asks her about her dreams.
The dream takes place in Betty’s childhood, and another bit of Schrödinger’s editing has her head transposed in the frame with young General Ross (now clearly a Major). So, a flashback within a flashback? Why doesn’t this surprise me?
It seems Major Ross has gone out for ice cream with baby Betty. Three soldiers pull up in dramatic slow motion, talk to Ross in normal motion, and drive away, again in dramatic slow motion. Adult Betty’s VO says it’s something that happened when she was living at Desert Base.
Little Betty is now alone and crying for a minute, and then a nuclear bomb goes off outside the window. Seriously.
She’s looking right at it, too, but she’s not blinded. Hell, she’s not even sunburned. Also, the explosion is green, presumably because the guys at the base store their barium chloride in the same room as their plutonium. Those wacky scientists!
And then the ice cream guy picks her up, and it’s the adult version of Bruce [!]. After a minute, he gets an angry look on his face and reaches in to choke her [!].
This isn’t explained, in the way that dreams tend not to be, and no, it’s not foreshadowing anything later. I checked. It’s also exactly as entertaining as reading someone else’s dream journal. It’s just a two-minute tumor of a scene that does nothing but establish that Betty was living on the base when she was a kid, which is something we probably could have inferred from her father being in charge of the place.
You know, I think there’s maybe a half-hour of movie in here, tops, once you scrape away all the crusted flashback residue.
The flashback and its parent flashback both end. Back in the present-day lab, Bruce walks out into the hall, hears something, and eventually finds… a big, white, poofy French poodle. It’s got the continental clip and everything. And it promptly tries to bite Bruce’s hand off. Yeah, I never trusted those little pom-pom dogs.
And this dog looks downright demonic. It’s like a were-poodle on a full moon. It’s scary until the exact moment when you realize it’s still a poodle, at which point it breaks through the walls of scary like Hannibal with a giant tub of vinegar, and proceeds to pillage the kingdom of ridiculous.
Meanwhile, the janitor who is not Benny enters an office. Nameplates by the door reveal this is the office of Betty Ross and “Bruce Krenzler”, which I’m assuming is Bruce’s adopted name. The janitor snoops around, and picks up a hair with a pair of tweezers, and we’re treated to an extreme close-up of his eye. And I mean “extreme” in the way that late-’90s Gen-X sk8er bois said “extreme” as they guzzled down Mountain Dew while riding their heelies down the three-quarter-pipe to a triple fipsizzile with a dippity-doo. An X-treeeeeeeeeeeme! close up. Seriously, you can count the individual lines in his lower eyelid. I can just about see his eyelash mites and diagnose him for conjunctivitis.
Bruce rides his bike back home to a really nice house. I have to wonder how he can afford that. I don’t know how much Berkeley pays its research scientists, but if they pay them that much, I have to get in on that action. There’s boring shots of Bruce at his computer, looking at what’s either a live video feed of some nanomeds, or a really cool screensaver. He then takes out a spray bottle and starts misting his lichen [?]. Okay, really interesting stuff here. Wasn’t there supposed to be some kind of… hulk in this film somewhere? I remember that being alluded to.
We’re 25 minutes in and Bruce hasn’t even been touched by one gamma ray. What gives, here? Spider-Man had his powers by the 25-minute mark. Superman was already in Smallville. Batman didn’t wear the suit until halfway through his latest movie, but at least his parents were dead by this point. Hulk out already!
Oh look, more lichen shots. And a desert turning into… coral, or colored sand or something, and then it’s somebody yelling… ooh, he’s turning green! He’s getting angry and he’s going to turn into the Hulk at any minute and the action’s going to—oh, sorry, Bruce was just having a bad dream. Nothing’s happening. Still.
Bruce hears some whimpering, so he goes to the window and sees somebody standing across the street with the poodle and two other dogs. He heard that from across the street, two stories up? I can’t even hear my dog when she’s right outside my door. Am I to assume that super-hearing is now part of the Hulk’s repertoire?
The dog guy, who I don’t think the movie has revealed is the janitor yet, but we all know it is, goes back to his shack slash fully stocked genetics lab. He starts cutting up the hair he took, and then does… something… that turns it into a milky white fluid. He performs tests on the fluid to determine whose DNA it is. He then looks up at a wall full of baby pictures and says, “My Bruce.” Ah, so this scene was just a very elaborate and time-consuming paternity test. He really could have saved himself a lot of trouble by just going on Maury Povich instead.