If what you want from a comic book movie is to see the hero fight the bad guys, this is not your movie. Director Ang Lee creates images of great grace, elegance, and dignity, but he tries to make the inner conflicts the focus of the story and it does not work. It is also really, really, really long.
Eric Bana plays Bruce Banner, a scientist who has repressed memories of childhood trauma and as a result represses his emotions as well. He cares for fellow PhD Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) but is unable to let her get close to him. When he is exposed to gamma rays in a lab accident, it triggers a genetic mutation that was the result of his father’s experiments. When all that repressed anger is released, he becomes the physical embodiment of rage: an enormous green guy known as the Hulk.
Lee beautifully creates the sense of the comic book page with intercut scenes that show how comics and movies, popular entertainments that began at the same time and became art forms, influenced each other. But the story moves too slowly. And the Hulk moves too fast — the decision to make the Hulk character entirely computer-animated was a mistake. Computer animated characters can feel completely “real” in an entirely animated film, as shown by “Shrek” and “Finding Nemo,” and even in a live-action film, as with “The Two Towers'” Golum. But they had human actors providing the voices, giving great depth and character to the performances. The Hulk does not speak (except briefly), so he never comes to life. Furthermore, his interaction with the real physical world is not believable. He is supposed to be extremely dense and heavy, but when he jumps, he lands like a grasshopper, absurdly resembling a Gameboy version of Super Mario.
We never really care about him or root for him, and his fights, while impressively staged, are never compelling. He does not fight bad guys; he fights the Army, which is trying to stop him from destroying everything around him. He is more like King Kong than Spider-Man (and therefore truer to the comic book version of the character than the television version).
Like all superheroes, the Hulk is really the fantasy id unleashed. That could probably be turned into a good movie, but this isn’t it. Jennifer Connelly looks lovely, but basically carries over her “Beautiful Mind” role, except this time instead of being in love with a brilliant crazy guy she’s in love with a brilliant green crazy guy. Nick Nolte, looking more crazed than in the mug shot for his recent arrest for driving under the influence, overdoes the mad scientist bit as Bruce Banner’s father. His character is supposed to add dark, Oedipal themes of destiny and consequences, but his appearances frequently sparked laughter from the audience and his final conversation with his son plays like a parody of Sam Shepherd as translated from the Finnish. Eric Bana as the Hulk in human form just looks sorry to be there. When he cries at last, we feel his pain.
Parents should know that the movie has a great deal of comic-book-style “action violence,” meaning that there is a lot of destruction, but it is not very graphic. Some viewers may be upset by the tragic family events in the story.
Families who see this movie should talk about the appeal of comic book characters, especially the Hulk, the tangible representation of repressed anger.
Families who enjoy this movie might like to see the original “King Kong,” also about a misunderstood giant creature who loves a beautiful woman and is hunted by the military. They should also see some of the other comic book-based movies, including “Superman,” “Batman,” and “Spider-Man.”