HULK LOVE HULK MOVIE!
Hulk movie capture essence of Hulk! Movie not exactly Comic Hulk, but Hulk not care! HULK MOVIE GOOD HULK MOVIE!
Okay, gotta try and shake that speak off, but as you might have surmised by now, I am a fan of the Hulk. True, I tend to support all comic book movies (Batman & Robin notwithstanding), because I am a giant geek and I like to encourage more of the same (since all it takes is one stinkeroo to kill off the cool trend and make suits say 'okay, superheroes are played - time for 3 Fast 3 Furious!'), but I'm different with the Hulk. I'm not sure when it started, but not too long ago, I went hogwild with Hulk back issues, and thus I have more Hulk comics than any others, and this is from a guy who wore Spider-Man underoos as a lad. Something about this giant green bastard just rules. It might have started when I heard about the fact that there was an incarnation of the Hulk (he's not JUST a big green oaf) where he was gray-skinned, more intelligent, nasty as hell and WORKING AS A LEGBREAKER NAMED MR. FIXIT FOR A LAS VEGAS CASINO OWNER. (see Fig. 1) I don't care what you think of the Hulk - that concept is absolutely fabulous.
Fig 1: Mobster Hulk: Coolest Thing Ever
So yeah, the Pete digs on the Hulk, and truth be told, I would have liked Hulk underoos, but they were a dad-blamed ripoff. Spider-Man had the spidey-costume emblem on his chest. Superman had the big red S, Aquaman even had the orange shirt with the A over the heart. Did the Hulk 'roos have big green muscles on a big green shirt? NO. It was a plain white shirt with a little picture of the Hulk up and to the left of the wearer. This, my friends, is horseshit.
Fig 2: Horseshit
So, anyway, it was with great hope and even greater trepidation that the approach of the Hulk Movie was greeted.
Fig 3: Spazz-Mullet Lou Ferrigno Hulk, with the late, great Bill Bixby
Fig 4: The Absorbing Man: A criminal thug who could absorb the properties of whatever he touched. Someone would always trick him into absorbing glass. Not the sharpest tack, but loads and loads of fun, if for no other reason than that he referred to women as 'chippies.'
So, yes, there was great fear, and with great fear comes great accountability. Or something. When Spider-Man was coming out, the obnoxiously huge press blitz that would normally sour me on a film sight unseen only served to make me more excited. Every Spidey billboard I saw made me go "hot damn, they'z makin' a Spidey movie!" However, the Hulk blitz, which was just as prevalent, only served to fill me with worry and dread. I WANTED it to be awesome and go over huge, but enough people were complaining about the difference from the TV show and playing that 'Shrek' card that I feared it would tank and I would have to cry for a week.
Did I mention I was worried? Okay, I was worried. Despite all the talk of the previews featuring 'unfinished CG work,' I was afeared.
So finally the prior weekend approaches, and I'm watching the hilarious antics of Adult Swim on Ye Olden Cartoone Networkke and I see some new images I ain't seen - the guy leaping like a rocket away from lots of explosions. For some reason, that settled me, for the most part. I just decided that it would be good, my wish is granted, long live Jambi.
Luckily, Jambi was not to be contradicted. Ang Lee's "Hulk" is a many splendored thing. It is not without its faults, but it does the job it has to do - it offsets the idea of a gigantic green monster man rampaging around by taking it deathly seriously. It's not a happy-go-lucky teen-angst story like Spider-Man. It's not an inspiringly cornball superhero movie like Superman. It's not even a brooding vigilante saga like Daredevil. It's about some poor withdrawn schmuck, who's so mentally futzed that he doesn't even realize he's futzed, suddenly having his life utterly wrenched out of whack and into violent, dangerous insanity.
Bruce Krenzler (Bana) is an orphan who doesn't remember anything about his childhood. His foster parents took good care of him, and he became a highly successful scientist working on human regeneration, and even bagged Jennifer Connelly - er, Betty Ross - although their relationship ended because of his inability to express his emotions. Suddenly, there's an accident in the lab, and to save a co-worker, he gets all irradiated with gamma rays and nanomed technology (do we all understand the concept of 'nanotechnology' now? Little tiny robo-things on a microscopic level doin' crazy damage so da wack gets banished?) and, although they've never tested it successfully, he feels absosmurfly fantabulous. That is, until the frazzled-out creep-assed new night janitor, whose been pretty much stalking him quietly, shows up in his hospital room and dumps some heavy shit on him.
"General Ross never told you what happened to your father."
He told me enough! He told me he's dead!
"No. I... am your father."
No! That's not true! THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE!
"Search your feelings, Bruce. You KNOW it to be true!"
So aside from the "F-Bomb," which in this case means father, David Banner (Nolte) also lets his son Bruce in on the family name, and introduces him to the mangy mutts he enjoys the company of, and rambles incessantly and urgently about his experiments and his destiny and how special Bruce is and how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop. Bruce doesn't really take this to heart, because hey, if King Grizzled Dog-Lover tells you he's your father, you're not gonna jump for joy at that thought, either. But after a few visits from Asshole Jones, aka Glenn Talbot (Lucas), a snotty military science contractor (and apparent ex-flame of Betty's) who's in good with her father, one General Thunderbolt Ross (Elliott) - in fact, in better with her father than Betty herself is - Bruce discovers that Atheon, the fancy-pants business Talbot runs, is threatening to take over their work for the healing of humanity and use it to make unstoppable soldiers. This is anathema to him, and one of the few times Bruce expresses emotion is to talk some smack to Talbot, who doesn't take kindly to it.
Oh. Look who thinks he's Clever Dan.
So Bruce dwells on this whole 'impending doom to his career' thing, which isn't helped by Betty calling him to confirm suspicions that her belligerent father and Smarmbag Talbot are about to hijack his life's work. This, plus the fact that Dave the Nightstalking Sleazebag has claimed to be his nutjob pappy, and the fact that he's been having recurring nightmares about things he almost remembers about his childhood that terrify him, and he's reflecting on how his ex-girlfriend and good friend used to have nightmares during their relationship about him strangling her as a child, well, it all builds up and he starts to have a nervous breakdown. Repressed anger, repressed memories and an oppressed life all start to cave in on him, and he feels something coming over him. He thinks he might be sick. He doesn't know what to do. He bursts out of his lab and looks around for somebody, anybody in the halls to help... and he accidentally stumbles over a mop bucket, and as we all know, if you're in a pissy mood already and you trip over something painfully, that's when the obscenities come flying out of your face like one of those never-ending handkerchief deals that Howie Mandel said would be funny for gynecologists to use to entertain their patients (three guesses where it'd come from). Suddenly, Bruce goes over the edge and mutates like a motherfucker into a lumbering green musclebound hulk, smashing the living shit out of his lab. As you might imagine, things go downhill from there.
I won't blurt out the entire story, but suffice it to say that Nolte discovers this secret and he gets even more obsessed with his own madness. General Ross comes a-thundering down on him to remind Bruce of a horrible past he should remember, and Talbot catapults over-the-top and becomes a comically cartoonish jackass that gets to knock Bruce around and bring forth some serious Hulk Smash action.
Ang Lee has done a remarkable job in creating a moody, quiet and foreboding comic book movie - not something you get a lot of in the slam-bang age here. This isn't a superhero - it's an unstoppable beast, a manifestation of uncontrollable emotion running free, and it's treated as such for the most part. True, the Hulk has moments of heroism, but it fits the character. He's not evil. He doesn't WANT to fight - HULK JUST WANTS TO BE LEFT ALONE. That's been his mantra in the comics. Puny humans always HOUND Hulk, try to HURT Hulk, but Hulk is the strongest one there is! Hulk will SMASH puny humans! He doesn't start fights, but he damn well finishes them, and that's why the desert base escape and chase sequence is so goddamned perfect. I saw this film three times, and I still got bouncy, giggly and giddy every time this scene kicked into gear. It was so beautifully done. The well-rendered Hulk just searching for some peace and quiet to try and think, to try and remember things, and you get to see the chase from his perspective. He's just there, minding his own business, when suddenly, little things appear next to him and blow up with some serious force, and it just pisses him off. He tries to get away, but stupid bomb things follow! Hulk not know where stupid bomb things come from! Wait, what are things in distance? THINGS SHOOT AT HULK! Hulk not hurt things, but things shoot at Hulk! HULK WILL SHOW THINGS THAT HULK STRONGEST ONE THERE IS! LEAVE HULK ALONE!
I cannot stress enough how perfect this whole sequence was.
A lot of people will complain that there isn't nearly enough Hulk Smash and it takes far too long to get to the first Hulk out. On point the first, I don't mind so much. For one thing, it makes the Hulk that much more precious when he DOES appear. Also, this was a bold leap forward in CGI. I was afraid we'd be having animation quality as bad as Blade 2 or Daredevil. As much as I didn't want to admit it, I feared the Shrek thing, too. But this Hulk was amazingly well-crafted, and the only time it ever really looked off was during the change from Banner to Hulk and back. Other than that, it felt like a living, breathing character, and I, for one, was glad they concentrated on making the Hulk they HAD look fantastic and that they didn't spread the CG budget too thin and try to cram more substandard Hulk in there somewhere. Now that this hurdle has been jumped, making the Hulk should be a bit easier, and thus there can be more in the sequel when he fights the Abomination. Or maybe not, since the Abomination would mean DOUBLE the CG.
Abomination: Fugly Permanent Hulk. Cape optional.
On the second point, yeah. Although I did enjoy the slow build to the first Hulk-out, I can concede that some cuts could have been made and a tweak or two could have helped the pacing a little. It would have been a bit more powerful if the Hulk's first appearance was the result of some sudden emotional trauma and not just a "Fuck, my life sucks. FUCK, it really sucks! HOLY FUCK MY LIFE IS SHITTY AND CRAPPY! RARARRRFGARRAGH!" Maybe then it wouldn't feel a bit forced as it does, but the rampage through the lab, which includes a clumsy Hulk slipping and falling on his ass, made me not give too much of a damn about that. Also, it might have been more effective if we didn't see any of Bruce's childhood until it's related to us by his father or General Ross, but I was goofily happy with Paul Kersey and Todd Tesen doing their Nolte and Elliott impressions at the beginning that I'm glad they gave them plenty to do. I will admit, though, that comic book movies can no longer open with some wacky molecule-cam. This needs to stop. X-Men, Spider-Man, and now "Hulk." It needs to stop. If "The Punisher" has it, I'm writing my Congressman.
So the movie is a little overlong, but that's forgiveable. The comic homage paneling transitions are wonderful. It took me half the movie to figure out that's what he was going for - up to that point, I thought it was some iffy 70s TV homage, and I'd had enough of that in McG's Celebrity Wirefighting Bikini Chicks. Of course, my opinion changed when I realized "hey, this looks like a comic book. Bitchin'!" It was used to good effect, and it spiced up some sequences that needed to be spiced up. I also had no problem with the gamma-dogs. Some people couldn't deal with them. I liked 'em just fine. A little iffy with the CG, but there was so much good Hulk that it's easier to forgive any bad. Eric Bana played a great, tortured Bruce Banner, and Connelly kept reaching out and plucking my heart out of my chest at random intervals - if I was the Hulk, I couldn't smash her, either. I was worried that Sam Elliott would be a bit too low-key for the blustery Thunderbolt Ross, but to my delight, he could bring the thunder as it was needed. Nolte, though... wow. I would have had a much harder time swallowing the final confrontation if it wasn't for how truly fried and insane Nolte is. Bruce's dad in the comics was a raging bastard who resented his son and was constantly antagonistic towards him, and Nolte captures that sort of brain-frazzled psychosis pretty well, underplaying it and delivering his lines with urgency and apparent clarity of thought, which forces you to think about what he's saying before you realize "Hey, this guy's out of his goddamned MIND." It was the strength of Nolte's crazy that hooked me on the broken David Banner enough to overlook the drastic changes made.
The biggest issue I had with the film is the big climax. As I said, I'm a big fan of The Absorbing Man "Crusher" Creel, and so I was somewhat disappointed to see that they were taking that cool guy's powers and grafting them onto Bruce's dad, who never had any super abilities in the comics other than getting drunk off his ass and flying into fits of asinine rage. This movie really didn't feel like it needed a "supervillain" confrontation at the end, and blending cool characters together really bugged my anal comic nerd sensibilities for a while. The second time through, though, I realized that by violating the comic, they could also be paying homage to some of the lower-rent Marvel characters that will never see the light of day. There's a Hulk villain who's a being of pure electricity, called Zzzzaaaxxx. I am unsure as to the consonant duplication rules for that name. Then there's the aforementioned Absorbing Man, and then there's Hydro-Man, who's really more of a Spider-Man villain, but a really lame one. His real name is Morrie Bench, for cryin' out loud. So this big fight at the end is sorta like watching the Hulk fight three Marvel characters at once. If you look at it that way, it ain't so bad.
Zzaxx and Hydro-Man. They shall never darken the doorstep of your local video parlor.
The huge 'power-bubble' end sequence is up for debate as well. A huge metaphorical battle of wills, power and anger rages between Absorbing Dad and the Hulk, with Crusher Nolte commanding Bruce to return the power he was granted, and Bruce daring him to take it all, if he can handle it. The result is a gigantic jellyfish image of scattered memories, power and colossal magnitude, but it's really just a big bubble that gets bombed. While that seems at first to be a bit of a crap way to end a film like this, when you think about it, there are MANY, MANY comics that end this way. Two superpowered beings flinging ill-defind spiritual, mystical, magical, musical, xenical energies back and forth in a battle of wills. True, it's not a great thing to emulate, but it does have roots in the nerd community.
Overall, however, I'm very happy with the Hulk movie. Pleasantly surprised on some aspects, turning a blind eye to others, and I look forward to the sequel - which means you have to go SEE this movie in order to make sure there IS a sequel, which is likely to top this one if the current trend holds. Unless it goes the Red Dragon route and farms itself out to losers to direct and botch. Here's hoping it doesn't.
Someone lock Joel Schumacher in a phone booth NOW, and break the key into twelfths.
Some people won't react very strongly to this film, but others will love it for trying to break the code of comic movies that have to be skimpy on plot and long on action. A friend said it best: "I went in expecting a movie, and I got a film. I really liked the film, but I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't get a movie."
A somewhat sad and frustrating paradox, to be sure, but this will be many a reaction to this film. Not mine, though.