Big Green Has a Size Problem
2003 saw Eric Bana take on the role of Bruce Banner aka The Incredible Hulk and since then we have had Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo take on the comic book character in subsequent super hero movies. Why it was decided to change actors is beyond me because in all fairness Eric Bana is one of the better things about "Hulk", a movie which is not bad but has some bad things. One of those bad things is the simple fact that someone thought a big green man needed a big movie, a movie which goes on for 138 minutes and becomes painfully long. Size is not the issue which troubles "Hulk" as special effects are another and in general a sense of style and tone which makes it feel like it is sitting on the fence between being serious and comical. But I will say again "Hulk" is not bad just troubled and if some clever person had been stricter in the editing room it may have worked out a lot better.
Bruce Banner (Eric Bana - The Time Traveller's Wife) and Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly - A Beautiful Mind) are both scientists working on a miraculous cure for healing wounds, but when an accident in the lab causes Bruce to be hit by a giant blast of Gamma radiation it should have killed him. Instead Bruce feels better than ever except for the little fact that when he gets angry he turns into a big green monster. Why Bruce has this strange gift, well his father David (Nick Nolte) holds the answer and having been in prison for most of Bruce's life suddenly reappears. David is not the only one interested in Bruce's alter ego as Betty's father General Ross (Sam Elliott - The Big Lebowski) is also after him as is business man Talbot (Josh Lucas) who sees an opportunity to exploit.
As storylines go it feels like the writers have tried to make something big out of something simple and "Hulk" is a simple almost text book super hero movie. By that I mean it has essentially two halves the first being about how Bruce Banner ends up having his big green alter ego and the other being about bad guy, action side. These two sides over lap and interweave nicely as part of the overall story because it is Bruce's dad who is not only responsible for his alter ego state but is also a danger. But then each side feels almost like a movie in their own right delivering more detail than you would expect from a movie which in most cases would be watched by those wanting action.
So that means for pretty much the first hour we get the back story, a back story which takes us back to Bruce's dad doing experiments and going against his boss's orders and testing on himself. His altered DNA gets passed on to Bruce and then for those a little familiar with the story of the Hulk there is the incident with a Gamma ray which ends up altering Bruce and giving him his big green angry side. Now I don't know how authentic all of this is, I hope that with so much time spent on giving us a back story that the genesis of the Hulk we watch is authentic to the comic book origins. But it delivers so much detail be it how comes Bruce has this altered DNA or the relationships between Bruce, Betty, her father General Ross and so on that it feels never ending.
And never ending is definitely something which dogs the second half of "Hulk" which basically is the action side as various people want a slice of Bruce and his big green alter ego, in some cases quite literally. But what should be a very simple action filled second half all about Bruce and his alter ego dealing with the military and those who are after him ends up filled with more depth. It's not just depth as we get what for me feels like a lot of false endings, in fact "Hulk" is a movie which passes up on not just 1 perfect ending but 2 and it becomes frustrating.
Frustrating is how I feel about the CGI because a lot of the action featuring The Incredible Hulk is in the dark and so you can't see him properly. Ironically whilst it is frustrating when we do see The Incredible Hulk in some day time shots the special effects shows their deficiencies. From the Hulk running to jumping long distances, which in itself seems a bit too much, it feels at times like a cartoon slapped onto a background. The annoying thing is that close up the CGI work looks great but in the expansive shots it looks wrong.
Now when we don't have the Hulk we have Bruce Banner played by Eric Bana and I like what Eric does, he plays Bruce with a touch of the science geek about him but also one who breaks the mould. He works well with Jennifer Connelly who plays love interest Betty and Sam Elliott is great as her military father General Ross. In fact the casting through out is good and it makes me wonder why when they did reboot the "Hulk" franchise that they felt the need because the actors did a good job this time around.
But there is for me the problem, well the problem when combined with the overlong story and that is the style of director Ang Lee and the overall tone. Now on one hand the split screen action which mimics old cartoons is a nice touch but then "Hulk" seems unsure of what it is. Basically "Hulk" seems to sit in the middle ground as it is not light hearted but then not excessively dark either. It makes it a strange movie, almost a flat drama rather than trying to appeal to those who like comedy action or those who like tortured super heroes. And when you combine the strange tone mixed with the over long story it makes "Hulk" feel a little wrong.
What this all boils down to is that "Hulk" whilst entertaining is a troubled monster of a movie, troubled by its tone, troubled by its special effects and troubled by a story which goes too in depth and on and on and on.