Director: Ang Lee
Patricia Ducey

"Damn it, it's entertainment!"

There are films and there are movies. Hulk is a movie and an appealing one at that.

Young scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) works with former love Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly). They remain friends even though his emotional remoteness has destroyed their relationship. But the dark forces lying just beneath his bland exterior are close to erupting when Banner's birth father (Nick Nolte), comes back into his life and finally unhinge completely when a scientific accident overdoses Bruce with gamma rays. Bruce and Betty search out their pasts in the dusty town where they both were raised. The truth, however, does not set Banner free, and the rest of the film deals with his inevitable status as tormented outsider.

Eric Bana is the perfect tabula rasa, unaware of the demons lurking barely beneath his cool exterior. Jennifer Connelly and Sam Elliot as her own difficult Dad, do creditable jobs. Nick Nolte chews the scenery a bit and, yes, looks exactly like his recent Malibu mug shot. Lee directs his actors in his usual somnambulant style, which works more often than not, but his visuals are as extraordinary as any in Crouching Tiger, especially Hulk's lyrical escape to the desert. The prologue, shot in vivid color and extreme close-up, literally drips with visuals of wet, slithery animal and human experiments. Do not let your friend from PETA watch this part.

Lee's narrative doesn't pull any punches, either. Hulk is born into a cruel world. When his true nature emerges, he morphs into a not-so-jolly Green Giant and destroys pretty much anything or anyone (except Betty) who gets in the way of his mad-on. When Banner discovers the secret of his traumatic childhood, his own damaged nature, and his father's callous role in each, Lee uses his full powers of exquisite sense of composition and restrained directing to quite simply break our hearts.

Hulk is a conflicted monster, cursed by his superpowers rather than ennobled. He does not save the downtrodden, or fight for truth, justice and the American way. Hulk gets mad -- and he eventually admits, "When I totally lose control, I like it." Lee's Hulk resists facile pop psychology interpretation, however. Hulk's problem is not that he hates his father; it's that he doesn't hate him enough to kill him when he has the chance.

Lee borrows from familiar Monster myths, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, the abandoned child, Freudian, Jungian - yada, yada, yada. It's all there, one trope on top of the other, providing fertile ground for graduate student papers and twitchy reviewers alike.

Forget what you know: embrace the post-ironic It's not vitally important why Hulk's purple pants grow, too, or which filmmaker made the best Frankenstein. Sometimes I want to suspend my disbelief and lose my Self at the movies. This Hulk is scary enough to send child beside me diving into her mother's lap; and it drew at least one tear from this hard-bitten exegete for the child who trembles wide-eyed under every figurative table. If you think too much, you might miss it. As a classmate of mine shouted out in a grinding lecture on film analysis: "It's entertainment, damn it, and people like entertainment"!

-- Patricia Ducey

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Copyright Web del Sol, 2003

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