Little More Than Hulking

  • Share
  • Read Later

ANGRY GREEN GIANT: A scene from The Hulk, directed by Ang Lee

Sometimes he's Frankenstein — a big, strong child-creature looking for love in all the wrong places. Or anyway, in all the wrong ways. Sometimes his story will remind you of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — by day he's a mild-mannered scientist, by night he's a slavering beast from whose angry depredations no jugulars (especially, in this case, those belonging to members of the military-industrial complex) are safe. A lot of the time he may put you in mind of King Kong, a beast smitten by a beauty but kind of awkward when it's time to try a little tenderness. Then, of course, there's the whole Oedipal angle — "Chap [hates] his father and causes a lot of bother" to twist a line slightly from lyricist Howard Dietz that's more pointed and resonant than anything in "The Hulk."

We're probably missing a few literary or pop-cultural references in the foregoing, but never mind. Mostly the Hulk is a big, buff, green thingy — generally computer generated but occasionally a stop-motion model — bounding about the countryside, laying waste to a lot of expensive military hardware and pseudoscientific equipment. This is unquestionably what hormonally hyped teenage males are going to drag their dates to see. And one has to wonder: Will the special effects — surprisingly cheesy when the Hulk is ripping toy tanks apart — be sufficiently convincing for the guys? Will the romantic subtext — Jennifer Connelly's Betty loves the big guy both as Bruce Banner (Hulk's emotionally distant humanoid form) and as the perpetually outraged monster — be sufficiently entrancing for the dates they take to the movie?

One can safely predict that the girls will like Eric Bana, who plays Bruce Banner. He's just the kind of withdrawn, vulnerable cutie young women love. But you have to doubt the sturdiness of the film's legs over the long haul. These rest on Bruce's relationship with his rogue-scientist father (Nick Nolte).

The old boy long ago genetically misengineered his son, making him into a part-time monster. But the script misengineers their conflict into a woolly, semi-theological debate. Betty has "issues" with her father too — Sam Elliott's tough-minded general, who demonically pursues the Hulk but finds time to misunderstand his daughter's loving heart. You've never seen a movie so totally sold out to a sympathetic understanding of the Freudian roots of teenage angst.

O.K., its not easy being green. Or young, for that matter. But still, sci-fi's current lust for murky religio-psychological subtexts — so different from the straight-up social-science homilies of "Star Trek" — is getting tiresome. That error is compounded in "The Hulk" by repetitive special effects. It's fun the first time Hulk sails skyward. The 27th time, you're begging for mercy and fondly recalling Spider-Man's stunts from last year's megahit Marvel Comics adaptation. At least Spidey's stunts were graceful and pretty. The same might be said about director Ang Lee's soaring "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (and such witty and humane little films as "Eat Drink Man Woman" and "Sense and Sensibility"). Lee must have thought he could work a similar magic on this clunking, clanking machine. But despite a few witty wipes and split-screen tricks, he fails. "Hulk" is no better than hulking.