Ang Lee ('Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon') directs this special-effects (CGI), blockbuster adaptation of the Marvel comic character. Dr. Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is working in the research department of the University of California when he is accidentally hit by one of his experimental rays. This turns him into a very large, green monster which then goes on the rampage; destroying the lab and anything else that gets in its way. It transpires that Banner turns into this green hulk when he becomes angry. So when his despotic father (Nick Nolte) begins to use the rays to his own means, Banner's alter-ego has to go to the rescue of a fellow lab-mate, Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly). However, Banner is kidnapped by Glenn Talbot (Joshua Lucas), a wheeler-dealer who recognises a money-making scheme and manages to push Banner too far. The green monster once again rears its ugly head (!), going on another rampage through the streets of San Francisco. Is there anyone who can tame this beast?
Amazingly, Ang Lee's Hulk
makes a fair fist of pleasing everybody. The latest in a run of Marvel Comic-to-film transfers, it acknowledges the history of a character who dates back to 1962 while recreating him in contemporary terms. Though this, Hulk's origin still draws on the 1960s iconography of bomb tests and desert bases, this new take mixes gene-tampering with gamma radiation and never forgets that poor Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) has been psychologically primed by a mad father (Nick Nolte) and a disappointed girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) to transform from repressed wimp to big green powerhouse even before the mad science kicks in.
The long first act is enlivened by comic book-style split-screen effects and multiple foreshadowings--Lee keeps finding excuses to light Bana's face green--but is also absorbing personal drama from the man who gave you The Ice Storm before flexing his action muscles on Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. When Banner begins his Jekyll-and-Hyde seizures, the ILM CGI boys step in and use Bana as a template for the most fully-realised digital characterisation yet seen in the movies. Comics fans will thrill as a credibly bulky, superswift, super-green behemoth tangles with mutated killer dogs (including a very vicious poodle) in a night time forest, bursts out of confinement in an underground secret base, takes on America's military might while bouncing around a Road Runner and Coyote-like South Western desert and then invades San Francisco for some major "Hulk... smash" action. Artful and entertaining, engaging and explosive, this is among the most satisfying superhero movies.
On the DVD: Hulk two-disc set doesn't quite hulk-out as well comparative Marvel movie releases for the X-Men films, Spider-Man and Daredevil. Disc 2 assembles a pile of those infotainment documentaries prepared to drum up pre-publicity but which feel a bit redundant once the movie is out, especially since there's so much repetition between the featurettes. It's all very well, and some of the technical stuff is fascinating, but this particular film could do with a more in-depth thematic approach: there's a lot about how the CGI Hulk was realised but little on the development of the story, the performances or the general tone, though Ang Lee's slightly sparse commentary makes interesting stabs in that direction. The biggest revelation in the background material is that Lee, known for his delicacy of touch, himself wore the motion capture suit and smashed up plywood tanks as a guide for the CGI animators. --Kim Newman