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The Hulk: Dramatic in parts

Arthur J Pais | June 20, 2003 19:58 IST

For many fans eager to see the fireworks and explosions in The Hulk, Ang Lee's first film in about three years since the Oscar-winning hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the nearly 45-minute long wait may seem a bit too much.

A still from The HulkBut fine performances by a relatively new leading man and several veterans, including two Oscar winners (Jennifer Connelly and Nick Nolte) make up for the slow pace and brooding revelation of family secrets and complications during the long-drawn build-up.

When young scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is finally transformed into the monstrous and gigantic Hulk thanks to an uncontrollable rage, the special effects department takes over, offering the viewers many spectacular episodes set in parks and canyons and one superb sequence on the streets of San Francisco.

Even then Lee does not forget the human drama as he gets fellow scientist and former girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) help Bruce understand and face his painful past. It involves manipulations by his father David Banner (Nick Nolte), also a scientist. She also has to fight her own father General 'Thunderbolt' Ross (Sam Elliott), who wants the Hulk exterminated.  

Yet, with deep-felt performances that belong more to the kind of Victorian drama Lee handled in Sense And Sensibility and the chiller The Ice Storm, and many awesome stunt sequences, Lee has not been able to electrify the screen as much as he did with Crouching Tiger. That blockbuster, which was made at about $40 million, cost about a third of the current saga and was also scripted by James Schamus. But it was a compact, suspenseful and gripping work. It was also more vibrant and fun.

Though the story here offers possibilities of dramatic and emotional thunderstorms, Lee has not been able to create many heartfelt moments. Often, the conflict, angst and romantic pull seem very distant. These factors could prevent The Hulk from being a giant hit like Spider-Man, also based on a Marvel Comics character, which hit a terrific $800 million benchmark worldwide.  

The early part of the new film shows genetic experiments by military scientist David Banner and his fight with his superiors. Banner's self-injection of untested material has tremendous consequences when he unintentionally passes the corrupt and dangerous DNA to his son Bruce. Following a few mysterious developments, David Banner disappears for a long time. When he reappears, the past keeps coming back to haunt his son, a scientist working in the same field as his father, and everyone around him.

Though fellow scientist Betty Ross finds Bruce too distant to be a lover, she admires and cares for him. Bruce and Betty are being courted --- and then threatened --- by corporate honcho Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas), who is convinced the two are on the verge of discovering the secrets of animal cell regeneration which could also have a huge impact on humans.

As Bruce and Betty deal with Talbot, their life is complicated by the sudden reappearance of David Banner (Nick Nolte) who ominously tells his son: "Of course you are flesh and blood, but you are something else, too."

Soon, we have Bruce flying into a rage, turning into a green giant, destroying the lab and flying through the roof. A more terrifying scene has Bruce thrashing Talbot and then heading off to save Betty from the mad dogs commissioned by his crazed father who had been confined for three decades by the military at the behest of Betty's father.

The movie's most dramatic -- and entertaining -- segment shows Bruce fleeing the military across awesome canyons, fighting helicopter gunships and tanks, climbing the Golden Gate Bridge and creating havoc on San Francisco's busy streets.

A still from The HulkThe climax, which seems tame in comparison to all that has gone before it, amply indicates a sequel.

Australian actor Eric Bana, who has worked in couple of small films apart from Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, offers a compellingly brooding portrait. Jennifer Connelly, as his colleague who is puzzled and anguished not only by Bruce's mysterious past and repressed misery but also by her own dysfunctional family, is superb. Connelly, who won an Oscar for her fine performance in A Beautiful Mind, a story of a troubled but real life genius, is a treasure in The Hulk. Even then, the screenplay could have given her better opportunities to display her talent.

Elliott, Nolte, another Oscar recipient -- and not to overlook Lucas -- offer very good support.

Cast: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte
Producers: Avi Arad, Gale Anne Hurd, Larry J Franco, James Schamus
Director: Ang Lee
Screenplay: John Turman, Michael France, James Schamus, David Hayter, Michael Tolkin
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Rating: PG 13

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