With Hulk director genius Ang Lee has created a major work of cinematic art. Here is a pure auteur-film with massive budget and unlimited imagination on loose. It is completely original film adaptation of one of the most popular comicbook heroes which Marvel has ever had.
This is one of those adaptations which split audiences strictly half when it was released and it still does. Some embrace it's extremely dark and more talky tone, while some are expecting much more action, set-pieces and mayhem. I myself quite honestly admire this film's take on it's title hero. In Ang Lee's and his regular collaborator's, writer James Schamus, hands Hulk becomes the most complex and psychologically damaged superhero ever created.
Lee has always been a director who is much more interested in his characters than just plain action or any set-pieces and here it works for the film's advantage. For once we get to know film's characters and in the end we also do care for their fate. Like in his earlier films like The Ice Storm or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Lee give space for his actors and the dialogue between them. Impatient viewers might get frustrated while waiting Bruce Banner to turn his green-gear on, but even within those moments when he does the action always serves the story and not the other way around. And those who are in to see exciting adrenaline filled action set-pieces and some spectacular effects, i can only say that the final third of this film is just pure adreanline rush that will leave no comicbook fan cold and therefore will fulfill any fanboy's wet dream.
One of the most interesting elements in this film is it's revolutionary and expressionistic use of split-screen, surreal dream imagery and outstanding cgi. All these elements are used to the maximum effect and in the hands of Ang Lee they become something much more experimental that we've seen in any other standard blockbuster before. They become work of art. Not before and since Lee's Hulk has been such a revolutionary comicbook film when it comes visuals.
You could say that Ang Lee is clearly aiming to pull viewers as close to the fractured and deeply traumatized mind of Bruce Banner. Here is a character who is struggling with his inner demons and especially his disturbing memories of his father. There is this fantastic introduction at the beginning of this film which shows us how Banner's father uses him as lab rat in his own experiments and the results are as destructive as they are in a way succesful. Later in the film it comes more and more evident that the whole film is actually based on these memories of Banner and how he must learn to cope with them. That would have made this film grim already but Lee makes it even more disturbing and challenging for viewers by adding the constant struggle between his darker and berserk Hulk side and more calm human side. Hulk in him represent all the repressed rage and anger towards his father and Bruce represent his calm and more childlike side. In many ways Hulk is the first deeply bipolar comicbook charater ever created and that is what makes him much more interesting and even more human than many other superheroes i know. He is in a constant struggle with himself and with his anger which can trigger the beast in him.
Eric Bana does his career best work as a psychologically wounded Bruce Banner. It is a difficult role and Bana give himself to it completely. It also feels quite refrehsing to see actor like Nick Nolte as a Banner's dad. It is a brave move from him as an actor and he nails it perfectly. Their screentime together is simply joy to watch and the final verbal confrontation between them is like a therapy session turned into a boxing match. There are also great supporting roles from Jennifer Connelly as a Betty Ross, Banner's love interest and Sam Elliot as Betty's caring father who is forced to make some of the film's most difficult decisions. Kudos must be given also to Danny Elfman's outstanding score which might be his career best score to date. It must also be mentioned that Industrial Light & Magic's effects are pure work of art. With Hulk they have simply outdone themselves.
Hulk is very underrated film which is almost up there with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as one of Lee's best work. Actually Hulk might be Lee's ambitious film to date which does not shy away from it's themes of dysfunctional family, traumas and struggle of fragile mental health . As a comicbook adaptation Hulk is one of the best and the most richest of them all.