Running Time: 138 mins
Some of my readers have commented that one of my recurring criticisms is that many films are too long. Well, here I go again. As visually stylish as it is in parts, The Hulk, at over two hours, well and truly overstays its welcome.
Based on the Marvellous Marvel comic, Bruce Banner (Australia's Eric Bana) is The Hulk. His father David (Paul Kersey) is a geneticist working rather improbably at an Army nuclear test site in Arizona. The army refuses more funding for David's genetic manipulation experiments, so he experiments on himself. When Bruce is born David realises he has passed on altered genetic material to his son. Years later Dr Bruce Banner, now a famous geneticist in his own right, is involved in a radiation accident, which triggers the latent genetic material to become active in his system. When he becomes angry Bruce becomes The Hulk and causes havoc.
Having made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility and Eat Drink Man Woman, we know that Ang Lee is an outstanding director. With the help of Tim Squyres' dazzling editing, The Hulk's opening sequence is a masterpiece all on its own. In a seeming homage to Czech composer Arvo Part, Kenneth Burgomaster and Danny Elfman's music score captures the gravity of the ethical issues Lee is exploring. But after this auspicious start the film gets bogged down for 34 minutes setting up the background to the story. It's a rare viewer who does not know that The Hulk is about a man who changes into a green giant. We could have, literarily, cut to the chase after less than 15 minutes.
Maybe one of the reasons Lee holds off showing us the big guy is that when the hulk appears he looks so fake. As good as the animatics are in the action scenes, the sight of a massive green bodybuilder, who bursts out of his clothes, except, rather modestly, for his lycra shorts, and looses his voice in the process, is absurd, even for this genre. The Hulk ends up being a monstrous Bam-Bam from the Flintstones.
The premise of The Hulk, in its comic book incarnation and in this film, is a very important one indeed. It's called the scientific imperative: just because we can do something should we do it? Apart from writing some terrible dialogue, the five scriptwriters of The Hulk raise ethical questions regarding animal and human experimentation, gene therapy and a father who experiments on his son. Recovered memory and state-sponsored torture get a run as well. In a sense this is a secular and scientific version of the Abraham and Isaac story. The film clearly warns of the price to be paid for playing God.
The worry is that with such weighty foundations The Hulk descends into one chase sequence after another as Bruce's anger management issues are triggered by just about everyone and everything. And although Bruce warns, "You wouldn't like me when I get angry"; he also confesses, "When I totally loose control, I like it". For its mix of dreams, anger and repressed sexuality The Hulk is already the front-runner to win "Most Freudian Film of the Year."
One nice moment to look out for is Lou Ferrigno, from the 1978 TV series The Incredible Hulk, playing a security guard at Bruce's labs in Berkeley. He's clearly gone on to other things and although the ending of The Hulk sets up its sequel, let's hope all the talented people involved in this film will move on to something else too.
Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the Director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.