Reviews & Columns
International DVDs
In Theaters
Reviews by Studio
Video Games

Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Anime Talk
DVD Savant
Horror DVDs
The M.O.D. Squad
Art House
HD Talk
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum

DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info



Universal // PG-13 // June 20, 2003
List Price: Unknown

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted June 22, 2003 | E-mail the Author
The movie

The Hulk. He's big, green, and bad-tempered, and for many viewers, he's one of the superhero icons of their childhood. Wouldn't it be nice if there were a great action movie made about the Hulk, drawing on his interesting origins and weaving a tense story about his uncontrollable transformations and the balance between explosive rage and calm control? Yeah, it would be nice, wouldn't it? Well, don't go to see Hulk expecting to see that movie. In fact, don't go to see Hulk at all, if you can possibly help it.

Let's start off with saying that I don't have anything against superhero movies; while they're not at the top of my favorites list, I've certainly enjoyed many of them, like Superman I and II, or the more recent Spiderman; heck, I even thought X2 was moderately entertaining. As for the Hulk, I used to watch the live-action Incredible Hulk television show as a kid, so there were some fond childhood memories there. And I thought that Ang Lee was a potentially interesting choice as director, since I enjoyed his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon a great deal. But Hulk is a horrible movie. I'm not kidding here. It's a textbook example of poor storytelling, from start to finish.

The most glaring fault in the film is that the viewer is ahead of the characters at every single step of the film. Nothing comes as a surprise, because it's been telegraphed well ahead of time; by the time a "new" plot twist arrives, it's dull and flat because we've seen it coming for half an hour. While Bruce is struggling to figure out what's going on with his body, we already know the details. While he's trying to piece together his repressed memories, we already know most of what he's trying to remember. While the army is trying to destroy the Hulk, we already know exactly what won't work (and what will work). Not only is there no suspense, because the cards have been revealed to the viewer far too early, this leads the movie to become dull: we watch, impatient, as the characters play connect-the-dots in a puzzle that we solved the first time it was hinted at.

The film is about self-discovery: Bruce's discovery of who he really is, who his parents are, and what he's capable of. This is a powerful story, and one that's frequently mined in superhero films for good reason: it easily represents the process of painful self-discovery that every person must go through, only writ large. But the key word here is "discovery." For the viewer to be interested in the process, we must be a party to it, not a bored observer. There's utterly no mystery about the Hulk's origins, as the opening credits and the first scenes of the film spell out to the letter exactly how the Hulk got his abilities.

There's no excuse for this kind of sloppy storytelling. As it is, the film's structure sabotages its own storytelling; the identical story material could have been used to excellent effect, if it had been presented differently. If the information about the Hulk's origins had been kept from the viewer, there would have been a nice level of suspense as Bruce tries to find out what's going on (and the accident at his lab would have been much more compelling); the scenes from the opening credits could have been woven in later on, when they'd evoke an actual reaction from the audience of "aha, the truth is revealed!" rather than serving as a hasty explanation of everything, before we even know or care about the characters. Compare Hulk's handling of Bruce's self-revelation to the way that the same material was presented in Spiderman, and you'll see the difference.

But it's not enough that the audience is far ahead of the characters at every turn; the characters have to spend an inordinate amount of screen time telling each other things that we already know. The background on Bruce's repressed memories is presented at least three separate times without advancing the relevant part of the story one bit; it almost feels like a conflation of several script drafts that nobody bothered to edit. Even more infuriatingly, not only do the characters tell each other things that we, the viewers, already know, but they obstinately refuse to reveal important information to each other, information that would allow the plot to actually progress at a normal pace. "I won't talk to you" scenes crop up between Bruce and David, David and Betty, and Betty and General Ross, all extremely contrived. Again, this is just incompetent storytelling: if some real tension between the characters was needed, the story could have been arranged so that the characters actually didn't know the answers, or had good reasons not to reveal what they know.

All right, so the story is badly mishandled, or butchered rather; that's bad enough, but we're not done yet. Hulk is one of the most badly paced movies I've seen in quite some time. After an extensive buildup (which, as I mentioned, is sapped of dramatic effect because we already know the background of the Hulk), finally we get to the "action" parts of the film. In theory, these should have been exciting. In practice... most are as dull as ditchwater, entertaining only on the meta-level as I admired the computer graphics.

Exactly one of the action sequences has some merit: when the Hulk is rampaging in the military base. Some neat tricks are employed here as the military attempts first to subdue the Hulk and then limit the amount of damage he's causing. I think that this sequence must have been a fluke, though, because the rest of the action sequences are handled with the idea that a display of raw power and destruction is somehow inherently fascinating.

Sure: it's neat to see just how powerful the Hulk really is. But it can be overdone, as in the scene with the Hulk versus a pack of mutant dogs. I actually found the gratuitous excess of this scene to be disturbing, as we get a level of physical violence that's not present in the rest of the film, with the implication that this super-violence is OK because of the nature of the Hulk's opponents. (Uh-huh: it's fine to dismember an animal that's been trained to attack but doesn't know any better, but humans armed with guns consciously trying to kill the Hulk get off with bruises. Right. Great message.)

The action centerpiece of the film is a long sequence in which the army tries to destroy the Hulk, using an increasingly lethal set of armaments. It goes on. And on. And on. I felt like personally going up to the army characters, shaking them around the neck, and saying "Get a clue! This isn't working!" But then that wouldn't give the filmmakers an opportunity to show off quite so many explosions and general destruction, so the unfortunate audience gets stuck with this bloated monstrosity of an action scene. The escalation of destruction also gets progressively less exciting as it gets more violent; by the end, pretty much whatever the Hulk does is ho-hum, as we're so numbed by the constant barrage of explosions that it all seems bland.

The icing on this dreadful cake is the cinematography. Ang Lee frequently uses a technique of multiple split-screen images that evokes the paneled nature of comic books, along with a variety of special fades and transitions. Now, if these special montages had been used for only a few special occasions during the film, they could have been quite effective, particularly in some of the action scenes. As it is, however, these effects are far overused, and I was heartily sick of them by the end of the film. As anybody who cooks knows, it's not true that if a little of a spice is good, then a lot is better: a pinch of salt or a touch of oregano can bring out the flavor in a sauce, but a handful of either can make it inedible.

The only thing that saves Hulk from getting no stars at all is its CGI, which is really quite good. Human forms are the hardest to re-create using computer graphics, so I had some doubts about whether the Hulk would look acceptable or not; as it turns out, it looks great. The CGI is the only saving grace of the film, but it's not enough, not by a long, long, long shot. I had a free ticket to see this movie, and I still feel ripped off. If I'd had to pay to see this black hole of entertainment, I'd likely have gone into a Hulk-like rage in the theater lobby. Skip it – there are far more entertaining things you can do with your time, like cleaning your bathroom or doing your taxes. 



Skip It

E - M A I L
this review to a friend
Popular Reviews

Sponsored Links
Sponsored Links