Guilty Pleasures: Hulk

Hulk 1

What do you get when you combine Marvel’s monster from the id with an Oscar winning art house director? Crouching green giant, hidden subtext. Welcome to Hulk, this month’s SMASHING Guilty Pleasure!

I’ve never really liked superhero crossover or team stories, until Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. Before this, the Hulk to me was a rage machine unleashed by Bill Bixby banging his hand off a car jack in the lashing rain, on the run from his past. That’s why Ang Lee’s serious psychodrama is such an interesting take on what too many fanboys see as just “HULK SMASH”.

We’re going to have to watch that temper of yours.”

Ang Lee’s approach was to deal with repressed memory, and the sins of the father visited on the son. Nick Nolte is David Banner, a former scientist on a military base who secretly continued his super strength / recovery experiments on his infant son, when barred from using human test subjects. Young Bruce witnessed a violent argument between his parents, but as an adult (played by Eric Bana), he has blocked the details from his mind. Now a brilliant scientist himself, he works unwittingly in the same field with his ex-girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly). Betty is the daughter of General “Thunderbolt” Ross (Sam Elliott), who locked Banner Sr up for the crime witnessed by Bruce. Banner Sr is now released and hoping to find the key to his life’s work through his son’s untapped transformative state.

“I didn’t come here to see you. I came here to see my son. My real son. The one inside of you.”

After the traditional Gamma ray exposure, Bruce is ready to Hulk out when pushed. Banner Sr sends his mutated dogs to eliminate Betty, the barrier between father and son reconnecting. Hulk has a ridiculous fight with the giant pooches, the only misstep in his action sequences. Only an actor of Sam Elliott’s caliber can deliver the line “He saved you from a giant, mutant poodle, and I’m indebted to him for that“, and not sound ridiculous.

The director tried to create a monster movie, in the vein of Frankenstein or Jekyll and Hyde, rather than a superhero film. After the Scooby scrap, Hulk crawls to the water’s edge and looks down at his reflection, like Frankenstein’s monster. What sells the creature is the emoting in his face, like King Kong with Anne Darrow. When Betty realises Bruce is locked somewhere within, she reaches up to touch his face. Hulk cares for her, and feels confused, in mental torment.

“Talbot. You’re making me angry.”

The real villain of the piece is Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas), a rival scientist working with General Ross. Banner is taken into custody in, irony of ironies, the same base where he lived with his crazy dad. As Bruce and Betty wander the deserted civilian area, they pause by Bruce’s old home. In a simple but brilliantly composed shot, Betty pushes off on a rusty swing, Bruce leaning on the frame, fence posts stretching into the flat horizon behind them. This speaks a thousand words about their lost innocence. Talbot tries to push Banner’s buttons, but he holds it together, so he’s put under to try and stir his subconscious into erupting. As David Banner tells Betty the truth of what happened, Bruce finally remembers and Hulks out, bigger and badder than before.

“Bingo, that must be some jumbo nightmare he’s having.”

There then follows a fantastic extended chase sequence, through the underground base, the desert wilderness, and finally San Francisco, before a bonkers face off between Hulk and Banner Sr, transformed now to some elemental creature, literally and metaphorically smothering his son. More than Frankenstein, he is obsessed with transcending his own puny flesh.

Eric Bana gives a subtle, nuanced performance as the quiet, restrained Bruce, gradually coming to realise what monsters lurk in the shadows of his mind. Jennifer Connelly gives an equally good interpretation of what is little more than lover / mother substitute (it’s all very Freudian and Oedipal). In fact, the entire cast is excellent, playing a straight bat all the way. A little known fact is that Billy Crudup was at one point considered for the main role. Here is a concept comparison between him and  the Hulk, modelling his own features:

hulk billy crudup benton jew concept

Editing is extremely innovative, with multiple shots framed like comic book panels, zooming in and out, alternating between splash panels and insert shots. In the most bravura example, Hulk spits out an explosive charge. Talbot looks at it, turns to run, and is frozen on the spot, comic style outlining around his body as the explosion fills the frame behind him.

“When it happens, when it comes over me and I totally lose control, I like it.”

From traditional lighting and house / office sets for the drama led first segment, the cinematography and set design leaps into heightened hyper-reality for the Hulk extended chase. His rage completely unleashed, Hulk goes for it, smashing tanks and helicopters, leaping great distances, a primal force unfettered by societal norms.

The CGI Hulk is fantastic, the texture of grit and sand on his skin totally convincing (as convincing as a giant green behemoth can be, anyway). At one point the effects team considered an animatronic Hulk, for the transformation sequences at least, with arms swelling and turning green over a metal armature, ripping material. This approach was ditched, however.

The Hulk changes size according to how angry he gets, and can leap huge distances, all from the comics. But for the reboot a few years later, this was scaled down, because it was deemed silly. It seems Ang Lee couldn’t win. He was damned for treating characterization at a serious and measured pace, then for giving the fans the kind of Hulk they expected from the original strips.

I don’t care, I think Hulk is a brave, bold departure, that deserves more recognition. Don’t dare dismiss it, because as Bruce says in the rainforest, “No me hogas enfader, no te va a gustar cuando este enfadado!”

hulk helicopters

Originally posted 2013-07-28 20:17:31. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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