"When I lose control, I like it," confesses a Dr. Jekyll-like scientist in Hulk. He's talking about those temper tantrums that transform him into a gigantic Mr. Hyde-type creature who's green all over. Filmmaker Ang Lee's movie about Marvel Comic's "Incredible Hulk" loses control a bit also, and some viewers may not like it. Combining elements of the aforementioned Jekyll/Hyde with Frankenstein, King Kong, Shrek, and Sigmund Freud, it's a mishmash -- but at times wonderful to behold.
Betty, played by Oscar-winner Jennifer Connolly (A Beautiful Mind) thinks there's something strange about Bruce (Eric Bana from Chopper), a young man working in a lab with her. She cares deeply about him, but he's too distant and passionless. Neither of them know Bruce has inherited the dangerous result of a genetic experiment his mad-scientist father (Nick Nolte) performed on himself before Bruce was born. In fact, Bruce doesn't even realize that the scraggly old janitor working in the same building with them is actually his father. Nor do Betty and Bruce know that Betty's father (Sam Elliott) institutionalized Bruce's father and destroyed his experiments when Bruce was 4-years old. No wonder Bruce has "repressed memories" just waiting to explode.
Unfortunately, waiting so long for Bruce to explode and become the monstrous Hulk became excruciatingly frustrating to me. Unlike Spider-Man, my favorite film about a comic book hero, Hulk gives viewers too much scientific exposition before getting into the action. How many microscope slides, split screen images, and shots of reptiles are necessary to put a point across? As many as acclaimed filmmaker Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) wants, I suppose. I apologize to Mr. Lee for almost walking out of this movie during its unexciting first half.
I'm glad I stayed. Otherwise, I'd have missed seeing the magnificent Hulk in all his computer generated glory as he smashes vicious mutated dogs and swats army helicopters like they were hummingbirds. Or the super performances by Nolte (The Good Thief ) and Elliott (Off the Map) as enemies brought together again, still filled with hatred for each other. Using an old-fashioned system called acting, these two need no special effects; their marvelous gravelly voices and expressive eyes help make every moment on camera count for the unsympathetic dads they play. (I can understand why Universal Studios decided not to unleash Hulk during Fathers' Day weekend!)
And here's a pleasant surprise: Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama) is terrific as a villain. Although this handsome young actor's work hasn't impressed me before, his interpretation of an arrogant, greedy "out-for-profit" scoundrel hits all the right notes. I wanted to shout "boo" whenever he came on screen. His character added another leg to the dangerous triumvirate of science/ military/business as explored in Hulk.
Will Hulk be back? Probably. The set-up for a Gigantic Green Franchise emerges oh-so predictably at the end of this movie. And maybe Bruce will lose control much earlier next time. "You don't want to see me when I'm angry," he declares. But that's exactly what we do want.
(Released by Universal Studios and rated "PG-13" for sci-fi action violence, some disturbing images and brief partial nudity.)