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Hulk (***)
Directed by Ang Lee
Written by John Truman, Michael France, and James Schamus
Principal Cast
Eric Bana -- Bruce Banner
Jennifer Connelly -- Betty Ross
Sam Elliott -- Ross
Josh Lucas -- Talbot
Nick Nolte -- Father
Paul Kersey -- Young David Banner
Cara Buono -- Edith Banner
Todd Tesen -- Young Ross
Kevin Rankin -- Harper
Celia Weston -- Mrs. Krensler
Mike Erwin -- Teenage Bruce Banner
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

There is a lot to like in Hulk. Unfortunately, intellectual directors such as Lee (that's Ang, not Stan -- though Stan gets applause for his cameo) shy away from resolving a story with a superhuman outburst of climactic violence. Too early they learned the lesson "Violence never solved anything." What they do not understand is that, in the Marvel universe, violence solves everything. You need that payoff.

Popeye was the first superhero. It wasn't gamma radiation or a radioactive spider that gave him his powers, it was spinach. And his costume was a sailor suit. Nevertheless, he established the essential formula, which is that, for the first four-fifths of the story, the bully lords it over the hero, steals the girl, kicks sand in the hero's face. And then, at the climax, the hero eats his spinach, and knocks the bully all over the back lot. We need that ending for a super-hero story to be satisfying. Robert Altman, like Ang Lee, is an intellectual director. Robert Altman's Popeye, like Ang Lee's Hulk, shows us much that is wonderful. Both films deny the audience the satisfaction of seeing the hero finally clobber the villain. That lack makes both films, to some extent, failures. They are like sports movies where the underdogs loose the big game, or romance movies where the boy and the girl never get together. It doesn't work.

What is good about Hulk? Great acting, especially by the supporting cast. General Thunderbolt Ross is perfect. So is the abusive and unrepentant Banner, Sr. (Would it have killed them to mention Peter David in the credits?) And I loved Bruce Banner's Lawrence-of-Arabia-esque admission that he really gets off on the violence. And the obligatory comic book and TV show references are all there.

When I saw the previews, it bothered me that the Hulk was so obviously CGI -- more obvious than Gollum or Jar-Jar, closer to Monsters, Inc. Watching the film, it only takes half a minute to accept the Hulk as real, because his gestures and facial expressions are real. Because we care about the character, and because the battles are a matter of life and death, I found the action sequences in Hulk much more exciting than in The Matrix Reloaded. The movie needs more of them.

Unanswerable trivia question: is the name of the film Hulk or The Hulk. Universal Studios uses both. Hulk is what appears on the screen, but the official movie site is Most of the ads list The Hulk. The world "hulk" is only spoken once in the film, by Bruce Banner. What the headline writers call the monster is not mentioned.

James Shamus, one of the writers of Hulk, also wrote Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, which begins with a serious ten-minute discussion of an issue of The Fantastic Four. Obviously he knows his comics.

Ang Lee, the director, by using a writer of "serious" films who also knows comics, is clearly trying to both enlarge upon and, at the same time, remain true to the super-hero tradition. Some of the medical laboratory images seen early in the film are genuinely disturbing, a sign that Ang Lee is trying for something more visceral than your average comic book. The focus on Bruce Banner's unresolved Oedipal problems is a signifier that this is serious stuff. On the other hand, breaking up the screen into comic book panels is a light-hearted tribute to the four-color origins of the character.

Some critics found the use of panels confusing. Others didn't get the ending. I suspect they weren't really paying attention. The panels are fun. The ending is clear. Absorbing Man is on the verge of completely absorbing his son's personhood -- as many an abusive and controlling parent tries to do -- when General Ross breaks up the fight.

In real life, abused children never do get over the abuse, even when they kill the abuser. But this is a super-hero movie, not Psycho. Super-heroes embody our fantasies, not our reality. We need HULK SMASH!

Copyright © 2003 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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