Let's get this issue out of the way right up front: No, the CGI Hulk is not 100% photorealistic. Although he's nowhere near as cartoonish as that infamous Super Bowl teaser made him appear, the green behemoth's computerized origins are sometimes distractingly obvious. His transformations from human to Hulk look particularly rough, as do several of his interactions with his flesh-and-blood co-stars. Still, for the majority of his screen time (which amounts to roughly 40 minutes), this Hulk is a convincing creation; he looks particularly good in medium shots and close-ups where the animators can add more definition to his features. In fact, it's safe to say that the CGI is one the strongest aspects of the The Hulk. Visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren and the wizards at ILM are to be congratulated, but director Ang Lee deserves an equal, if not greater, amount of praise. He manages to make the Hulk such a believable character in the first place that the occasional CGI glitch doesn't really matter.
More difficult to forgive are the frequent glitches in the screenplay and the uneven performances of the human cast. On a storytelling level, The Hulk is something of a mess; the film moves in fits and starts and there are several plot holes big enough for the Hulk himself to dive through. The screenwriters (including Lee's longtime collaborator James Schamus) also leave a number of important questions unanswered--most notably, how exactly does the Hulk change back into his human self, Bruce Banner? Supposedly the transformation occurs when his temper cools, but the film contradicts this premise by including scenes where the put-upon giant stands around looking soulfully at his lady love or contemplating the beauty of the desert. He certainly seems calm in these moments, unless he's secretly fighting the urge to kick some sand around.
Meanwhile, the human actors all seem to be performing in different movies. Lee's handpicked leading man, Eric Bana, is initially underwhelming and actually grows less interesting as the film progresses. Jennifer Connelly, on the other hand, gets off to a strong start, but is forced to spend the last hour watching from the sidelines. Then there's Nick Nolte, who plays Banner's brilliant--but mad--scientist father; sporting a scraggly beard and unkempt hair, the eccentric actor delivers a performance that can best be described as loony. Only Sam Elliott (who brings a dignified grace to his role as Connelly's father, General Thunderbolt Ross) and Josh Lucas (effectively smarmy as a villainous corporate drone) really connect with their characters in a compelling way.
Despite these criticisms, I still genuinely enjoyed The Hulk; it's such a well-made film that a lot of its flaws can be overlooked (though not entirely forgotten). For that, all credit must go to Lee and his longtime editor Tim Squyres, who have designed a bold visual style that gives the movie both flair and coherence. Employing inventive split-screen shots, wipes and image overlays, they successfully replicate the look and feel of a comic book on film. The visuals are further enhanced by Frederick Elmes' beautiful cinematography and Danny Elfman's dramatic score. At times, you almost wish this were a silent movie; the themes that Lee wants to address--the conflict between fathers and sons, the fear of one's inner demons--are communicated much more clearly through the film's images than in any of its strained dialogue.
The director has frequently stated in interviews that he wanted The Hulk to be more than just a summer blockbuster, and the tension between his commercial and artistic ambitions is apparent throughout. Lee takes his time getting to the Hulk's first appearance and spaces the action sequences as far apart as possible. He even gives the movie two climaxes, the first to act as a routine crowd-pleaser and the second to wrap up the father-vs.-son theme that he's specifically interested in. The latter is probably Lee's biggest misstep; it's not a very satisfying resolution and drags out what is already an overlong film.
If nothing else, The Hulk is notable for being the first time a filmmaker has really endeavored to put his own personal stamp on a well-known superhero. The film will almost certainly divide audiences, particularly those who go in expecting a straightforward action epic, but there's no arguing that Lee has made the picture he wanted to make. The result may not be the best comic-book movie ever produced, but it's certainly the most ambitious.
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