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Movie Review

The sins of obsessed geneticist David Banner are visited upon his son, Bruce, who is born with an abnormal stew of inner turmoil that the boy learns to suppress as he matures. After becoming a scientist himself, Bruce Banner gets exposed to gamma radiation that unleashes his monstrous id whenever he gets angry. It also turns him into a 15-foot-tall mass of muscle known as the Hulk. As he struggles to understand his inner beast, Banner is stalked by his unstable father, haunted by memories of a childhood tragedy, smitten with ex-girlfriend and fellow scientist Betty Ross, and bullied by Glenn Talbot, an ambitious rival who wants to exploit Banner’s research in order to create a legion of "self-healing" soldiers. Toss in some snarling mutant hounds and it’s no wonder Bruce gets a little ticked off. Once Betty’s father—a crusty general bent on destroying what he can’t control—gets a look at Banner’s puffy green alter-ego, he launches a huge military operation to take him out. Expect lots of destruction as the rampaging, yet sensitive Hulk fights for survival.

hulkish history: The character of the Hulk first appeared in 1962 in a series of six Marvel Comics written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby. After appearing here and there in other stories, the Hulk earned the right to inhabit his own comic book by 1968. That series ran until 1999 (474 issues). A new series quickly followed and continues publishing to this day. The creature evolved over the years (he started out gray and nocturnal), and became a central figure in the Marvel Comics universe alongside Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, X-Men and The Fantastic Four. Two popular made-for-TV movies in the late 1970s inspired CBS to turn The Incredible Hulk into a weekly series starring Bill Bixby as Dr. Banner, and two-time Mr. Universe Lou Ferrigno as his inflamed, emerald-hued id. It ran until 1982. Years later, Bixby and Ferrigno reprised their roles in three TV movies aired on NBC. Cartoon versions of the Hulk have made it to the small screen on three occasions, once as a segment of Marvel Superheroes (1966), the second as half of The Incredible Hulk and the Amazing Spider-Man (1982) and finally in a short-lived 1996 series.

Here’s what Stan Lee had to say about how he came up with the idea for the Hulk: "When I was younger, I loved the movie Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff as the monster, and I also loved Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One day I figured, ‘Boy, wouldn’t it be cool to combine the two of them and get a character who can change from a normal human into the monster?’ I always felt that in the movie Frankenstein, the monster was really a good guy. He didn’t want to hurt anybody—he was just always being chased by those idiots holding torches and running up and down the hills. So I thought, ‘Why not get a sympathetic monster, but let it be a guy who can change back and forth?’ So the Hulk became the first superhero who was also a monster."

positive elements: Onscreen tension and antagonism between fathers and children illustrates the fallout that can occur from lousy or absentee parenting. Betty keeps her distance from her heavy-handed, controlling dad, while Bruce gets a painful reintroduction to the selfish, mad-scientist father he thought was dead. The lack of love, support and tenderness from these men wears on their offspring in visible ways. And David Banner is an extreme sci-fi example of Ephesians 6:4’s warning, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger."

Bruce Banner has a good heart. He studies tissue regeneration in hopes of helping mankind with his genetic research—and refuses to sell out for selfish gain. He races to the aid of a colleague about to be zapped, and throws himself into the path of lethal gamma rays. As the Hulk, he rescues Betty from mutant dogs, and jumps onto a fighter jet to keep it from crashing into the Golden Gate Bridge. Betty tries to understand Bruce’s fragile emotional condition and cares for him as he battles his inner demons. Even when he’s being beaten up by Glenn, Bruce refuses to retaliate lest he unleash the hostility he knows could get out of control. He’s not naturally aggressive. Yet after creating chaos as Hulk, Banner admits reluctantly, "When it comes over me and I totally lose control, I like it." This raises the question of whether it’s better to keep things bottled up or to find a release for rage. The film doesn’t take a strong position, though the Bible clearly teaches the need for self-control (Prov. 16:32).

spiritual content: David argues that self-improvement and self-realization are "the only path to the truth" that lets man "go beyond God’s boundaries."

sexual content: Nothing sexual, but there’s brief rear nudity. After being "Hulked up," a battered Bruce returns to human form and the camera catches his bare backside (it’s implied that Betty sees him entirely naked).

violent content: Crush. Smash. Destroy. When the Hulk busts loose, he wreaks havoc on laboratories, military control centers, forests, residential neighborhoods and the streets of San Francisco. He totals cars. He tears up pavement. He crushes tanks and choppers, hurtling them through the air (they don’t explode, and most of the soldiers escape unscathed). The army attacks Hulk with bombs, grenades, automatic weapons and rocket launchers. They bury him in rubble. Glenn punches Bruce and shocks him several times with a taser. Hulk tosses Glenn around like a rag doll which causes multiple injuries (granted, the bully brought it on himself). A man tries to blow up the Hulk and winds up destroying himself in a violent explosion. A trolley tips over, spilling people into the street. In a nightmare, Bruce sees the Hulk grab him by the throat and yank him through a broken mirror. David’s self-experimentation produces a power-hungry beast that kills a security guard by crushing him under heavy equipment. David’s hostile alter-ego engages in a life-and-death struggle with Hulk. In a flashback, David tries to kill his "freakish" child with a kitchen knife, only to accidentally stab his wife when she comes to young Bruce’s aid. Bruce is shot with a tranquilizer dart. Three vicious, genetically mutated dogs attack Betty, and Hulk intervenes (the confrontation involves nasty bites and bone-crunching blows). A dream-like vision finds a little girl abandoned and traumatized as a mushroom cloud appears on the horizon. During an experiment, a frog bubbles and explodes (shown twice).

crude or profane language: Not much considering the film’s rating. A dozen profanities include one s-word, one "g--d---" and two exclamatory uses of Jesus’ name.

drug and alcohol content: A scientist injects his young son with an unknown substance. David pours himself an alcoholic beverage. Bruce and Betty drink beer.

other negative elements: David rants about the U.S. military, calling its existence and behavior an affront to humanity (it may not be perfect, but the fact that it does an awful lot of good around the world never gets mentioned, leaving the unfair impression that our armed forces are evil bullies).

conclusion: Director Ang Lee has brought a fresh vision to the superhero genre, but The Hulk may be too plodding and self-indulgent for casual moviegoers wanting a brisk, summer action flick. While some scenes deliver, Lee’s attempt to turn a comic book hero into the co-star of a brooding drama comes up short. It’s too talky and about 30 minutes too long (the picture clocks in at 2 hours, 13 minutes). The audience I was part of was visibly restless until, at the 45-minute mark, they finally got their first good look at the not-so-jolly green giant. All of that exposition wouldn’t have felt so protracted had the people onscreen been engaging and dynamic. Bana’s Banner is Clark Kent on personality thinner. As Banner’s love interest, recent Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) is as bland as toast with nothing on it. Sam Elliott struts and barks like every hawkish B-movie military stereotype put to film. To twist a Hulk-ean catchphrase, "You’re making me sleepy. You wouldn’t like me when I’m sleepy." That mind-numbing set-up puts a lot of pressure on the film to kick into high gear, which it does occasionally, but the story takes too many somber side trips along the way, then finally dissolves into sci-fi silliness.

Furthermore, Lee’s overuse of comic book-style visuals (wild cuts, wipes, split screens and picture-in-picture panels) becomes a distraction. Those images might liven up a static comic page where the dialogue hovers over characters’ heads in balloons, but they undermine the humanity of live actors. So instead of drawing us into their world, Lee constantly reminds us that we’re on the outside watching a comic book, which distances us, emotionally, from what’s going on. In addition to trumping character development, this emphasis on technique also upstages potentially intriguing themes, such as man’s competing needs to exercise self-control and vent anger appropriately.

It’s not a total loss. The computer-generated Hulk looks pretty good and his big scenes truly are the stuff of summer blockbusters. Also, there’s a low body count, only a dozen profanities and no sexuality. Not bad for a PG-13. But as it turns out, restraint in those areas is The Hulk’s greatest virtue. This mutation of high art and pop culture is often tedious, ridiculous and unsatisfying. And that’s a Hulk fan talking.

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