A recent puzzle yet to be solved is the almost universal disdain for Ang Lee's "Hulk". I have seen this movie many times since its first release in 2003 and I have been struck by the wonderful way Lee has resurrected the Hulk mythology. His stellar choice of Eric Bana as Bruce Banner and the CGI created Hulk that personifies Banner's rage and frustration beautifully is but a part of the main attraction. The great Jennifer Connelly, as Bruce's partner and love interest, Betty Ross, is, as usual, at her incandescent best. Add to this brilliant pair, Nick Nolte, cast appropriately as Banner's crazed father, and the always distinguished Sam Eliot, who plays Betty's menacing father, Ross.
The story of Hulk's origins, its dark premise for the rage that is constantly within Bruce, is developed with particular attention. The anger is rooted much more than in repressed memories. It lies at the heart of Banner's genetic structure, put in there by an overzealous scientist of a father who has injected himself with a serum he has discovered because he is refused human subjects for his genetic experiments. He is a brilliant scientist working for the government, a department who happens to be under Ross.
What is transmitted to Bruce later develops into the full blown syndrome that is the Hulk. The occasion could have been a tragic accident. But as a graduate student at Berkeley Banner puts himself in harms way to save a lab mate who is about to be zapped by a dangerous dose of radiation. Banner takes the full brunt of it and as a result he is subjected to the same force of gamma rays that they had shortly determined earlier as a lethal dose for one of their lab subjects. He should have "exploded" too but it turns out that what he has "inherited" genetically from his father, has also remarkably preserved him during this accident. It has allowed him to unleash the controlled "explosions" of strength in the superhuman power and monstrous presence that is the "Hulk".
Add to this genetic inception and accident for the Hulk phenomenon, the key ingredient that triggers the phenomenon: the anger, borne out of the tragic circumstances around his parents.
This foundation of the creation of Hulk is a small part of this film. Where the film really succeeds is in the filmic elements put together with Ang Lee's unerring eye. The chemistry between Bana and Connelly, Lee's wonderful talent of telling the human story while also showing us his wizardry with film technology, the otherworldy quality of the CGI generated Hulk, and his penchant for getting into the heart of the mythology that makes the Hulk story captivating is nothing short of remarkable. There was a chorus of booing at the CGI of Hulk, its apparent overt greenness and its unnaturalness. We see glimmers of this but they are the brief visions of Hulk's otherworldly mystery. The Hulk created for us is extraordinary. It is real, it is human, it takes an admirable hold on our emotions. The criticism is largely unjustified because the purported artificiality stems out of expectations that should have not been there. Simply put, if the imagination of Lee and his crew admirably and creatively differed from what the comic book purists may have had in mind that is hardly a basis for adequate criticism. At any rate the combination of inspired special effects, the touch of humanity that Ang Lee brings to the Hulk story, and Lee's artistically drawing from the darker undertones of this mythical tale makes this version of Hulk a more profound rendition of the story than the so called improved version with Ed Norton and Tim Roth.
It takes about 45 minutes for Hulk to arrive on center stage, and an hour for the emotional story of Hulk to emerge. The next hour after that is a tour-de-force of special effects. A glorious chase of Hulk by Ross and his army of pursuers across the deserts of California is both an adrenalin rush and deeply touching; there is the touch of the tragic in all this spectacle. Hulk's escape from captivity from an elaborately constructed laboratory deep under the Mojave desert, an impregnable enclave, is one of the more kinetic sequences on record in film. The subsequent chase away from tanks, helicopters, missiles showcases Hulk's great invulnerability. But all this is a prelude to the final visionary human piece, and the great showdown between Banner, and his ultimate nemesis, his father.
The last scene that promises a sequel of course never came to be. It would have been wonderful to see this team return but it was not to be. A small tragedy in Hollywood and for the audience.
Bana, Connelly, were just great. Ang Lee once again shows us the reach of his talent. There is nothing this great filmmaker just cannot do.