starring Eric Bana and the Hulk
3 1/2 stars

I've been making the argument recently that all you have to do to see the emptiness of Matrix Reloaded's fight scenes is take a look at the equivalent scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That is, where the Reloaded fights are all utterly mechanical exchanges of meaningless punches and kicks with no stakes, every movement and grab and spin in Crouching Tiger's battles speaks to character and objective, to scenes that are about something.

That's why I'm confounded to discover that now I'm making the same arguments about Hulk. I mean, Ang Lee's stuff in Crouching Tiger was supposed to show that he understood how to make sure every scene went somewhere, had a specific dramatic point, and that was why Hulk was going to rule. And then Hulk unfolded before me and I found that the kind of dramatic precision I was expecting was exactly what I wasn't getting, and it was bothering me.

There are a lot of cool things in Hulk, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again to let them sink in better the second time. Certainly, Hulk's go-round with the Army was pretty much everything I was hoping it would be in terms of spectacle. I wanted to see Hulk smash, and he smashed. I wanted to see him jump miles at a time, and he did.

And yet, somehow, the movie lacks impact. I first noticed it at the gamma-iradiation scene. That's a major scene, the turning point of the whole film, and it's over and done in a moment. One second he's getting flash-burned by the machine, the next he's calmly lying in a hospital bed. No Hulk. Where's the Hulk? Oh, he shows up a couple of scenes later, and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why Bruce was now, of all times, suddenly turning into the Hulk. Where did this come from? What's Bruce carrying into this scene? It didn't feel like anything.

And that's how the movie went. Again and again, scenes seemed to lack focus. Again and again, it seemed like Lee got complicated when he should have gotten simple. When one motivation properly played would have been enough to make the scene work, instead we get several objectives and none of them feel compelling. Cosider, for example, the second Hulk-out. Nick Nolte calls Bruce to say he's sent his gamma dogs to eat Jennifer Connelly. You'd think that would set Bruce in motion, give him a reason to become the Hulk, but no, it takes Eric Talbot to come in and slap him around first before he transforms. We just drop the Jennifer Connelly-being-eaten-by-dogs idea for the duration of the faceoff against the cops, it doesn't add any urgency to the Hulk-stomping-Talbot scene, and then once it's over, the Hulk hops off to stand behind a tree until Jennifer notices him. 

If the Hulk is anything, he's primal. Yet somehow, neither Bruce nor the Hulk can ever really seem to get a motivation going. I expected a wimp Bruce Banner, a guy who gives up and gives in to endless putdowns and bullying, but with a store of "FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!" rage we'd get glimpses of here and there. But no. He's comes off as simply placid. Even after he's started turning into the Hulk, he seems to have no reaction to or curiosity about the fact that he sometimes becomes a giant green monster. We see him and Jennifer Connelly wandering around the abandoned base poking at old memories, but doesn't he care a bit about what's happening to him right now? It didn't feel like it.

That's my primary beef. I have some others. The weirdo split-screen, comic-panel transitions were eye-catching at first, but after a while they seemed more distracting than anything else. Is there really any reason why a scene where Betty Ross walks in and Talbot follows her has to be shown simultaneously from two different angles? What does that add, other than showiness? And then there's Nick Nolte shambling through the film and turning into a lightning storm or something at the end. 

In short, too much psychodrama, not enough simplicity. Hulk is simple. He's a simple guy. His movie should smash. Instead, it mostly muddles.