20 June 2003

Some thoughts on The Hulk:

Ang Lee has triumphed and failed in a way that completely reverses my expectations. He succeeds in envisioning a film that looks precisely the way a comic book adaptation should look, but never has: it's clean and frame-breaking and graphic in a way that other, overly art-directed superhero movies have rarely been before. He finds crisp, beautiful equivalents to the purely graphic excitement that well-designed comics can generate on the page, as if he were the first director to really think through the whole process of translating comics into film. It's more than just the split-screens and gaudy transitions: even the look of the Hulk himself (misinterpreted, I think, as a mediocre special effect) owes more to the original drawings than to Industrial Light and Magic.

Where Lee fails, and this is really surprising, is in generating a believable or involving human story. You'd think that this would be the first thing that he would bring to this project, but it's really strange how little he knows, or decides to tell us, about any of the characters. For the story of the Hulk to work, you need a sense of what kind of a man Bruce Banner is before his transformation; even if he's extraordinarily passive or unassuming, you should at least see how he changes as a result of what happens to him, and I don't think that Lee manages to do this. He makes the basic mistake of constructing a movie around an entirely reactive character; there isn't a moment when Banner, or the Hulk, for that matter, takes control of a situation or even makes a decision about what to do next, and that's a fatal problem.

One of the great strengths about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was that the characters were defined by their actions, and at least one character, Jen Yu, seemed to have the power to constantly rework and redefine her own destiny. The Hulk's idea of character depth, by contrast, consists of long flashbacks and introspective conversations about wounded childhoods, but the characters never have the chance to show us how their experiences affected them by doing anything. As a result, The Hulk is surprisingly uninvolving, despite trying very, very hard to evoke complex emotions. It's always interesting and usually entertaining to watch, though, and I hope it does well...if only because it's being seen, accurately enough, as an attempt to raise the bar on the entire genre, and a massive popular success would hopefully inspire other directors to try harder.

No comments: