Directed by Ang Lee. USA. 2003.

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Marvel Comics has been unleashed on our screens and nothing will ever be the same again. Or at least not until the next blockbuster fad dreamt up by fat cats and head honchos comes along. X--Men tested the waters for Spider-Man and after the arachnid themed super-hero caught more ticket stubs in his web than anything else last summer, 2003 was likely to be the year of a certain gamma irradiated, rage infested scientist.

Unfortunately for Universal though, it wasnít.

Had the cinemagoers and comic readers had enough already? Was this the end of the Marvel Age of Cinema? Was Hulk really so bad that after its record-breaking opening weekend in the States, no one wanted to see it again? No to all of the above with gratitude and groans in equal measure. The problem with Hulk is that Universal gave it to Ang Lee. Foxís X-Men and Columbiaís Spider-Man both had directors with well-respected careers, but the difference is that the studio presence was much more apparent in these two films. Singer and Raimi, respectively, just go through the motions allowing the stories to tell themselves- this isnít a bad thing, itís just a bit unchallenging considering the wealth of nucleo-sociological material that lies in the subtext of Stan Leeís comics of the 1960s. Ang Lee is too strong a director to avoid this. Hulk is the first film of its genre that really allows the director to stamp his mark on it and the result is as subtle and as powerful as anything he has done before. Itís just a shame that the McG loving, MTV watching generation of America didnít think so. Leeís film bursts open with images of genetic manipulation, frogs and jelly-fish aplenty. Perhaps not the most typical start to a blockbuster, but these images explore the themes of genetic manipulation and natural beauty that Lee allows the film. The central narrative follows this closely, presenting a protagonist, Dr. Bruce Banner, who is both psychologically and physically altered because of his fatherís experimentation (the manic Nick Nolte). Bruceís ex-lover, Betty, is also a victim of parental estrangement and ironically, their scientific work continues the path led by Bruceís father, and stopped by Bettyís, twenty odd years ago. Naturally, all this oedipal tension doesnít mix well with a gamma explosion and itís not long before Bruce has finally learnt to express himself. Albeit as a 15ft tall monstrous bogeyman.

The early scenes of the film breathe serenity and Eric Bana plays Bruce with a superb naiveté, which evocatively couples with Schamusí blissfully human dialogue. However, the relationship between Betty (played by the beautiful and talented Jennifer Connelly) adds a tension and the flaws of the characters start to reveal themselves. These are ugly, hurt people striving to be good and itís because of this that the arrival of the Hulk is more a part of a seamless tapestry than a loud and brash complication, so common in this genre.

When Bruceís rage is finally unleashed, the action assumes a tragic element that makes for paradoxically exhilarating and uncomfortable viewing. The emotionally driven narrative creates an atmosphere in which this is achievable, but it is the computer-generated abomination that is directly responsible. The Hulk rampages across the screen with fantastic effect, raging like a bull in the red light district and yet itís his face and not his fists that invite the tragedy and pain into the violence. This ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) creation is central to the movieís success and they have bestowed him with a dignity and innocence that exudes humanity from every green pore. A lot has been said of Leeís choreographed split screens and the effect is more than an homage to the comic book source, giving Hulk a pulsing energy as well as a new visual dimension, although these are not the images that have the most cinematic impact. Lee is a rare breed of director who uses the story for an image rather than an image for the story, and as a result, the Hulk is full of beautiful, heartfelt imagery. After crushing San Francisco with his own particular brand of bam and bang, the Hulk is challenged by Betty with the army in the background. At the centre of Leeís lens is this Beauty and the Beast embrace, but it is suffocated by the destruction of the city and the threat of violence from the military; you just wonít find this level of artistry in any other summer movie.

Of course, Universal will let Ang Lee do the sequel when the Hulk sits down for a tea party with Osama Bin Laden, but until then we can cherish the truly superb visual feast that is Hulk, that has at its centre the most beautifully mutated heart.

Aaron Asadi
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