He’s big, he’s mean, and he’s green, and I’m not talking about the Jolly Green Giant at harvest time. I’m talking about Marvel Comic’s angst-ridden super hero “The Hulk,” who literally leaps to the big screen in director Ang Lee’s big budget cartoon.

This “Hulk” not only leaps to the big screen, he leaps from mountain top to mountain top, a computer generated super hero capable of doing just about everything but look real. For all its sturm und drang, “The Hulk” never becomes the beast that its makers want it to be. Instead, it’s a poky blend of superficial special effects and tiresome character development. It’s hard to grasp who this “Hulk” is intended for. Adults won’t buy into the computer generated creature, while children will find the idol chit chat leading up to his first appearance monotonous.

Director Lee, who attained international acclaim for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” mistakenly believes that audiences are ready for, or even want a thinking man’s popcorn movie. Screenwriter and frequent Lee collaborator James Schamus, working with John Turman and Michael France, has created a story that expends way too much time setting up the plot, taking almost an hour to unfurl the beast of burden.

“Spider-Man” started spinning webs within the first reel, while “Superman” learned he was faster than a speeding locomotive way before the half-hour mark. The writers do the audience a disservice by wasting so much time setting up the premise, causing the film to go on way too long after “The Hulk” makes his debut. Since the computer-generated “Hulk” never becomes real to us, that last hour and eighteen minutes is a real test of time and patience.

To be fair, the human dynamic of “The Hulk” is much better than that fantasy. Eric Bana, the Australian actor who is much more handsome than Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe combined, manages to put aside his pretty boy image to deliver a convincing portrayal of a scientist caught between two very different worlds. Bana is very sympathetic as genetic researcher Bruce Banner, who receives a near-fatal dose of gamma rays that transform his molecules into a Pandora’s Box. Get him mad, which you don’t want to do, and Banner transforms into “The Hulk.”

He becomes larger than life, clothes (except his magical pants) bursting from his expanding green torso like Mike Tyson slipping on Calista Flockhart’s evening dress. Not only does his appearance undergo a radical change, so does his strength, making him capable of wrestling full-sized tanks, tackling flying helicopters, and becoming a weapon of mass destruction.

Banner’s understanding girlfriend Betty Ross is played by Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly, so devoted to the man she loves that she’s willing to stand by him, or at least close to him, even when he goes into “Hulk” mode. Connelly does what she can with Ross, but the character is nothing more than window dressing for the film’s testosterone heavy plot. The rest of the characters are big boys playing with big boy toys, including Ross’ four-star general father (Sam Elliott), who first wants to exploit and then destroy Banner’s alter-ego; maniacal corporate scum bag Glenn Talbot (John Lucas), who sees another kind of green in “The Hulk,”; and David Banner (Nick Nolte), Bruce’s father, whose earlier genetic experiments laid the groundwork for Bruce’s predicament.

Lee’s grand design of mixing comic book composition with Greek tragedy is alas a grand failure. His use of comic book frames, wipes, and extreme close-ups is catchy at first, but as the film drags on and frequently stops to expound on the dangers of messing with science, his house of trading cards begins to collapse.


This Hulk doesn’t have much bulk


Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas. Directed by Ang Lee. Rated PG-13. 138 Minutes.


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