''Hulk' strong on special effects, but lacks substance
The Hulk' -- PG-13
The cost of director Ang Lee's special effects is equaled only by that of the property damage in "The Hulk," the latest of Marvel Comic-inspired super-hero films.
While the acting is good and the action is constant, the recent spate of Marvel flicks such as "X-Men" and "Spiderman" will leave the audience thirsting for a less-cliched storyline.
Orphan Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is a young nuclear scientist trying to find the secret to human tissue regeneration. He selflessly exposes himself to a deadly dose of gamma radiation to take a colleague out of harm's way.
Bruce recovers to find that he is not only alive and well, but his old injuries have mysteriously healed. While his colleague and ex-girlfriend, Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), questions his miraculous survival, Banner insists that it is merely proof that their experiments have paid off.
While recuperating, Banner is confronted by an old man (NIck Nolte) claiming to be his father. The old man reveals that Bruce is the result of experiments dealing with human regeneration conducted 20 years earlier.
Bruce scoffs at the thought, but late one night while working at the lab, emotional distress causes Bruce to transform into a raging green giant.
Viewing Bruce's newly discovered gift as a potential weapon, the military -- led, ironically enough, by Betty's father, a general who stopped Banner's father from completing his research decades earlier -- captures and sedates Bruce, placing him in a giant tank where they attempt to anger him.
Changing into the Hulk, Banner shockingly manages to escape the giant fish tank and battles his way out of the research facility.
Chased by tanks, helicopters and fighter planes, Bruce runs across the desert at ridiculous speeds, catapulting himself thousands of feet through the air, eventually finding his way to San Francisco, where Betty calms him down just in time to prevent a rampage that could very well have cost the city millions.
There is, of course, a decisive battle between father and son at the film's finale -- Banner's father had injected himself with a vial of liquid derived from the Hulk's DNA -- but Lee must have been running out of special-effects money by that time, as the scuffle is short and rather unsatisfactory.
The problem with the film's resolution is that, well, it lacks a resolution, and the audience is left with the possibility of a sequel, but such a movie would seem unnecessary, given the final moments of this picture.
While most of the picture is focused on the relationship between Bruce and Betty, there is also a subplot focused entirely on Banner's repressed memories of his early childhood -- the audience learns that he was raised by adoptive parents -- when he lived with his father and mother on a military base, which was subject to a mysterious green explosion. The implication seems to be that once Bruce manages to resolve his internal problems, he will more or less be able to live a normal life devoid of "Hulkness."
Even though Bana is quite good as the brooding Bruce Banner, it is hard for the audience to keep their eyes off of the cleanly scrubbed appeal of Connelly, who is reminiscent of Kirsten Dunst's girl-next-door in "Spiderman."
The two seem to work well together on camera, and they help keep the film together when the plot lags. Devoid of what could be seen as true villainy or evil, Nolte is certainly unlikable as a villain, but it's simply because his performance is unlikable.
Sam Elliot is decent as General Ross, but he isn't especially stirring.
What helped keep super-hero movies such as "Superman," "Spiderman" and "X-Men" afloat were their humor and originality, this film lacks these elements, but it does make an impressive show of cinematography.
The camera work and scene changes are exciting and dynamic, changing angles and making scene transitions much like a comic book is laid out.
If the summer audience is looking for lots of explosions and wild camera work, this film has got both, along with the lovely Connelly.
But it would be nice to have some more substance.
Three out of five stars.
Loren Thomas is a senior at Century High School. To respond to reviews in Sound &; Vision, call 252-1111, category TEEN (8336); write Teen Beat, Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903-6118 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.