Hulk (2003) Review

Rating: 2 Stars

The following review contains spoilers.


It’s time for the cinematic adventures of everyone’s favorite big green monster man, Dr. Bruce Krenzler. He works in a lab with his ex-girlfriend, who is constantly riding him for being an emotionless husk of a man. Together they’re trying to use animal DNA to do something something cure diseases and help people something something. Also, gamma rays are there.

But what Dr. Krenzler doesn’t know is that his dad, Dr. David Banner, was also a scientist who wanted to use animal DNA to do something something. What’s more, he already did something something back in the 60s when he was working for the army, and when they said it wasn’t ready for human trials, why the doggone silly-billy went and experimented on his own self. Then he went right home and had unprotected sex with his wife, impregnating her with his genetically-altered seed. When she gave birth to his son, David was sure little Bruce was a monster, because when he got emotional, his skin changed color a little, and then for reasons unexplained, Bruce naturally stopped getting emotional at all.

A few years into Bruce’s childhood, the army shuts down David’s experiments. Furious, he does something to sabotage something, and a huge bomb goes off, with a green mushroom cloud. I guess he blew up all the animal DNA? Anyway, he runs home, gets into an argument with his wife, impulsively decides to murder their child, and accidentally stabs her instead. The army shows up and arrests him, and Bruce is placed in foster care. For some reason, Bruce is told his father also died that day, though they don’t explain how or why.

Back to present day, and David has been released from prison after 30 years. They keep saying it’s only been a month or so since he got out, but that’s completely ridiculous, as apparently in that time David has found a house, filled it floor to ceiling with newspapers and personal effects, tracked down his son whose name was changed to Krenzler, got a job as a janitor at his son’s lab, adopted three dogs, stole his son’s DNA, and experimented on the dogs with said DNA. What a high achiever!

Anyway, there’s a lab accident one day and Bruce is bombarded with “nanomeds” and gamma rays and now he’s the Hulk. He finds out the creepy janitor is his dad, and Betty goes to see old David to ask him if he knows anything about this Hulk business. David, stealthy as the least stealthy person in the world, literally steals her scarf right out of her hand, then after she leaves he tells the dogs to track her down and kill her, possibly to bring out the Hulk again, and possibly because he’s just a dick. These dogs, being incredibly gifted at returning scarves, track Betty down to her cabin in the woods, where she’s sitting on the floor sketching for some reason (this never comes up again and I can’t tell who she’s sketching, but it’s probably David or Bruce). By now David has phoned Bruce to tell him that his ex is about to be murdered by dogs, so of course Bruce heads down there, Hulks up, and fights a bunch of giant, monster dogs.

Anyway—god the first half of this movie is boring—blah blah blah, Betty’s dad is General Ross, and he gets Bruce in custody—I honestly can’t remember how, I think I fell asleep for a couple minutes—and takes him to some army base underneath the desert where Bruce and Betty both grew up. Then some other prick named Talbot, who got Hulked on earlier, shows up and deliberately provokes another Hulk attack because he thinks he can just carve off some of the Hulk’s skin and grow more Hulks, and boy that doesn’t work out for him at all. He’s dead now.

So the Hulk escapes and goes on a rampage through the desert, and eventually to San Francisco, where Betty shows up to talk him down. He goes back into custody, voluntarily. Meanwhile David breaks into Bruce’s lab and bombards himself with those same nanomeds and gamma rays, but instead of becoming a Hulk, he gains the ability to absorb things he touches, as if he’s some kind of Absorbing Man. Then he kills a security guard for no reason.

David contacts Ross and says he’ll turn himself in if they let him talk to his son, which is a terrible idea, so of course they accept. They set the two up in chairs facing each other in front of some weird vaporizing machine (so if they start to get out of line, they’ll get vaporized). Anyway, they immediately get of line, and the vaporizing machine doesn’t work because David just absorbs it or whatever. They go off to some lake and fight each other, with David trying to absorb all the Hulk’s power, but it’s too much dang power actually, and there’s a big explosion. Both are presumed dead, but we in the audience get to see that Bruce survived and moved to an unnamed Latin American country to do humanitarian work.

Best Parts:

From when Bruce Hulks out at the army base and escapes into the desert to when Betty calms him down in San Francisco, the movie is pretty good, actually. The action scenes are interesting, well-framed, with decent special effects for the era. There’s a nice little hero moment where the Hulk stops a fighter pilot from crashing into the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s a nice clever opposition moment where they fly the Hulk up so high that he won’t be able to breathe, and he passes out and falls into the ocean from a tremendous height. Taken as a whole it’s the one sequence in the movie that actually works.

Sam Elliott is a good choice for General Ross. Jennifer Connelly is a good choice for Betty. Nick Nolte is always compelling to watch, even in something as dumb as his role in this movie.

Worst Parts:

As I said above, the first half of the movie is interminably dull. Eric Bana has no personality, and there’s way too much backstory and information front-loaded before we have any reason to care. Also, the backstory and information are not written well enough that we’d ever begin to care anyway. I have no idea why they overcomplicated the Hulk story to this extent, giving him magic blood inherited from his dad, so it was kind of his destiny to become the Hulk, but it doesn’t really work. I could imagine a version of this story, centered around daddy issues, paralleled in some way with Betty’s own issues with her father, but the version we got is not a very good version.

I alluded to most of my issues with the storytelling in my recap, so not much to add there. The timeline doesn’t make a lot of sense, which would be forgivable if the story were more interesting. There’s a lot of weird camera stuff going on with different angles and shots coming in and out like they are comic panels, but without any of the understanding of why comic panels are arranged the way they are, and how comic storytelling works, so it doesn’t actually provide anything meaningful. Sometimes it’s just multiple angles of the same shot.

At one point early on Bruce is looking at a photo of Betty, and the camera enters the photo and it becomes a flashback to when they were still a couple, and then from within that flashback there’s another flashback as Betty reminisces about where she grew up. It’s kind of a mess.

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