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Review: 'Hulk' not quite all there

Movie great to look at, but a little flat

By Paul Clinton

The Hulk
The Hulk takes on the authorities in "The Hulk."

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(CNN) -- Ang Lee's film version of Stan Lee's Marvel comic "The Hulk" is a spectacular visual delight.

His use of multiple moving images within the same frame gives the illusion of cartoon panels. The overall production values, computer-generated effects, and editing set a new standard for the adaptation of comic book characters to the big screen.

And all five of the leading actors -- Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas and Nick Nolte -- turn in strong performances.

But the big question remains: How does the big green guy look?

After all, the entire film hinges on whether or not the audience can suspend disbelief long enough to emotionally engage with the Hulk, which is an entirely computer-generated character. The answer -- for me, at least -- is yes and no.

At first the Hulk is introduced in near darkness, so the viewer can slowly get adjusted to his look. Then gradually he's revealed in all his gargantuan glory while smashing through concrete walls and leaping huge distances between Berkeley, California, and some unnamed remote desert location, with half of the United States military in hot pursuit.

Scientific accidents

The Hulk
Eric Bana is Bruce Banner, and Nick Nolte is Banner's mad scientist father.

The film starts out fairly slowly. In a remote military base in the middle of a desert, a mad scientist disobeys a direct order given by a very angry military officer and injects himself with some sort of chemical that will change his DNA.

There is no immediate effect until his wife has a baby boy. The son, Bruce, is obviously carrying the distorted DNA. Two nasty, but unclear, events then take place at the military base and at the Banner home -- and suddenly we flash forward to present day.

Australian actor Bana plays Bruce Banner, who has now grown up. He's also a scientist, and he's working in the same field -- genetics -- as his father. But he has no memory about his early childhood or his birth parents, since he was adopted after the disastrous events at the base.

Connelly plays Betty Ross, his fellow scientist and former girlfriend, who has never been able to break down his wall of isolation. Her estranged father (Elliot) just happens to be the same military officer who confronted Bruce's father years ago. He's now a four-star general.

Together, Bruce and Betty are working on some highly secret work that the government -- represented by Lucas, playing an entrepreneur simply named Talbot -- and Betty's father desperately want. Nolte, looking just like he did in his recent wild-haired DUI mug shot, plays Banner's unstable, mysterious father, the mad scientist who caused all the trouble at the beginning of the movie.

After an accident in the lab (isn't there always an accident in the lab?) Bruce's dormant, distorted genes come to life and he becomes the Hulk whenever he becomes angry. Needless to say, Betty is surprised at the transformation. Bruce is also quite shocked, but luckily his modesty is preserved because no matter how huge he gets -- and believe me, he's huge -- his underwear manages to expand with him while all his other clothing is ripped to shreds during the transformation. Who says Spandex isn't a miracle fabric?

CGI extravaganza

Connelly and Bana
Jennifer Connelly plays Banner's sometime girlfriend, Betty Ross.

The movie then becomes an action-packed race for the finish. Betty's father the general wants to use the Hulk for his own purposes; Bruce's father the mad scientist is equally pleased with how things have turned out. And Bruce has to come to terms with it all -- while growing angrier and angrier, bigger and bigger, and more and more dangerous.

From here on in it's a special effects and CGI extravaganza. Fans of the comic book will probably be pleased and thrill seekers in general will get plenty to chew on. And have no doubts -- there will be a sequel.

My connection to our misunderstood muscle-bound hero kept coming and going. Sometimes, I bought it. More often, well, the Hulk looked like a cartoon. Still, it's largely thanks to the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic (and a reported $20 million last-minute makeover) that the Hulk looks as good as he does, and there are moments when his, uh, humanity comes through.

"The Hulk" is sure to be a big hit -- at least until "Terminator 3" debuts. And the movie has a lot going for it. But the Hulk himself just seemed to be a very ticked-off Shrek to me, which makes this comic-book movie a little more two-dimensional than it had to be.

"The Hulk" is rated PG-13 and opens Friday.

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