I was let off work early on Thursday for the holiday, so the Cute Little Red Headed Girlfriend and I walked to our local movie theater and saw a matinee of Incredible Hulk. We both enjoyed it, though we were for the most part attracted to different elements of the story. The exception was the whole Beauty and the Beast angle, which we both loved, because that's a chick thing.
My girlfriend likes weird science, so she was pretty enthralled with the laboratory setting and the DNA plot line. She also liked the Hulk creature, with his outsized emotions and incredible strength. I found myself interested in the uncanny echoes of current events found in the story. Having just read a front page story about the ex-military scientist who is the chief "person of interest" in the anthrax investigation, it was strange to see a similar story unfolding on screen.
I also liked the way the Hulk was presented against the twisted formations of the desert landscape, linking him to its elemental presence. It seemed appropriate, given that the Hulk is the manifestation of a single, powerful emotion to have him appear against such a severe landscape.
The mood of the story seemed to teeter between an over-the-top comic book plot and a mythic drama. At times the balance worked, but sometimes it did not. The multi-level oedipal plots, and the abstract presentation of military power and corporate greed as foes, brought to mind an unfolding Greek tragedy. However, I felt that the complexity of the oedipal plot did not mesh well with the simplicity of the Hulk's rage. Anger is a very primal emotion, a giant emotion, and it would have been better framed by a less psychological complex storyline.
The transformation sequence was outstanding. Not Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk, I mean Betty/Jennifer Connelly's amazing hair transformation. When her hair is up, she's just a confused and frustrated girlfriend. But when it's down, suddenly she's the Hypnotic, Taming Female Essence of Hair. I haven't seen as good a filmic hair transformation since The Ten Commandments, when Moses/Charlton Heston's hair keeps getting bigger the farther he gets down the mountain. And Nick Nolte's performance as a world-class nut-case was fantastic.
I agreed with what Roger Ebert had to say about Ang Lee's use of split-screen panels in Hulk:
"The movie has an elegant visual strategy; after countless directors have failed, Ang Lee figures out how split-screen techniques can be made to work. Usually they're an annoying gimmick, but here he uses moving frame-lines and pictures within pictures to suggest the dynamic storytelling techniques of comic books. Some shots are astonishing, as foreground and background interact and reveal one another. There is another technique, more subtle, that reminds me of comics: He often cuts between different angles in the same closeup--not cutting away, but cutting from one view of a face to another, as graphic artists do when they need another frame to deal with extended dialogue."
This may in fact be the payoff from the recent run of comics-inspired movies. Directors like Ang Lee may begin to develop new frameworks for storytelling that blend comic book narrative devices with traditional film techniques.