2003, Movie, PG-13, 137 mins


Family violence, repressed memories and rage are hardly the stuff of classic comic-book fantasy, but the Incredible Hulk was never one of Marvel Comics' happier creations. Damaged by psychological trauma and gamma radiation, Dr. Bruce Banner is a Dr. Jekyll who's never more than one temper tantrum away from unleashing his dangerously uncontrollable and superhumanly strong Mr. Hyde. In this visually dazzling but leaden adaptation of the long-running Marvel series, director Ang Lee and screenwriter James Schamus remain faithful to the dark tone of Banner's complex back story — convoluted Hulk lore developed over four decades by numerous writers — but there's so much of it that the film is as muscle-bound as the green gargantua himself. Adopted as a youngster, molecular scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) grew up with no recollection of his early childhood or birth parents. And with good reason: His father was military scientist David Banner (Paul Kersey, and later, a grizzled Nick Nolte), who was so determined to crack the secret of spontaneous regeneration that he began mucking around with his own DNA. Driven mad by his experiments and the painful knowledge that little Bruce inherited his mutated genetic material, Banner Sr. committed a crime so psychically damaging to his then 4-year-old that Bruce grew to manhood with an emotion-draining black hole where his memories should be. His father, meanwhile, spent the next 30 years in an insane asylum. The terrible power of Bruce's repressed memories, combined with his altered DNA, is unleashed when Bruce is accidentally bombarded with gamma rays at the Berkeley lab where he and his ex-girlfriend, fellow biotechnician Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), are researching regenerative medicine. But instead of killing him, the radiation only makes Bruce stronger — much stronger. Triggered by the rage that's been simmering since childhood, Bruce mutates into a towering, simple-minded hunk of rampaging, chartreuse muscle, capable of tossing back whatever the military throws at him and leaping several miles in a single bound. The entirely computer-generated Hulk is a surprisingly expressive creation — it certainly gives a better performance than Connelly — but the action is late in coming and feels like a long set-up for the inevitable sequel. Fans of the far more entertaining TV series will cheer the brief cameo by Lou Ferrigno, but parents should be aware that several scenes, including a nasty run-in with a Hulk-ified French poodle, make this downbeat comic-book adventure too intense for younger viewers. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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