Thursday, March 19, 2015

Recap: "Hulk" Part 3: Critical Mass

Finally, it all comes to a head. Will our questions be answered? Will revelations be had? Will it all wrap up in a satisfying manner?

Heck, no.

You should know better.
Bruce wakes up in a metal cell, looking into Betty’s eyes. The two of them end up taking a walk through the ruined base, which I just realized should probably be full of the same kind of radioactive sand that killed John Wayne, thanks to the Gamma blast from earlier in the movie. Not sure they should be out there, but whatever.

Bruce is still having memory issues as he and Betty visit his old house. He walks into the living room, finds the door from his dreams, and opens it at Betty’s urges, finding…. Nothing. What was he expecting? The house is completely empty. No people, pictures, furniture, or anything. Did he think that somehow, for some reason, they had just decided to leave a single room alone when they removed all the furniture?

Bruce winds up returned to his cell, and Betty is denied access to him. The “threat” is being turned over to Glenn Talbot’s department, which General Ross is particularly unhappy with. He tells his daughter to go home. It’s over. And so, a helicopter takes her back home.

Later, Bruce washes his face in his cell as a badly-injured Glenn Talbot enters the room in a shot so oddly-constructed that I can’t figure out how this scene is actually blocked, not even with my experience directing plays in college.

Is that a mirror, or a composite? I need to know whether or not Bruce should ask him to change his ways!
In a nutshell, Glenn explains that he’s here to get Bruce to Hulk out, then he’ll cut a chunk of and patent the Hulk genes before you can say Monsanto. To accomplish this, he’s brought a cattle prod. It ends up not working, so he knocks Bruce out and sticks him in a water-filled tank. Bruce is wearing nothing but purple spandex shorts, so you can guess how this will end. With some electronic stimulation, Glenn manages to get Bruce to start having bad flashbacks as Betty arrives… somewhere. I don't think it's her house, because she lives in that awesome cabin, or Bruce's house. Maybe it's a safehouse? Wherever she is, David’s also there, ready to spill his guts.

He says that if General Ross lets him see his son one last time, he’ll turn himself in. Betty tells him that Ross isn’t in charge anymore, and this is the cue for more nigh-drunken ranting from David about his work, “God’s boundaries,” and other such bull before talking about how much he loved his wife. As he rants about how he should have offed Bruce in the crib, Bruce starts twitching and shaking. And David finally explains to Betty what happened after he took his wife into the bedroom that day. He told her that Bruce was a monster. And with the project shut down, there was no hope for a cure. He had a knife in his hand and he was going to kill little Bruce. But as David raced toward his son, his wife tried to stop him, ending up with the knife in her own chest as Bruce simply watched.

So I hope that was worth it. The big mystery that Bruce can’t remember? His dad killed his mom. Which was not only implied from the beginning of the movie, but all but outright stated by General Ross. At the very least, it means that, chronologically speaking, the black guy didn't die first.

And let's talk about that door.

The door that Bruce's parents entered.

The door that has been haunting Bruce's memories.

What happened behind that door?

Absolutely. Nothing.

They went in, argued, came out, then one of them murdered the other. The door was not involved in any conceivable way. The door was, quite simply, pointless. In fact, it makes no sense for Bruce to be so fixated on the door when his mom was murdered right next to him.

Anyway, Glenn’s mental meddling reawakens this memory within Bruce, causing him to Hulk out so badly that he breaks free of the tank. Sleeping gas merely makes him sneeze, and he soon runs free through the base. As General Ross contacts Glenn to chew him out, the Hulk gets cornered by a team with quick-dry foam to stop the Hulk in his tracks. Glenn races down with a drill to get a sample himself, but this only makes Hulk even madder. Or vaguely annoyed.

"God, Talbot, will you please quit bugging Hulk? Hulk asking politely!"
Soon enough, Hulk breaks free. Glenn shoots a grenade at the big guy, but this gets swatted right back at Glenn’s face as he meets his oddly-majestic demise.

That's right, go for the triple axle! You are a beautiful swan!
Farewell, Talbot. Your death is as silly as your character was pointless, all things considered.

To no one’s surprise, the Hulk manages to escape the Desert Base as all the British Army Chieftain tanks made up to look like Shermans that General Ross can muster mobilize to bring him down. Through his usual methods, Hulk makes it clear that he does not exactly care for the current situation.

"Hulk would like to say tanks for hearing out Hulk's fists. Hulk good at wordplay!"
This is the first time we see the Hulk in daytime lighting, and the reason that the Hulk was so dimly lit before now was that Ang Lee wanted us to get used to the Hulk before we saw him in his full, Shrek-like glory. Hopefully, we’d suspend our disbelief before we got to this point.

As Hulk finishes up taking care of the tanks, General Ross calls a couple politicians who are “definitely not” Condoleezza Rice and George Dubya Bush. Ross gets permission to use all his resources to subdue the Hulk. Speaking of him, he’s leaping through the desert, as an expression that could almost be called “joy” crosses his face at the sense of solitude and freedom he now feels. So let’s talk about the Hulk’s jumps.

Ang Lee’s earlier work, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was an example of Wuxia, pronounced “Woo-Sha." I don't want to get bogged down defining Wuxia, so let me just oversimplify it. Honorable warriors, corrupt government, wandering knights, and awesome martial arts. If you've seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you know that all these factors are cranked up to eleven in that film.

So when Ang Lee started working on Hulk, he worked at it from much the same angle. Antagonistic law enforcement, wandering "knights," and super-floaty, martial-arts-inspired movements for the Hulk. This angle can be seen in the way the Hulk floats through the air. It’s pretty, but the character’s too weightless. Couple that with the CGI, and the whole thing just ends up looking fake. Pretty, though.

As Hulk stops to catch his breath and look at some more lichen, a few choppers arrive to take him down. Stealth Comanches, actually, in the only mission, real or fictional, they ever flew. Hulk starts attacking them in a way that looks like it would make a great video game.

And you know what? It did.
Soon enough, only two choppers remain. Hulk ends up running away from the fight, only to grab a missile and whip it right back at the chopper what fired it. As it crashes, more choppers arrive on the scene. Hulk decides to GTFO and hide behind a rock formation. But the army soon gets the orders to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. Unable to secure a big yellow taxi, the Hulk ends up crushed by the rubble. But because there’s still half an hour to go in the movie, he isn’t dead.

Ross, under his call sign of T-Bolt, gets the word that the Hulk survived, and turns his chopper back around to reengage. They track his movements and conclude that the green meanie must be heading home. Ross calls his daughter and warns her about the impending Hulk.

Speaking of him, he soon arrives at the top of the Golden Gate bridge on his way to see Betty. Two fighter jets open fire on the Hulk, but the heavy fog causes one of them to need to make evasive maneuvers to dodge a civilian aircraft. It loses control and starts hurtling towards the bridge filled with innocents, so the Hulk leaps onto it and forces it to fly under the bridge instead. Now that the Hulk has saved a modicum of innocent lives, he can finally be considered a super “hero.”

But Ross just wants the Hulk dead, so he orders the jet to fly as high as he can to starve the Hulk of oxygen. As stars become visible and ice forms on the Hulk’s face, the pilot is forced to pull back and level out.

"Yeah, I had a similar problem the first time I flew into the atmosphere."
But Hulk does indeed lose consciousness, and begins to fall back to Earth. While unconscious, he dreams. Bruce Banner is shaving in front of a foggy mirror. He wipes away some fog, only to find that the Hulk is doing the same thing from the other side. Suddenly, to the shock of first-time watchers, Hulk smashes the glass, chokes Bruce, and speaks in Lou Ferrigno’s voice.

Hulk: “Puny human.”

This scene is an excellent metaphor for the mental struggle between the two characters, and is shot very well. But why on Earth is it just randomly placed as a dream sequence in the middle of an action scene?

And why is this dream sequence more coherent than the actual movie?
Anyway, Hulk finally lands in the water after falling from the upper atmosphere. Naturally, he makes only the tiniest, most pitiful little splash after having reached terminal velocity.

Like a duck landing, really.
Honestly, I'd be tempted to think that this splash was a joke. Then I remembered what movie I was watching. There are no jokes in this movie. At times, it's actually gloomier than The Dark Knight. Which is exactly what people look for in a movie about a giant green monster originally created to appeal to kids, right?

Betty watches from the nearby military base at the jet swooping around and firing missiles and depth charges at the water. Betty contacts her dad and tells him what the audience has known for a while. The Hulk is basically indestructible, and these attacks are only making him stronger. But Ross doesn’t want to let this monster get his grubby mitts on his daughter. But Betty insists that violence is the worst possible option.

Meanwhile, the Hulk emerges from underneath the San Fransisco streets, destroying a cable car and numerous regular cars in the process. The soggy Hulk expresses his displeasure at his current situation by tossing a few empty cars around. Aircraft converges on his location, and Hulk prepares to throw some stuff at the nearest chopper, but then sees that Betty is a passenger on it. Police cars arrive with the SWAT teams and military guys, and the Hulk is surprisingly chill about the whole thing. Betty runs down the steps of that famous hill in San Francisco (you know the one), and the Hulk calms down enough to begin to shrink. In a nice touch, a puddle of water forms underneath the wet Bruce Banner because he's losing surface area. Seriously, that's a nice touch, even though such attention to physics is jarring after that tiny splash.

Bruce: “You found me.”
Betty: “You weren’t that hard to find.”

The big twist of the movie! It was a game of hide-and-seek gone horribly wrong!

Bruce: “Yes, I was.”

No one likes a sore loser, Bruce. They embrace, and the soft music plays telling us that this is an emotional scene. Of course, the jackbooted thugs in the background are kind of distracting,

Of course, if any of them fired right now, the movie would be over. But screw common sense.
We then cut to Nick Nolte being released from his cell after the DUI…. Sorry, this is David Banner being moved to a new location. How did he end up in prison? Why did he end up in prison? Who knows? He and Bruce are both shipped to a San Francisco warehouse for that little meeting that David wanted. The two of them have little chairs where they can sit and hash things out, while the entire Army waits outside, just in case. And also just in case, the chairs are between two gigantic electrical transformers which they can switch on if David or Bruce try any funny business. The handcuffed David enters the room and does what he does best. Breathing heavily.

Bruce confronts his dad over his new memories of David killing his mom.

Bruce: “…I don’t even know her name."

Edith. Though I’m going to be honest, I got that from IMDb. I’m not sure, but they might not say her name through the entire movie. Which is, you know, a great way to connect us to the character whose death drives the protagonist.

Anyway, Eric Bana gets to cry on camera, which is something he does realistically, but not prettily. After David half-heartedly attempts to console him, Bruce tells him that he may have been his father once, but not anymore. Not since that day. But David starts doing what he does best: Rambling like a crazy hobo.

He starts talking about wanting to see his “real” son inside of Bruce because he needs to partake in the Hulk’s essence to cure himself. His logic being that he gave life to Bruce, so it’s only fair for Bruce to give it back. He then follows this up with a string of garbled dog sounds which only vaguely approximates human speech. But Bruce can only take so much crazy rambling and has himself a mini-freak out.

David does not take this well and soon goes to Plan B for bringing out the Hulk. Now, some of you may have heard an acting term called “chewing the scenery.” Basically, it refers to an actor going over the top and off the rails with their performance.  Well….

Nick Nolte didn’t get the memo that “chewing the scenery” is supposed to be a metaphor.
But there’s a method to the madness. Ross has hit men hit the juice, and David absorbs the electricity to become the spitting image of the classic Hulk villain known as Zzzaxx, whose name I’m apparently incapable of spelling.

What a shocking development. I'm getting amped up. Positively thunderstruck. Electron.
Bruce begins Hulking out as the now-electrified Absorbing Dad shoots them both up into the sky, where they fight through the clouds as an unmoving series of images, as though they were Weeping Angels and couldn't move when looked at. Hulk plummets back to Earth on a lightning bolt, and Absorbing Dad hits the ground and turns into a rock man. The Army scrambles to get a lock on Hulk’s new location, and they soon track his Gamma signature to a lake. After Hulk does what he does best to Absorbing Dad’s rock form, Hulk throws him into the nearby lake. David’s new water form grabs Hulk and pulls him underwater. This is where things get weird.

As David begins to partake with Hulk’s essence, he begins to talk to Bruce. Telepathically. How do I know it’s telepathy? Because Bruce is going to talk back in a second. But before that happens, David absorbs all the surrounding thermal energy, turning the lake to ice. This does not go unnoticed by the military satellites.

As the camera dives into what appears to be a mixture of Bruce’s memories and the Matt Smith Doctor Who opening, David telepathically urges his son to just give his powers up.

Bruce: “You think you can live with it? Take it.”
Hulk: “Take it aaaaaaaaaaallllll!”

The ice breaks and Hulk sink to the bottom of the lake as David absorbs more and more power, slowly turning from a wibbly vortex into a green bubble that rises from the surface of the lake. He starts whining for his son to take it back, but it’s too late now. Scenes from earlier in the film shimmer in his… bubbliness, and Ross calls in a tactical nuke. Betty puts her hand on her dad's shoulder to... wait.

Betty Ross just watched her own father order a tactical nuke strike on the one she loves feels emotions for hugged once... and she's consoling him? Why isn't she the villain of the story?

Anyway, in the lake below, Bruce’s limp body floats to the surface as he flashes back to the few good memories of his father that he has.

One year later, according to a helpful caption, and Betty’s lab work is interrupted by a call from her dad.

General Ross: “Well, we both know Bruce couldn’t have survived that blast.”

God, you always have to talk about work, don’t you?

He tells her to let him know if Bruce tries to contact her, and she refuses. But she doesn’t have to agree.

Betty: “My phones are bugged, my computer’s tapped, I’m under surveillance.”

Yeah, but, to be fair, the NSA’s been doing that to everyone.

They end their conversation on good terms, and we cut to South America, where Bruce Banner is disguised in his best Torgo cosplay, giving medical care to the locals and looking after the Master's lodge. Unfortunately, some militant-type folks come in to take the precious medicine.

With some final words of warning….

We never see him turn into a bearded Hulk. I am very disappointed.
Bruce’s eyes turn green, a tree frog climbs onto his hat for no particular reason, and the camera zooms out, leaving us with an image of the rainforest as we hear a familiar angry roar. The credits roll as “Set Me Free” plays, and I can finally turn off the movie because there’s no post-credits sequence. After all, this was five years before Iron Man.

Which means... it's time to try and actually decipher this mess.

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