Well, I guess I'll be the first person to post an opinion piece in this section. I wrote this movie review years ago, and it never saw the light of day. It's hopelessly dated, but, dammit, I like the piece, and I want it to be read by someone. So, here it is.
Smashing Things: A Review of “Hulk”
By Michael Nenonen
Some people—people like Bruce Banner, for instance—suffer with what’s called jamais vu: they don’t recognise things they’ve obviously experienced before. Other people—people like me—deal with the opposite—déjà vu—all the time. For instance, when I was watching “Hulk”, I had the feeling I’d seen all of this somewhere before.
Now, don’t get me wrong—this movie is one of the most innovative action films I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. With Ang Lee directing, it’s also predictably gorgeous. Knowing his previous work, I was actually worried that the film would be too beautiful and too graceful for the subject matter. I half-expected to see the Hulk grappling daintily with his foes atop swaying bamboo trees. Well, the fight took place in the branches of giant Redwoods, and there was nothing dainty about it. Lee’s translation of four-colour panelling and high-impact, over-the-top drama from the comic book to the big screen trumps both “X-Men” movies and “Spider-Man” for grandeur, originality, and emotional punch. A third of the way into the movie I was so lost in the cinematography and pathos that I’d even stopped caring about the family resemblance between the Hulk and his CG cousin, Shrek. In both spectacle and script, there’s little that’s derivative about “Hulk”. You have to dig deep before you’ll find another film like it.
And yet, such a film exists. It’s Steven Speilberg’s 1991 “Hook”.
Let’s review the similarities.
“Hulk” goes something like this: military scientist David Banner (Nick Nolte) tries to improve himself through forbidden experiments, and inadvertently passes on a latent mutation to his son, Bruce (Eric Bana). For years David tries unsuccessfully to find a cure for his boy. When Bruce is four years old, David does something that traumatises the child and destroys his family. Bruce is thereafter raised by adoptive parents. Remembering nothing of his early years, he grows up to become an emotionally repressed scientist working in, coincidentally, his forgotten father’s field. A laboratory accident exposes Bruce to an unfortunate level of Gamma radiation just before David steps back into his life, hoping to make amends for some very poor parenting decisions. David—a technophilic patriarch in the grand tradition of the Frankensteins—triggers Bruce’s repressed memories. Afterwards, whenever he’s truly, deeply pissed off, Bruce turns into an invulnerable, unstoppable, and inarticulate green brute resembling a pumped-up version of Bruce’s babyhood self. Military intervention follows, complicating the father-son conflict to no end. Whatever isn’t already in pieces gets smashed, and smashed hard. In the midst of the carnage, Bruce’s ex-girlfriend, Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), tries to help him heal his emotional wounds by encouraging him to remember all that he’s blocked.
In “Hook”, Peter Pan (Robin Williams) abandons Neverland, grows up, forgets his early life, becomes an emotionally repressed corporate “pirate”, marries, and has children whom he emotionally neglects. The children are kidnapped by Captain Hook, who plots to win the heart of Peter’s son, replacing Peter as the boy’s “father” and thereby achieving the ultimate revenge. Tinkerbell leads Peter back to Neverland, where, in order to revive his lost powers, she encourages him to remember his former, magical existence.
“Hook” ends after Peter—with his powers and sense of purpose restored—successfully reconciles with his son. I don’t want to spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it, but I doubt it’ll surprise anyone to learn that, despite David’s best efforts, “Hulk” doesn’t boast such a heartwarming reunion. Peter might have rediscovered his inner Pan through childlike bliss, but it’s thoroughly justified rage that unlocks the Hulk in Bruce’s head.
How many parallels can we count?
(1) “H__k” updates for an adult audience characters and storylines originating in children’s pop culture.
(2) “H__k” deals with a father who’s abandoned his son, and with the struggles of that father to reconcile with his estranged offspring.
(3) In “H__k”, an emotionally repressed adult man discovers within himself a super-powered, high-flying, grass-green “wildchild”.
(4) To reconcile the man with the wildchild, the hero of “H__k”, with the assistance of a nurturing and mostly powerless woman, has to cut through a wall of amnesia and come to terms with his earliest history.
(5) The wildchild’s primal innocence is unexpectedly pitted against a malicious, overly intellectual, and long-forgotten father figure.
On the most basic structural level, the only difference between these movies lies in their emotional honesty. “Hook” soothes the consciences of negligent patriarchs. It proclaims that, with little more effort than it takes to clap their hands, they can simultaneously bolster their self-esteems, regain their lost vitality, and heal the people their self-absorption has so grievously wounded. Dying fairies can be revived even as their toes are being tagged. For a North American audience in 1991, when the consequences of our collective misdeeds were still hidden well enough to ignore, deny, or minimise them, these fantasies seemed plausible.
We live in different times. Now, we suspect that our ethical lapses have consequences we may not be able to fix even with the most Herculean efforts. “Hulk” suggests that some things—like lives and hearts—stay smashed, and that the rage felt by the innocents we’ve betrayed will, in the end, be our undoing.
So, the emerald child soaring over our heads isn’t Peter Pan, and Neverland is, as it’s really always been, gone; we’ll neither walk its shores nor soar over its mountains ever again. It’s “Hulk”, and not “Hook”, that speaks honestly to fathers, whether of children or of nations.
[Edited by Michelle to change the thread title to the title of the article.]
[ 29 June 2007: Message edited by: Michelle ]