Mind Over Matter
Should you desire it, you may find this presentation of the Hulk to be rather compelling and intriguing in its deviations from the comics, but ultimately, "Hulk" is an edgy and lackluster drama that only engages the titular character from a safe distance.
A laboratory accident brings out the monster that was buried within an emotionally withdrawn scientist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) from the moment he was conceived by his psychotic father (Nick Nolte). Following this disaster, Banner finds himself embroiled in a conflict of interest between the military and his father.
Color me purple, but I found the origin story to be the most engaging aspect of the movie. Here we have a combination of emererging science (nanotechnology), genetic experimentation, and the dated radiation that became such a popular explanation in science/horror fiction during the space race. Squish them all together and you have a very passable modern retelling of how an unassuming scientist becomes the Green Goliath. The "healing factor" with which Bruce subconsciously suppressed his traumatic childhood memories is also masterfully conceived, as rather than helping Bruce deal with the trauma, it only stores it away, secretly fueling the beast inside of him. As he has no conscious understanding of how to cope with emotional stress or duress, Bruce comes across as withdrawn, as noted by Betty (Jennifer Connelly). Add to the equation that everyone seems to believe that Bruce knows more than he's telling, and you have a particularly troubled Dr. Banner.
Sam Elliot as General Ross is easily the greatest casting "Hulk" has to offer. The character was, more or less, rewritten to be far more relate-able to the audience, as a man who is stuck between a rock and a very hard place in doing what he believes is best for both his daughter and his country. He is not a hardened and overzealous army general who thinks that God is on his side in every decision he makes (like his comic book counterpart), but an edgy and withdrawn commander who gives a face to an otherwise nameless branch of the US Army. His performance is hostile, but only JUST on the edge of reason - passing judgment with his piercing stares, and growling orders to the men and women under his control.
Unfortunately, Sam Elliot is the only actor to give off a memorable performance in a film where every main character has depth. Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) spends the majority of her time looking hurt in the most attractive way possible, but apart from that, she is not quite as convincing as she could have been in her role as the compassionate ex-girlfriend/best friend/colleague of Bruce Banner. David Banner (Nick Nolte) may have been given the short end of the stick, considering a good percentage of his dialogue is hard enough to take seriously, and the only real feeling he is able to conjure up is irritation. Talbot (Josh Lucas) is the worst culprit, unfortunately coming across as overeager in every situation, to the point where it can be safely said that he was over-acting, even when he tries to play it casual.
I also had a couple of qualms with Ang Lee's direction, not so much in the approach to the story, but in his gratuitous scenery. From surreal fluorescent dreams to over three wordless minutes of showing the audience how guarded Banner is in the desert, one has to wonder why exactly these scenes weren't left on the cutting room floor. I appreciated his effort to incorporate comic book frames, but a good deal of the time, it was far too distracting to be enjoyable. Lastly, there were some unavoidable compromises made to give each character a reasonable amount of substance and depth, and some were a bit much. The Hulk battles gamma-mutated dogs created to test his strength by his father. These four-legged monsters actually ARE in the comics, and while they offer a bit of brawling for the Hulk to let loose on (because Abomination or the Leader wouldn't have been possible in this story), the audience is keenly aware of the victor before the battle even starts. Then we have Banner senior becoming a version of the Absorbing Man (which didn't feel overly-contrived and came as a good surprise out of left-field), and while that battle is interesting, the end result is rather predictable.
Overall, "Hulk" is less-than-faithful to the comic books, but offers a unique and engaging vantage point that may be lost on the hardcore fans of "Hulk-Smash", and ultimately bites off a bit more drama than it can chew.