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Green giant

Big, green and misunderstood, 'The Hulk' stomps into the multiplex to join Spider-Man, the X-Men and Daredevil in the transition from comics page to summer blockbuster.

This time, however, we get a superhero flick with gravitas. Whether hard-core fans will embrace 'Hulk' is up in the air, but it's a fresh take in a genre that's threatened to become stale after only a handful of movies.

Having helmed a strikingly diverse catalog of films Ñ including 'The Wedding Banquet,' 'Sense and Sensibility' and 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' Ñ director Ang Lee has made a film that's uniquely his own. While Spidey and Daredevil worked overtime to please the comic-loving fans, Lee's take on the Hulk is more in line with classic movie monsters such as Lon Chaney's beleaguered Wolf Man or King Kong. There's no place in this world for the Hulk, and his very existence is a threat to man; that he's the manifestation of one unfortunate fellow's repressed rage makes it all the more tragic.

Which isn't to say that the movie's a downer. In taking on 'The Hulk,' Lee gleefully turns the screen into a kinetic comics page, using split screens, wipes and innovative framing devices to give the film the multidimensional feel of a graphic novel.

From the opening credits Ñ during which we follow a scientist's genetic experiments on animals, then himself, and then his young son Ñ through the final comic-font closing titles, Lee's visual style honors the Hulk's pulp roots while slyly inserting considerably more substance than one expects from a Marvel adaptation.

The story (credited to 'Crouching Tiger' scribe James Schamus) hinges on the Freudian daddy issues of its two main characters: emotionally withholding scientist Bruce Banner (blandly handsome Eric Bana, managing to craft a fine performance out of not reacting) and his colleague-ex-lover Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly, playing essentially the same character as in 'A Beautiful Mind').

Betty's still-burning love for Bruce is credited to her stormy relationship with her gruff military-man father (Sam Elliott). Gen. Ross also just happens to be the one who, 30 years earlier, shut down the unauthorized, mad genius experiments of Bruce's scientist dad (a wild-eyed Nick Nolte).

The unfolding tale of Bruce's background and his Oedipal repression takes up about 40 minutes of screen time, and those who come to 'Hulk' expecting nothing but slam-bang 'X2'-style action may get a little restless. But once Bruce gets his accidental exposure to gamma radiation, he discovers Ñ with both pain and pleasure Ñ that his monster of the id is big, green and very, very angry. Hulk smash!

With considerable support from cinematographer Frederick Elmes and a fresh new direction from composer Danny Elfman, the action sequences in 'Hulk' present a Hulk true to the comic books. This

isn't your father's Lou Ferrigno television Hulk, struggling to overturn a car and breaking a few bricks. This is the Jack Kirby-Stan Lee Hulk, leapfrogging across the landscape, flinging tanks about like rag dolls and withstanding a trip straight up out of the atmosphere while clinging to the back of a jet plane.

Building to a father-son confrontation that's positively operatic in its staginess, 'The Hulk' is a thoughtful, classic monster movie disguised as an explosive popcorn flick. Smarter, with a more unusual style than recent comicbook films, it'll live on in your mind long after dreck like 'Daredevil' has become a distant memory.