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Bruce Banner's dad (Nick Nolte)

Film: Hulk
Director: Ang Lee
Performers: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott
Production Information: Universal Pictures (US), 2003
Breeds featured: Pit bull, American Staffordshire terrier, Standard Poodle

I have the greatest respect for Ang Lee, and usually find him a versatile director who does a careful, nuanced job of giving emotional and psychological depth to a great range of characters. That said, Hulk was a stinker on a number of levels and is the weakest title in his entire filmography (take it from someone who’s seen them all). This animated dogfight scene that happens about halfway through was the signpost announcing that the film had just fallen deep into the Valley of Suck — abandon hope all ye who enter.

Bruce Banner’s father to Bruce Banner’s girlfriend: And don’t worry about the dogs. You’ll be fine. Just don’t look them in the eyes.

Nick Nolte plays Bruce Banner’s father who makes his grand entrance with his three random dogs. They lay at his side with no interaction whatsoever. The dogs’ attention is clearly on some off-screen handler (see top screenshot). It appears that the Nolte character doesn’t even like his dogs that much, so there’s no love lost when he Hulkifies them and sends them on a mission to dispatch Bruce Banner’s girlfriend. And of course, that makes Hulk mad, so an all-out battle ensues.

It’s a pretty violent sequence, though there’s really not much blood and gore. The dogs get pummeled to pieces or torn apart by the Hulk, dying in a spray of green pixels, and that’s that. It seems to me that this was about the time that Hollywood started projecting more graphic images of violence unto animals (Peter Jackson’s King Kong from 2005 also comes to mind), which became permissible under the idea that no real animals are harmed, and more gruesome images of human violence are commonplace in films equally rated (Hulk has an MPAA rating of PG-13). Anyway, the action choreography here is tight, I just find the overall visual design to be lacking.

Seriously — a black dog and a dark brown dog battling it out at night in a redwood forest? Did they keep everything dark and inscrutable in a desperate attempt to mask how shoddy it looks? The Hulk looks like he’s being hugged by a couple giant gophers at some points. The poodle ends up appearing the most vicious of the trio, only because its form and face can actually be distinguished.

Anyway, the segment serves only to provide banal action-filler that’s a far cry from the martial artistry and visual splendor of, say, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Ang Lee could’ve done better — perhaps by leaving this scene out entirely, for starters.

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