Exposure to lethal quantities of gamma radiation doesn’t corrupt; it just accentuates what was present all along. Well, at least that’s what stoical geneticist Bruce Banner (Eric Bana, “Black Hawk Down”) has you think in Ang Lee’s interpretation of the comic book classic “The Incredible Hulk.”

Banner leads a life of reserved contentment, devoting his mind entirely to the field of nuclear genetics. Supposedly abandoned by his biological parents, Banner is emotionally isolated and loses his only love – co-worker Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) – as a result.

Nonetheless, the two still work closely, researching the regenerative properties of gamma radiation. One fateful day, when a seal breaks during a routine test, Banner is exposed to fatal doses of the radiation; surprisingly, he recovers, unscathed.

Well, he isn’t left entirely unscathed: the radiation causes Banner’s emotions – which we find to be rather tumultuous, due to a disturbed childhood spent in the household of deranged military scientist, David Banner (Nick Nolte) – to affect his appearance and physical composition. Basically, the right stimulus causes Bruce to turn into a huge ball of green muscle that operates solely to the tune of destruction.

Director Ang Lee is known – especially for his epic saga, “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” – to take a markedly cerebral approach to the otherwise visceral realm of action; his approach obviously remains the same with “Hulk.”

At nearly two and a half hours, “Hulk” delves deeply into personal and relational issues that others of the comic book ilk don’t even broach. Lee examines the father-son, man-woman, man-himself and man-society dynamics with thought and emotion otherwise unseen in modern action.

This more thoughtful progression makes the film’s action sequences all the more enjoyable. Lee’s graceful, almost surreal choreography is evident as the Hulk trounces about the Southwest United States like a child on a playground. Simply put, the action is visually breathtaking, and it is even more anticipated because of the characters’ early emotional development.

Stylistically, “Hulk” rivals the lot for the comic genre crown. Lee splices many scenes with intricate atomic shots of human cells reproducing and other scientific displays that enhance the experience; also, the scenes transition very smoothly and creatively. Moreover, he tempers “Hulk” appropriately with comedy, cameos and cultural allusions, employing everything from Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno appearances to G.W. and Condoleeza Rice look-alikes. These all help lighten the otherwise pensive tale of the impetuous green giant.

Rating: 4 stars.

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