Crash! Bash! A Smash?

Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), the pent-up protagonist of Ang Lee's "The Hulk," is sitting on a volcano of repressed rage, and when it finally erupts he discovers an id the size of King Kong. Bruce, like the heroes of most Freudian dramas, is suppressing a buried primal trauma, images of an Oedipal nightmare he can't quite remember. Anyone who sees "The Hulk," however, will have a hard time forgetting its pristine, powerful, surprisingly beautiful images, which alternate between intimate close-ups, vast vistas and kaleidoscopic split screens. You must have known the maker of "Sense and Sensibility" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" wouldn't deliver your normal popcorn movie. He hasn't. Dark, stately, with aspirations to tragic grandeur, "The Hulk" is a fascinating synthesis: something old, something new, something borrowed, something... green.

It's also a love story (Jennifer Connelly is Betty Ross, touchingly torn between desire and horror) and a meditation on fathers and sons (Nick Nolte, disheveled and deranged, plays Bruce's mad-scientist dad). Lee takes his time getting to the action, but he doesn't skimp when he gets there. Most spectacular is the desert showdown between the Hulk and a phalanx of Army tanks, which he flings across the dunes like so many Frisbees. "The Hulk" sometimes meanders, it has too many endings for its own good and the computer-generated angry green giant sometimes moves with cartoonish clunkiness. But where so many comic-book movies feel as disposable as Kleenex, the passionate, uncynical "Hulk" stamps itself into your memory. Lee's movies are built to last.