To someone relatively unattached with the starring characters, the fact a second Hulk film was released during 2008 - only five years after Ang Lee's notorious version starring Eric Bana - raises some questions concerning redundancy. Not that I mind this potentially redundant new version: I actually liked Lee's film, and as I found out during The Incredible Hulk's open credits' montage this new version takes place after the previous one. In effect, we have ourselves a sequel, not a replacement.
At this point I might have told you what the Hulk is all about - a comic based character of a scientist involved in an experiment gone wrong, a scientist who now becomes a gigantic green man with superpowers whenever he gets angry. But should I really tell this tale? The Incredible Hulk takes it for granted that you know who Bruce Banner is.
This time around, Bruce Banner is played by Edward Norton. As we start, Banner works as a lowly factory guy in Brazil, a country where he seeks refuge from himself - a place where he can find enough solace to avoid turning into his Mr Hyde of a hulk. He can't hide forever, though: an American army general (William Hurt) seeks him out, potentially to avenge the injuries Banner had inflicted on his daughter (Liv Tyler) upon becoming The Hulk. Perhaps there is more to this chase, given Hurt's character recruiting the best commando soldier he can put his hands on (Tim Roth) to deliver him what he considers his prized possession. With this setting established, The Incredible Hulk turns into exactly what one would expect a fantastic comics based story to turn into: an adventure filled with action scenes that, eventually, pits our supernatural hero against an adversary of even further fetched supernatural qualities.
There is nothing wrong with a loyal cinematic exploration of a comic book; this lack of loyalty to the spirit of comics was at the core of the problem with Ang Lee's version. It is, however, a bit of a shame to see how this potentially terrific story was made to look like any other cheap action flick coming out of Hollywood's clutches: predictable and featuring all of the action hero cliches one would expect (e.g., the way the leading female role stands for nothing but being her man's prop). One cannot avoid feeling a better director could have turned the material at hand into a masterpiece.
Criticism and too cheap digital effects aside, I enjoyed watching The Incredible Hulk. It's simple yet good entertainment that does stand out to one extent or another above its more mundane counterparts. If asked why, I would point at the cast: the talent at hand is more than what one normally gets for such a film. In my opinion, and with 25th Hour as my witness, Norton is one of the best talents to come out of Hollywood; it's a pity these talents have not been better exploited in recent times.
Silliest scene: The Hulk fights off the American army at the grounds of a university on a lovely clear sunny day. Until, that is, he dispenses with the last straw the army throws at him, a helicopter gunship; the minute that gunship is destroyed, day turns into night and heavy rain ensues. What the?
Overall: The most loyal to the spirit of your run of the mill comic book film I can recall. 3 out of 5 stars.