A quick trawl around the web will bring up a lot of passion as far as the Incredible Hulk is concerned. That's passion as in fanboys, of course, rather than the sort of passion the internet's particularly famous for but, frankly, there's probably some Hulk-themed erotica out there somewhere. The angry, green, super-strong alter-ego of Bruce Banner has clearly touched a lot of people.
So, before we get too far into this review, I should maybe point out a couple of things. I've never actually read the Marvel comic. I really didn't like the 1970s series. And I'm in the minority as I actually quite liked Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk. That will no doubt make some fanboys make the sign of the cross or something, or prompt a load of hate mail. So be it. I tend not to pay much attention to people who haven't fathomed out the purpose of deodorant anyway.
All I can comment on is how this new Hulk movie stands up as a slice of entertainment. And the answer to that is “satisfactorily”. It's a pedal-to-the-metal thriller that generally manages to balance the interesting character angle — Banner's fear of who he becomes — with the traditional summer blockbuster levels of collateral damage. I realise that much has been written about the quality, or otherwise, of this CGI Hulk and some will no doubt rip it to pieces. From my perspective — from my unbiased perspective, in fact — I'll just say that he's a huge, green, radiation-induced, musclebound freak: just how “realistic” do you expect him to bleeding look?
Perhaps sensibly, given the backlash against Ang Lee's more serious, Eric Bana starring, character-driven study, Louis Leterrier focuses on chases and battles rather than spending an hour establishing the back story. Indeed, the whole Hulk “legend” is covered by the opening credits, then there's some 10 minutes of set-up — Banner (Norton) is still on the run and working in a Brazilian soft drinks factory — before we're full pelt into the first clash between the Hulk / Banner (Norton) and a team of crack soldiers led by General Ross (Hurt) and, in particular, his “guest star” Royal Marine turbo-nutter Blonsky (Roth, rather more subdued than normal), who's willing to seek chemical solutions to the Hulk problem.
The film follows the same formula throughout: a little bit of character development and exposition, followed by a huge action set piece. As such, it feels a little, well, predictable. However, while the structure is conventional (it's probably called “post-Spiderman superhero formula number two” or something), it works well enough and Leterrier still manages to have a little fun, from the cameos (Stan Lee, obviously, TV Hulk Ferrigno and, well, an uncredited guest star to hint at the nature of the sequel) to Banner's attempts to blend into Brazil, learning Portuguese from Sesame Street. This leads to a delightful throwaway gag, when Banner confuses his vocabulary and tells an obnoxious colleague: “Don't make me hungry. You wouldn't like me when I'm hungry.”
On the downside, the whole scenario with love interest Betty (Tyler) once again feels like a token gesture. Tyler may not be the world's greatest actress, but she's a warmer presence than Jennifer Connelly and could probably cope with more than just looking tearful and caring. But show me someone who goes to see The Incredible Hulk for the romance and I'll show you a... well, a girl. Probably. On the plus side, the Hulk v Army clashes are thrilling and the Hulk v chemically-altered Blonsky, while silly, is gleefully so. Plus you can't underestimate the quality of Norton. He's a much better actor than Bana, and, while he doesn't get much opportunity to flex his thespian chops, he's a very, very solid presence, putting Banner's flaws and (literal) innner turmoil across well in the minimum time he's allowed.
All in all, while it won't set the screen alight, The Incredible Hulk is decently made, unpretentious summer fare. It's not perfect, it's not awful, it's just very acceptable escapist entertainment and I'm never going to argue with that.
SECOND OPINION | Stuart O'Connor *** OK, as someone who has been known to read a Hulk comic or two, many years ago, I have to agree that this film is satisfactory indeed, but nothing too special. Yes, there's much more action and fisticuffs (really, really BIG fisticuffs) than in the Ang Lee version. And I do have to say that the CGI is first rate — both the Hulk and the Abomination (the monster that the Tim Roth character becomes) look fantastic, and there's not a glitch to be seen. But at the end of the day, they're just so many pixels in a computer; the final battle between the two is certainly exciting, but there's no emotional investment. That's the downside of CGI, and I don't think that will ever change. There are plenty of nice touches, though — a few nods to the old 70s TV series (Bill Bixby pops up; the melancholy piano music; Ferrigno himself) and this time the Hulk actually speaks. And yes, he does say: "Hulk smash!" It's a well-made, action-filled comic book romp that keeps an audience entertained for just under two hours. And I guess that's good enough.