It’s not praising with faint damns to say that this shorter, leaner, less psychologically fixated action adventure, on the whole, makes for a more satisfactory adaptation of the spirit of Stan Lee’s Marvel character than Ang Lee’s earlier attempt to nail the green giant.
In so doing, the director, together with scriptwriter Zak Penn, wisely takes much for granted. The set-up – how Bruce Banner (a suitably unprepossessing Edward Norton) has been turned into an angry green creature in military experiments with gamma rays, injured his scientist lover Betty (Liv Tyler) and is on the run from ex-colleague General Ross (William Hurt) who considers his body US Army property – are cleverly glossed by the time the pre-credit sequence is over.
Likewise, the filmmakers assume their audience will have a base knowledge of the Marvel universe and don’t overplay the crucial subtexts (about the abuse of science, et al). This allows, satisfyingly, a basic three-act adventure to get directly underway – with an exciting extended chase through a Brazilian favela, where Banner/The Hulk is pursued by new villain Blonsky (Tim Roth), an English-educated Russian soldier attached to Ross’s team with abominable, stop-at-nothing ambitions to be a ‘super-soldier’.
There are some longueurs in the middle section – and a feeling of sparing resources for the final high-octane half-hour of Manhattan-set mayhem – but Leterrier takes enough leisure to deliver some neat touches. He covers all the important, if low-key, emotional bases and, finally, and most importantly, kicks kid-pleasing ass in the climactic action sequences.