It makes sense that comic book company Marvel Entertainment is better at making movies about their characters than most of the big Hollywood studios are. Even more interestingly, Marvel has a long-range plan, and sees its characters as parts of a greater universe—in this summer's Iron Man, hints were dropped about Captain America, Nick Fury, and The Avengers, all of whom are coming to a theater near you, probably in 2011. In The Incredible Hulk, there are even more hidden "Easter eggs" promising more Marvel fun to come. Unfortunately, while The Incredible Hulk has momentum on its side, it lacks the power needed to put it on the same playing field as Iron Man.
More of a continuation than a remake of Ang Lee's critically mixed Hulk (2003), The Incredible Hulk seems intent on repairing the damage inflicted by its predecessor. "The first 40 minutes of Ang Lee's Hulk were painfully slow!" fans and critics complained, so Marvel has responded by summing up Hulk's origin in less than five minutes and then leaping right into an amazing, Bourne Identity-style chase scene through the slums of Brazil. "The acting in Ang Lee's Hulk was atrocious!" So now we get the excellent Edward Norton as Hulk's alter ego Bruce Banner, as well as William Hurt as General "Thunderbolt" Ross. (Too bad about Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, though.) "Ang Lee's Hulk had too much psychological mumbo-jumbo!" Enter a straight-ahead, bread 'n' butter storyline: Unable to cure the gamma radiation poisoning that causes him to Hulk out, the undercover Banner reunites with former flame Betty Ross and battles the strong, creepy-looking monster the Abomination (Tim Roth).
But just because criticisms are answered doesn't mean essential problems are solved. While the first two-thirds of The Incredible Hulk is a fun, no-nonsense romp, the action actually slows to a stop whenever Hulk hits the screen. The cartoonish-looking hero may look big and bad, but he fails to carry any real emotional resonance, which is key when you're dealing with the most misunderstood character in the Marvel Universe. But while the Hulk himself may look as fake as Liv Tyler's upper lip, Edward Norton still does a great job as Banner, and I'm excited to see him in The Avengers... but does he really have to bring the Hulk along?