If 2003's The Hulk, directed by Ang Lee, weighed down the story with psychoanalysis and brooding by the hero, Edward Norton's The Incredible Hulk works hard to do the opposite: It includes big, noisy sequences that revel in mayhem and destruction, takes the time to make a few jokes and is peppered with cool cameos. The movie is very fast-paced: Even the backstory telling how Bruce Banner came to be the Hulk is dispensed with quickly, in a wordless opening montage that's custom-made for Generation Youtube but may leave the uninitiated a little confused.
Immediately afterward, we meet Bruce, who, in an effort to keep from turning into the unjolly green giant and hurting people, is hiding out in a Rio favela, working in a soda-bottling plant and trying to keep his heart rate and emotions in check. He hates being the Hulk and has been trying everything possible to cure himself. The American military, of course, want to capture Bruce and exploit his power, so it doesn't take long for archenemy General Ross (William Hurt) to find Bruce and send in an elite team of badasses to chase him through the labyrinthine hood. That propels Bruce to go on the run, eventually hooking up with the girlfriend he was forced to leave behind (Liv Tyler as Betty Ross) and a kooky scientist who claims to have a cure. Special effects mayhem ensues, as the Hulk rips cars in half, swats away helicopters and armored vehicles and generally roars like a wild beast.
Some of this is fun, but ultimately, the movie's pace and tone can't hide the fact the story is rail thin and that, moviewise, the Hulk is poor material. Edward Norton does an admirable job of trying to gain our empathy, but he doesn't have much to work with: at the end of the day, he is playing a dude who can't control his temper. The Hulk is more King Kong than Batman—a monster, not a hero—and it's tough to cheer brute force, especially when it comes encased in rubbery-looking CGI. There are no other particularly notable performances in the movie: William Hurt sleepwalks through his role; Liv Tyler, as the egghead scientist, is not given much to do in a love-story subplot that never materializes; the implication that only Betty can get through to the man trapped inside the beast is an outdated, sexist notion, if not an outright justification for domestic violence.
Little Tim Roth is a weird choice to play an elite soldier who turns himself into a genetically modified supersoldier and later, a monster that challenges the Hulk in the inevitable climactic showdown that feels right out of Alien vs. Predator. By now, American audiences have seen so many of these end-of-the-movie fights that you could choreograph one yourself, and The Incredible Hulk adds nothing you haven't seen before.