Back in 2003, director Ang Lee brought Marvel Comics' Hulk to the big screen. The film benefited from a big budget and big name actors like Eric Bana and Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly, but was criticized by critics and fans alike for completely missing the point of the character. Created in 1962, the Hulk became famous as Marvel's version of the timeless Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a cautionary tale about science run amok and the rage lurking inside everyone. Lee's film dealt with the Hulk that was only inside Bruce Banner and as a result lost the universality of the story.
Luckily for moviegoers, Marvel Studios bought back the rights to the Hulk and set out to make The Incredible Hulk, a film that attempts to correct the mistakes of its predecessor, Hulk. The effort is largely successful, turning what was previously seen on the big screen as an over-intellectual monster movie into The Fugitive, except starring a guy that turns into an angry, green monster from time-to-time.
The Incredible Hulk begins where Hulk left off, catching the viewer up with a quick recap in the opening credits, and then joins Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) as he hides from the authorities in Brazil. However, Banner's luck soon changes and he's back on the run from the U.S. army while struggling to find a way to cure his mutation, aided by his long-lost love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler). When Banner finally does find someone who can help remedy his condition, the results are much more than he bargained for.
Director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter movies) does two things well with The Incredible Hulk: he relies upon the audience remembering enough about Betty Ross' father, General Ross (William Hurt), from the first movie to not really care if this film spends time developing the other villain, crazed soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), and seamlessly blends together the horror story of a man struggling to contain the monster within with the love story between Bruce and Betty.
Ostensibly, The Incredible Hulk would not have been good had its Hulk not been credible. Last seen on the big screen two long years ago in The Illusionist, Norton is on screen for the vast majority of this film and his scenes at the beginning of the film add gravity to the rest. Banner meditates to keep the Hulk hidden and pines for Ross from hundreds of miles (and later, hundreds of metres) away, both times selling the duality of the film. The supporting cast doesn't get nearly as much screen time as Norton, but all are given a chance to shine--particularly William Hurt's near-comedic scenery chewing as General Ross.
The second incarnation of the Hulk on the big screen succeeds in almost every way that the first one failed. Instead of focusing on the science, The Incredible Hulk looks at the people involved. In shifting the focal point, writers Zak Penn and Edward Norton--who did an uncredited rewrite of the script after joining the cast--transform the stuffy first Hulk into a tension-filled, action-packed and occasionally very funny 112 minutes at the movies. With efforts like this and Iron Man under their belts, the fledgling Marvel Studios have set the bar high for their future projects.