Plot: He was once one of the brightest scientists alive, working on cutting edge research and renowned for his incredible mind, but now Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is a man on the run. After he tested a serum on himself, he was subjected to an unexpected side effect that would change his life forever, as when his pulse rises above a certain level, he is transformed. The massive, violent beast he becomes is known as the Hulk and while he can’t control that version of himself well, the destruction and death he caused rest at his doorstep. As dangerous as he is, Banner is still seen as a potential military asset, so he is hunted down by the government, even as he isolates himself in an effort to protect the world from the Hulk. But can he stay ahead of the military forever and if not, what will happen if the Hulk is unleashed once again?
Entertainment Value: This is an odd installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it has a darker tone and of course, Edward Norton would be replaced by Mark Ruffalo in future Hulk appearances. I was no fan of the Ang Lee version of Hulk, but this one is just a total chore to sit through. I appreciate the serious tone, as this movie lacks the lame dad joke sense of humor Marvel would lean on later, but this never feels like a comic book movie in the least. Banner is a total douche here, an unlikable, pretentious clown that you want to see crushed, but since he is the hero and a central presence in the MCU, that doesn’t seem intentional. The dark, serious tone is also undermined by some low end CGI, including a laughable Hulk. The action scenes have some cool ideas, but the visual effects are dismal and the action is presented in a zero attention span style, with constant cuts and no focus. I also just found the movie to be dull and bloated, with a skeletal narrative that is stretched far too thin, as if every superhero has to be over two hours. The movie is also just not a cohesive cog in the Marvel machine, as it feels out of place with the rest of the series and is one of the most boring, if not outright weakest installments in the run.
Edward Norton is a skilled performer, but he just seems like an ineffective choice here or at least his approach isn’t effective. The dark tone suits his style, but he fails to spark any kind of connection with the Bruce Banner from the comics, just going for an unlikable, new age douche. I don’t love Mark Ruffalo’s lifeless take on Banner either, but at least he shows some personality at times. So an excellent actor given a role with real potential, but it just fails to come together. I am glad a shift was made, as this was not a good direction for Hulk in these movies. Liv Tyler mostly cries or makes doe eyes for the camera, while Tim Roth dials up his villain role and is one of the few cast members to bring some energy to the table. His performance seems over the top compared to the others, but I think it is fun to watch. A rock solid cast was assembled for this one, but the material just limits what they’re able to do. In the end, at least The Incredible Hulk wouldn’t send Bruce Banner into a burst of green tinted rage, as he would likely be put to sleep by this one.