...well, it's no IRON MAN, but it wasn't bad. You can tell that they cut the quieter bits, and the movie could've used more of 'em in there, but still, it's fairly decent. The filmmakers were clearly trying to assemble the best bits of the various Hulk eras and adaptations, and they didn't do too badly. The tips of the hat to the Kenneth Johnson series were very nicely done -- Jack McGee, reporter for the college paper, indeed -- but the scene where Banner's misery was accompanied by The Lonely Man" (aka, "the sad, walking-away music") made me realize just how much the scores to Marvel superhero movies have sucked: quick, hum the Spider-Man movie theme! Now, hum the Iron Man movie theme! Now, hum the Incredible Hulk movie theme! ...okay, now hum the sad walking away music.
One for four, aren't you? Me, too.
(They could've used the INCREDIBLE HULK cartoon music, too -- no, not this one; this one. Hulk has actually had some pretty good music in the past, so it's a shame the movie's score was wall-to-wall blockbuster movie linoleum. Also: I liked that they used Banner's eyes changing as the beginning of the Hulk-out, as in the show, but as long as they were using the music on occasion they really should have used that freaky trill as the corresponding audio cue. It's weird how little things cemented by repetition just get in your head and stay there: the transforming sound in TRANSFORMERS is a case in point; fans rose up and demanded it be used in the movie, and they were right about it -- because that is a *cool goddamn sound,* and just hearing it makes you smile. In a similar way, that Hulk-out trill, which sounds kind of like the monolith in 2001, has always spelled "oh shit" to me.)
The cast was mixed. Norton has been better in other stuff, but he was pretty good as Bruce Banner. William Hurt was not that good at Ross -- Sam Neill did a great job in Ang Lee's version; he's the only person I sort of wish they'd kept -- and Liv Tyler made me want to throw things to the point that I was ready to write off her career. Then I saw THE STRANGERS, in which she was fantastic. Lesson learned: Liv Tyler is not a terrible actress. She's just an actress with an extremely narrow range. She can't do strong, competent, quick-thinking. She can blow the doors off of vulnerable. Except that's not what the character of movie!Betty requires, and so she just falls flat here. Movie!Betty is a brilliant cell biologist, a major part of the project that turned Banner into the Hulk. Tyler's Betty had one good strong scene, when she cursed the cab driver. Other than that, she was a whiny wuss.
I think a key part of effective superheroic pairings is that the love interest should support the hero but also contrast with the hero. Superman is humble; Lois Lane is brash. Peter Parker is a social nebbish; Mary Jane is a society queen. Movieverse Tony Stark is a narcissistic ass; Pepper Potts is gentle but determined. In THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Betty is nervous, unsure. Problem: that's Bruce's job. Bruce is sensitive; to contrast more effectively, Betty should be less so. I'd argue that movie!Betty should be less weak, maybe not even that feminine -- if you make her a hard-charging career woman, make her different from Bruce, you give them complementing strengths. Also, Betty's relationship with the Hulk would get an interesting angle from the contrast: she's gentle to the Hulk, almost mothering, and it would be a little more interesting if she weren't like that with Bruce, too.
One clear win, though: Tim Roth was terrific as Emil Blonsky. His first serum-enhanced fight was outstanding; that's a great preview of what it'd be like to watch Captain America fight. My favorite part was his dealing with age, and I wished they'd've played that up a little more, because it was a really nifty motivation for a villain. Tim Blake Nelson was good as Stearns, and I think he'll do well as the Leader should there be another Hulk pic.
Other bits that had the potential to be interesting were cut for time -- most of Leonard Samson's part hit the cutting room floor, more Bruce in Brazil at the beginning. I liked Major Sparr, though she got little screen time; be cool to see her in a sequel.
All in all: not bad; could have been better. But dude, *Hulk said "HULK SMASH."* They get points. There are two other Hulk lines I guess they're waiting to use: "Madder Hulk gets, *stronger* Hulk gets!" and "HULK IS STRONGEST ONE THERE IS!" ...and if they do, I will happily geek out. Confession time: yeah, Spider-Man is cool, Batman and Robin rock... but when I was a kid, I had an intensely lonely and often angry childhood, so the superhero with whom I most identified was the Incredible Hulk.
It's not one of the lines that's often remembered, but there were a couple of occasions back in the seventies where Hulk was bemoaning his fate, to be hated and harried, to never have a safe place on Earth -- and then he looks up at the night sky and cries out, "If Hulk could only reach -- the stars!"
...he reached them a few issues later, and found them no happier. The Hulk: Marvel's Charlie Brown.