Ang Lee's 2003 film Hulk was a lot of things, but it wasn't safe. Offering a psychologically complex spin on the venerable Marvel character, it disappointed a lot of viewers hoping to see more Hulk smashing and less tortured introspection. Maybe a $100-million-plus movie wasn't the place to try out abstract fight scenes, but at least Lee was going for something. The sequel/reboot The Incredible Hulk throws all those frills over a cliff and roars in triumph. It's a retreat to core Hulk values, a film of low risks and low yields, though not entirely without its own silly merits.
After announcing the back-to-basics approach with an expository prologue that pays direct homage to the opening credits of the 1970s Hulk TV series, Edward Norton's Bruce Banner begins the film on the lam in Rio, searching for a cure for his condition by corresponding with an unseen scientist named "Mr. Blue." (Norton's handle is, of course, "Mr. Green.") His South American exile comes to an end when William Hurt's General Ross—father of Liv Tyler's Betty Ross, the love of Norton's life—catches up with him, sending in a squad led by an overzealous soldier named Blonsky (Tim Roth). From there, the chase is on.
Bringing a slick but not particularly stylish approach to the material, director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, The Transporter 2) takes no chances with the franchise, filling the painfully straightforward film with nods to fans, and treating the time between action scenes as stuff to be gotten through. Norton and Tyler are both fine, though short on chemistry, but the actors seem to be impatiently waiting for the action alongside the audience. When that action does arrive, it's as serviceable as the rest of the film, visibly CGI but with more real-world heft than anything in the last half of Indy 4. The Hulk himself looks more steroidal than superheroic, as if the expressive beast from the first film had been replaced by a WWE star. (His main adversary is less distinctive still, but seen without pants, he provides a hint about where the anger comes from: Gamma radiation apparently makes genitals disappear.)
Norton and Marvel publicly tussled over The Incredible Hulk's final cut, with Norton arguing for a longer, more character-focused film. But it's hard to see how a piece of greater depth could have emerged from material that hones in on and largely finds a zone of happy competence. It delivers the goods and waits for fans to sign the receipt.