Five years on from Hulk, Ang Lee's take on the not-so-Jolly Green Giant, the Marvel Comics franchise is revived for the screen again.
He has gained an epithet "The Incredible..." in the interim, and perhaps put on a few pounds to boot, but he's still the same pneumatically muscled man-mountain governed by the same volcanic rages. Director Louis Leterrier, who made his reputation (ominously) on the two Jason Statham Transporter movies, has ditched the Oedipal-wrecks angle of Lee's movie and torn straight into the moral battle for The Hulk's soul.
That battle has been entrained by an experiment that went horribly wrong. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) caught an overdose of gamma radiation that gave him a body mass like a sumo wrestler's and a glare like Alan Sugar's. You really wouldn't like him when he's angry. Having fled the scene, Banner is now hiding out in a Brazilian favela and working on a cure for his disease, though he still holds a torch for his research colleague, Betty (Liv Tyler). Too bad Betty's father is a hawkish general (William Hurt) obsessed with replicating Banner's volatile DNA and turning it into a weapon for the US military.
Competent, action-led and almost entirely humourless, the movie surprises only in its casting. Norton, reedy of voice and recessive of mood, does not convince either as scientist or as arch-fugitive. You want to believe that he's haunted by the Mr Hyde-like alter ego within him, but all you notice is the rather narcissistic urge to show off his six-pack. He's also weirdly asexual. When he hooks up with babe-by-any-standards Betty and they're kissing in a motel, he stops her and says, "I can't get too excited" – surely the lamest excuse one lover has offered to another on screen. I'm sure she'd have forgiven him if he'd turned green.
The other inexplicable miscasting is Tim Roth as a military tough-nut seconded to Hurt's special operations unit. Roth, even more ferret-like than Norton, gives a lousy impersonation of soldierly discipline: any general worth his stripes would surely have told him to a) get a proper shave and b) stop slouching. When Hurt decides to make Roth's unimpressive specimen his protégé and injects him with a dose of Hulk-strength serum, we prepare for an adversary that's twice as monstrous and 10 times as antisocial as our hero. Only problem with this is that the emergent creature – a sort of GM Hulk known as The Abomination – still looks nowhere near as unpleasant as Roth. A demolition derby on the streets of Manhattan duly kicks off, though the finale causes not gasps of excitement but groans of dismay: we are now being primed for a superhero face-off, the likely and only victor being the film studios out to flog the franchise.