Be in your seat on time because much of this Hulk’s origins are explained in the opening credits, flashes of prologue flitting between images of mutating cells and pumping veins, accompanied by a reworking of the haunting score from the 1970s television show. As an on-screen graphic explains, Banner hasn’t had an ‘episode’ for 150 days, thanks to the meditation techniques he has learned from a martial arts master at his hideout in Rio de Janeiro’s favela. Banner’s attempts to control his body are part of his search for an antidote to his unique condition, which famously becomes unmanageable when he is angered.
But his military paymasters, personified by grim-faced General Ross (William Hurt), who also happens to be the father of Banner’s girlfriend Betty (Liv Tyler), want him back in the US so they can use his irradiated blood to create a new breed of genetically-modified super-soldiers. Ross sends a crack squad of commandos, led by the deadly Blonsky (Tim Roth) down to Brazil to bring Banner back. Following a breakneck chase, he escapes, making his way back to Betty’s office in a university campus and a painful reunion. But the army are close behind, and Ross has found a way to create a worthy adversity for the all-powerful Hulk by injecting a willing Blonsky with a sample of his blood.
Norton, always willing to take a risk, gives an excellent performance as the tortured boffin desperate to exorcise a curse of his own creation. At least, until the computers take over and he morphs into a giant, green, imaginary object. Even Norton cannot act through such a dense binary mask. Nevertheless, when in human form, Norton is always interesting and self-contained. Alongside him, Liv Tyler offers heart and hope as the loyal Betty with the two of them presenting a likewise credible and frequently touching romantic relationship, quickly drawn in tight, emotional scenes and well sustained throughout.
Director Leterrier, working from a script by comic-book specialist Zak Penn and Norton, brings his high-octane action movie sensibilities to the material, staging a well-measured succession of blistering set-pieces and pyrotechnic fight scenes. Banner and Betty don't become fully rounded characters, but this lack of probing insight suits the material far better than his predecessor’s tortured art-house moping. This Hulk hasn’t got time for angst; the film is driven at a breathless pace by a straight-ahead plot and endless action. There are frequent asides for summer-friendly comic moments – Marvel creator Stan Lee gets his obligatory cameo and the original television behemoth Lou Ferrigno pops up as a pizza-munching security guard.
Never short on spectacle, this bravura blockbuster noticeably collapses in the last twenty minutes into a mush of over-digitized combat - the streets of New York are again, flattened-but what had gone before was solidly entertaining, hitting all the marks expected by fans with careful - probably too careful - precision.