First things first, The Incredible Hulk is a reboot, and isn’t directly connected to the 2003 film or the 1970’s TV series. It is, however, part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and therefore the same Hulk that is in Avengers Assemble.
The film is the story of Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, Fight Club, American History X) a scientist who becomes the Hulk after an experiment involving gamma radiation goes wrong. He then secludes himself in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; all the while General Ross (William Hurt, A History of Violence, A.I. Artificial Intelligence) dogmatically pursues him so that he can turn Banner’s condition into a weapon.
The standard of acting is pretty decent, with both Norton and Hurt fulfilling their roles well. But the best performance was Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Rob Roy) who played the major physical antagonist Emil Blonsky/The Abomination. Blonsky is a marine who is injected with a version of the Super Soldier Serum (the same one seen in Captain America) to fight the Hulk, but he slowly descends into becoming a monster. Throughout the film, Roth genuinely looks the part, gradually looking more ill yet more determined. The other notable performance was Tim Blake Nelson (Holes, Minority Report) who was Samuel Sterns, a fellow scientist who tried to help Banner in his search for a cure. He injects some needed comic relief into the final act of the film, as well as hinting at an appearance in any future sequels.
However, for me, the weak link of the cast was Liv Tyler (The Lord of the Rings, Armageddon) as Betty Ross, the General’s daughter and Bruce Banner’s love interest. She just felt like a generic damsel-in-distress and less independent, especially when compared to other female leads for the Avengers tie-in films: Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man), Natalie Portman (Thor) and Hayley Atwell (Captain America: The First Avenger). It isn’t the worst acting I’ve ever seen, it’s just Tyler doesn’t put any emotion into the delivery of her lines, and they just come out as a whisper.
The Incredible Hulk just about manages to get the balance right between the Bruce Banner scenes and the Hulk scenes. I can understand that this is hard to do, and it’s nice to see both sides of the story. The way they explained the origin story through the opening credits was really good, because the audience already knew most of the story already. This is how reboots should be done, not with half an hour trekking over the same plot, like in The Amazing Spider-Man. The only thing that bothered me a little was the final fight scene. It looked really epic and cool, but it dragged on for a little longer than it should have, and it felt like an excuse to have one big CGI creature have a fight with another.
After several attempts to get a Hulk movie franchise going, The Incredible Hulk is by no means perfect, but it’s better than the others and probably the closest Hulk origin that we are going to get.