It may surprise you to know that Ang Lee’s 2003 film “Hulk” made money; not a lot, but it wasn’t the box-office bomb people have built it up to be. So it was natural that the studio and Marvel Comics wanted a follow-up.


 

It may surprise you to know that Ang Lee’s 2003 film “Hulk” made money; not a lot, but it wasn’t the box-office bomb people have built it up to be. So it was natural that the studio and Marvel Comics wanted a follow-up. It took a few years, and it involved getting rid of the entire cast and crew (with the exception of return cameos by TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno and Hulk creator Stan Lee), but comic and action fans, and 12-year-old boys the world over are going to agree that the wait was worth it.


This is very much a sequel, picking up well after scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) has taken refuge in some South American jungle where he can figure out a way to rid his body of the gamma ray infection that causes it to mutate into a big, rampaging green thing whenever he gets angry.


The heinous military man, General Ross (William Hurt) is still looking for him, long convinced that Banner is army property and that the power within him would make one dandy weapon. And former girlfriend/assistant Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) — yes, the general’s strong-willed daughter — still pines for Banner.


The difference in the films, and the reason that this one works and the first one didn’t, is in the writing-directing department. Ang Lee’s “Hulk” stuck close to the Marvel Comics story, but took its time in getting around to the title character, who wasn’t even seen till about the 45-minute mark. It was much too yacky for an action film.


Director Louis Leterrier, who was at the helm for the two “Transporter” films, crams in plenty of explosions, chases and attitude. He wisely avoids the “art” comic-action film that seemed to be Ang Lee’s goal.


The sequel finds Banner eking out a living as a handy man in a bottling plant in a teeming Brazilian slum. An accident results in a bit of his gamma-charged blood getting mixed into a bottle of orange pop. In one of many oddball humorous sequences, the unlucky American consumer who ends up drinking that pop is played by Stan Lee.


What? Gamma poisoning on our shores? Originating in Brazil? Call the military!


The pace picks up quickly when General Ross brings in eager, scrappy British Army man Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to head up a black ops mission to find Banner and bring him home.


You know that Leterrier is right at home at the beginning of a lengthy Bourne-like foot chase through the back streets and across the rooftops of Brazil, accompanied by an exciting score of strings and percussion. And you know he’s chosen the right actors when Hurt, carrying himself stiffly and staring out from behind cold, steely eyes, walks next to Roth, who lumbers along easily but can hardly contain the excitement he’s feeling.


While Eric Bana played Banner flatly in the first film, Norton allows a wealth of emotions to run across his face. While poor Jennifer Connolly wasn’t given enough to do with her Betty Ross part in the first one, Liv Tyler frees the acting chops she’s apparently been hiding. She’s especially good when she first sets eyes upon Banner after a long absence. Both Norton and Tyler are terrific during the awkward, longing silences soon after they’re back together.


But don’t forget the action. The military is regularly on the tail of the Hulk. They keep getting close, he keeps repelling them, then getting away. When a new character, the ever-curious but not very cautious Dr. Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson), is introduced, a whole new energy enters the equation, as does another nemesis for the Hulk. A product of additional gamma experimentation, he’s known as the Abomination, and he’s much uglier, much meaner than our green guy.


What follows is a real slobberknocker of a fight, with visual effects and sound design ramped up and amped up about as high as they can go. And if you enjoy this film the way I did, then you’ll appreciate the fact that the ending sets us up for another sequel.


Grade: B


Rated PG-13. “The Incredible Hulk” contains intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and some frightening images.