No one will ever make a film version of The Hulk that satisfies people. Mark my words: It'll never happen. The character simply is not audience friendly. For one, he's can't talk. For two, he's ugly. For three, every filmmaker I know signed a secret pledge back in the late 90s declaring we would never make a film portraying him as the cool badass everyone actually wants to see, promising to instead paint him as the negative consequence of a mopey little guy's failure to control his own emotions. We had to. Just as in the fictional world he inhabits, a truly great film Hulk has the power to negate all other superheroes, thus costing our industry untold amounts of money.
As for my swing at The Hulk, I let things grow even more difficult by accepting further funding from DC Comics. They had some pretty demanding ideas. I didn't often agree, but with Grover Norquist's stupid pledge, it's not like I was shooting for the moon to begin with. While I often consider myself a badass, I have to admit I rolled over on this one. It happens. And it feels wonderful.
So The Incredible Hulk stars Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. Instead of going through an origin story people already know by heart, I skip right to the part where the government wants to capture him as he simultaneously tries to rid himself of his Hulk problem. People know that by heart too, but it's pretty much the only Hulk story we got.
This time he's hiding out in Brazil, working at a Fanta Orange factory. Instead of using his wages on drugs and butt implants like other Brazilians, Banner's saving up for a very special flower that only grow out of that big Jesus statue's ear. In the meantime, he takes yoga lessons to learn how to deal with stress through breathing like an asshole, while also getting used to pain via tons of superfluous Brazilian waxes.
Usually making Banner Hulk-out requires some sort of pain infliction. You punch him or give him a wedgie or whatever. This version, however, is based on heart rate. So Banner's potential activities are quite limited. Not only can he not join Fight Club, but he can't jog, have sex, or watch The Raid either. I added this as it's the only perspective from which you can sympathize with Banner's desire to rid himself of the supreme awesomeness he secretly wields.
Unfortunately, the same day he gets his precious flower, he cuts his finger at the factory, and a drop of his Hulk blood lands in a bottle of Fanta Orange. Back in America, Stan Lee drinks it. He doesn't turn into a mini-Hulk, but he does drop his Fanta and say "Wow," which sets off the Army's "drop Fanta and say Wow" Hulk alarm.
Banner gets his flower and cuts it up into a blue liquid that he drinks. He then says, "It didn't work," and looks sad. If you don't understand the flower's significance or what it was supposed to do for Banner, that's because it's science and it's supposed to be impenetrable. If Banner went through steps you could follow and understand, he wouldn't look like much of a genius now would he?
Banner doesn't have much time to lament his predicament because American soldiers come looking for him. About these soldiers: The main guy was present when Bruce Banner became the Hulk, and because Banner is in love with his daughter, it's all kind of personal. On top of that, he has a real boner to harness Banners Hulk power and weaponize it. His name is General Ross and he's played by The Kids in the Hall's Scott Thompson.
With him comes a British Russian named Emile Hirsch. Emile is the film's only character to actually be a character. When we meet him, he's eager to prove himself because as a veteran soldier, he's also an aging badass. Upon seeing The Hulk, he falls head over heels in love and obsessively seeks opportunities to wrestle with him.
It's important to realize that while Bruce Banner is the film's good guy, The Hulk starts out as the villain. And since Banner's a vapid wimp, Emile is actually our initial protagonist. As The Hulk grows in altruism, Emile grows more evil. So by the time the film ends, everything's balanced and boring. But here for a bit the film borders on interesting.
Emile Vs. The Hulk: Part One
Emile doesn't know anything about The Hulk at this point, so he's quite shocked when his bullets have no effect. The fight ends when The Hulk throws a forklift at him.
Banner can't stay in Brazil because General Ross is closer than ever. He has a new lead for getting rid of The Hulk, but it's in America. Being a fugitive, he can't just get on a plane. So he covers himself in chum and jumps into shark infested waters. When one bites him, he Hulks-out and swims home.
Home is a college campus. After wandering around being nostalgic, Banner looks up his old Italian pal Luigi Cannoli and catches up on old times when his old flame Betty Ross walks in with her boyfriend, Sven Cuckold. Banner doesn't want to ruin her life, but he wants her to know he still cares, so he lets her catch just a glimpse of him then runs away.
Even though every resource held by the U.S. Army is searching for Banner, Betty manages to locate the lonely road he's wandering down in the rain using nothing more than female intuition and a prototype radar that can sense self-pity.
Meanwhile, General Ross gives Emile a dose of antiquated Hulk juice, which basically makes him like Captain America, except while that guy's serum heightened his good nature, Emile's version only brings out his severe aging insecurities. He can run faster and beat anyone at arm wrestling, but he also stays up late reading Tumblrs and listening to Justin Bieber.
The army corners Banner at his college campus and turn him into The Hulk with some tear gas. Once he's transformed, General Ross hits him with everything he's got, but only one weapon at a time. First people shoot bullets. Then bigger bullets. Then sound waves. Then more bigger bullets but this time from a helicopter. His pet theory is that The Hulk's imperiousness to bullets goes away the moment you've shot him 1,000,000 times.
Emile Vs. The Hulk: Part Two
Emile flips around The Hulk a lot like Yoda. Hulk looks momentarily confused, then kicks Emile into a tree.
Betty and Banner go on the lam, which takes them only to another college campus where a hot shot scientist thinks he can cure Banner's Hulk problem. This scientist guy is supposed to be in his twenties, but the only actor available was Tim Black Nelson. He still dresses and talks like it though, so let's just say this film is thematically exploring the dangers of not accepting one's age and move on.
The scientist electrocutes Banner, forcing him to Hulk-out. But then he electrocutes the Hulk, forcing him to Hulk-in. They think they killed The Hulk once and for all, but actually the didn't and this scene has no meaning at all.
General Ross' army moves in and captures Betty and Banner. But as everyone's leaving, Emile breaks in and forces Tim Black Nelson to give him a bunch of Banner blood. This turns him into an evil Hulk. General Ross wheels Banner's gurney out of a helicopter so the two Hulks can fight.
Emile Vs. The Hulk: Part Three
Emile Hulk throws a bunch of cars. Good Hulk breaks a car in half to make boxing gloves. They both punch each other great distances. Emile Hulk hits Good Hulk with concrete blocks. Good Hulk stabs Emile Hulk with one of his own spikes. Good Hulk chokes Emile Hulk out. He wants to kill Emile Hulk, but Betty tells him "that's a no-no." Instead, General Ross puts handcuffs on Emile Hulk and everyone goes their separate ways.
So Banner ends up just where he began, in some flea bag country doing yoga. As you walk out of the theater your brain reverts back to it's status quo as well, returning to a time before it saw The Incredible Hulk. Call it mediocre filmmaking all you want, but making forgettable movies means more ticket sales since it forces people to see them for the first time over and over again.