If nothing else, the 2007 incarnation of The Incredible Hulk could serve as something of a master-class in the problems of big-budget Hollywood superhero cinema. It starts out brightly enough, with a real and, for American cinema, unusual sense of place in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro; director Louis Leterrier makes excellent use of the cramped, sweaty locales in an extended chase sequence (though one can't help thinking that in reality escape would be a whole lot easier in a location that makes the casbah seem like a well-ordered place), while it seems like an authentically teeming place in which to lose oneself in a more metaphysical sense. The film also takes the time to sketch in at least some of the human dilemmas that come from Bruce Banner's unusual situation, while Edward Norton deftly conveys Banner's conflicted feelings over what he himself has unleashed.
However, once the Hulk shenanigans kick in, the film quickly becomes a much more conventional beast. The film is centered around three major confrontations, each bigger than the last, so that it becomes a little like watching an extended boxing bout where the weight class keeps increasing, and the lumbering heavy- and super-heavyweights bludgeon each other repeatedly. Despite all of the manoeuvring, there's inevitably no real sense of suspense - why kid yourself about the outcome? - which in retrospect makes me think that perhaps the abbreviated climactic face-off of Hancock has a certain intelligence, since at least that way we spend more of the film's running time dealing with recognisable human beings rather than CGI effects, however expensive. At times, Leterrier makes reference to monster movies of an earlier generation - a rare quiet scene in the Great Smoky Mountains evokes both King Kong and the memorable, if bowdlerised, scene from the 1931 Frankenstein when the monster picks flowers with a little girl - which only serves to re-emphasise that the contemporary tendency to fling special effects dollars at the screen guarantees little more than a big opening weekend.