Well, I don't know about grittier than the first movie, but The Incredible Hulk is definitely sleeker than the first. It actually more resembles a movie that Ang Lee would direct than The Hulk that Ang Lee actually directed.
Not only is Edward Norton a better Bruce Banner than Eric Bana, the whole supporting cast works better. OK, Liv Tyler might do a little more fawning and pouting than necessary, but she still has great chemistry with Norton. Also, the storyline feels better for Hulk. Unlike Lee's The Hulk, there is no crazy estranged father with a dark family secret. There's not even a true origin story. The opening credits features a flashy, montage ala Spider-Man 3 which replaces the sure-to-have-been boring revamp of the backstory. When the movie officially starts, we jump right in.
Scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is living in shadows--a day worker in a Brazilian soda factory--searching for an antidote for his GAMMA poisoning. But after a small cut seeps blood into one of the bottle (yeah, I'm never drinking Brazilian soda), the people he's trying to hide from track him down. During the pursuit, they bring out the Hulk, and Banner decides he has no choice but to return to the States.
After reuniting with the love of his life Betty Ross (Tyler), Bruce and she search for a cure while running from Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth)--an uber special-ops guy--and Betty's estranged father Gen. Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross (William Hurt).
The Incredible Hulk is definitely not short on huge action scenes. The first chase-turn-fight is wonderfully shot, keeping you on your toes as you hope Bruce's heart rate doesn't get too high. And when the stakes just seem too crazy, he calls attention to it for you, making everything more grounded (and a little funny). From this scene, we learn that Blonksy isn't a man to be messed with. As other soldiers are being tossed about a beaten up by Hulk, Blonsky keeps a clear head and sharp eyes on the target. Even without the help of special juice, Blonsky is a great antagonist to Banner/Hulk.
Maybe it's because the Hulk isn't one of my favorite comic book characters or it could be the fact that the green guy is all CG, but I really believe Norton's Banner steals this film from the Hulk. I'm definitely not saying this as a bad thing, but it could prove a bad thing for the Hulk fans out there. Norton adds a light sense of humor and an edge of vulnerability that completely disappears when the Hulk comes out to play. When Banner is Banner, the movie plays like The Fugitive, when Banner is the Hulk, I feel like I just turned channels to watch Peter Jackson's King Kong. The transition is like a slap in the face, but maybe that's how it should be since Banner and the Hulk are so completely different.
Even though I enjoyed the film, I really hope a sequel isn't in its future. But of course, the way Hollywood works now, I'm sure the contracts are already being passed from desk to desk at Marvel's newly-formed studios. The Incredible Hulk is a great stand alone movie with an ending that feels complete and hopeful.
With solid acting and great action, it's a fun movie for a hot summer afternoon. As far as it ranks with other summer action movies, though, Iron Man still kicked its butt.