Just got back from seeing the Hulk. Like most previous Marvel films, it's a pretty good film in its own right, and does justice to the character's previous media incarnations.
The first and best thing about this film is that it assumes you are sharp enough to follow along and not waste a lot of time explaining things. The opening credit sequence brings you up to speed with a quick rundown of what's gone before, who the characters are and what dynamics are in play. We then get right to the action and the current status quo of one Bruce Banner; on the run, in hiding, and trying to find a cure.
One of the things you'll either really enjoy (or loathe) is the Easter eggs and nods to previous incarnations of the character in various media. The old TV shows gets at least three references I picked up on (one musical, one stealth cameo, and one very obvious one). There is Stan Lee's obligatory appearance of course, and a couple nods to the comics (I swear, it took me FOREVER to remember who Samuel Stearns was). The most interesting aspect of the film is that it is trying to set up the Hulk in the context of a much larger Marvel movie universe. There are less than subtle references to the Super-Soldier program, Stark Industries, and of course, a certain Agency. In some ways, that actually detracted from the movie because it seemed to spend a lot of time nudging the audience into understanding that there was something bigger going on.
Dealing with the movie itself, I was satisfied that it had everything you should have in a Hulk movie.
-Fighting the army? Check
-"You wouldn't like me when I'm -" heh. A good take on this one.
-Bruce Banner being smart is what keeps him one step ahead of everyone pursuing him? Check.
-Bruce as tormented by the monster inside of him? Check
-Lots of crap being smashed? OH HELL YEAH!
So, you're going to get your money's worth on this one.
The acting is decent, if somewhat underplayed. Norton manages to capture Banner's intelligence and his innate sense of responsibility while contrasting it with a man whom is trying to cope with both a massive external threat and the demons and trauma associated with the Hulk. Liv Tyler does pretty much what she's expected to do; look pretty and longing for her true love (even if at some point acting without a lot of common sense; seriously, wearing a white blouse in the rain? Are you sure you're a doctor?). John Hurt plays General Ross with all the vigor and blind passion that the role requires, showing very little remorse about his own actions. The special effects are impressive if not particularly groundbreaking at this point, and the story snaps along a rapid pace.
The message of this movie is a lot less ambivalent than the one from Iron Man; The concept of people as weapons is treated pretty harshly and is almost universally demonized as too dangerous and morally bankrupt to be handled responsibly. This is a timely and subtle message delivered by a very haunted Bruce trying to escape being weaponized, and a very zealous and mad Blonsky obsessed with becoming the very thing Bruce fears for himself, while Ross tries to find a balance that will serve only his interests. In the end, the futility, and the very human destruction, of both the people turned into weapons, their loved ones, and the innocent lives they impact on, are all brought into perspective. It's a really relevant message and a fair question to bring up in our modern society: At what point in trying to protect ourselves, to make ourselves fiercer and stronger and 'better' in such a very narrow sense, do we lose a part of our essential humanity?
And hey, if you don't care for all that, at least the Hulk wrecks a whole lotta crap. So you can eat your cake and have it too.