The Incredible Hulk (hereafter Hulk 2) is the second of the big Marvel Comics adaptations for this year, following closely on the heels of the wildly successful (and far better) Iron Man. The filmmakers would love for us to forget a few things, though—namely the 2003 Ang Lee film, Hulk. For me, that’s not too difficult a task.

Marvel Studios is clearly in the process of establishing something never before attempted in major blockbusters, the creation of a Marvel Universe similar to their comics—er—graphic novels that have been in print for generations. But enough for fanboy mindtwists for now.

Hulk 2’s opening credits present a re-telling of the origins of the big green guy, but it bears little resemblance to the last film. Indeed, it looks a lot more like the opening credits of the megahit 1970’s TV series. I suppose this is the first indication that director Louis Leterrier was actually going to tell a story that would be fun, a trait that was seriously lacking in Lee’s film.

Edward Norton replaces Eric Bana in the lead role, and reportedly assisted in the rewriting of the film as well. Norton’s Bruce Banner is just as intense, but more lighthearted, with a clear nod to Bill Bixby’s tortured hero. He’s once again the wandering loner with a deep, dark, big, nasty, green secret.

This isn’t to say that Hulk 2 isn’t without its faults. Pacing was off, and the entire film is all-too-obvious in catering to the fanboys in its presentation. Where Hulk 1 was entirely too “heady,” the new film is clearly bent for action, and weak on character development. But the comic book nerd in me (forget that graphic novel junk… they were comics when I collected them) could give a batguy’s left butt about romance. I just wanted to see how cool it’d be.

Rest easy, true believers. Hulk 2 has plenty of cool for all of us eternal boys. With plenty of cameos and special appearances by the ubiquitous Stan Lee (No, he’s not Heff again), Lou Ferrigno, a posthumous appearance by Bill Bixby, the TV Hulk theme, and a few other iron-ic surprises, the audience has plenty to gasp about.

In fact, both of the other major roles have been recast, with Liv Tyler as Betty Ross and William Hurt as General Ross. Of the new cast, the only one I didn’t like was Hurt. I liked Sam Elliott better, but that’s just me. Tim Roth bulked up a little too much for his role as Emil Blonsky, and sadly, his character was the most shallow of the bunch.

I do find myself questioning how anyone can move around undetected in today’s post-9/11 world, especially for five years as the film claims. But then, a certain suspension of disbelief is required for a Summer action film, and Hulk 2 is no exception.

The apparent pattern that Marvel Studios has established is that the hero will fight a comparable villain. Iron Man had the Iron Mongrel. The Incredible Hulk has the Abomination (along with hints of another popular Hulk villain in a sure-to-come future film — but I’m not giving that one away). Here’s hoping that this “evil-bigger-badder-twin” concept doesn’t become a true pattern, it’d give away a screaming lack of creativity on the folks at Marvel.

There’s plenty of action, a bit of romance, daughter-hates-father subplots, and big green guys to go around, making Hulk 2 a film that overshadows its predecessor while foreshadowing more big action films to come down the pike.

Even with all its flaws, the smashing emerald dude more than lives up to its paneled past, and smashes open the door that Iron Man cracked: A door to a film world that’s just as big as we comic nerds always hoped for. Sure it’ll be a big mess. But I can’t imagine a better film to make that mess for right now, at least until something better comes along.

7/10