"The Incredible Hulk," the relaunch of Marvel's green goliath, is an improvement over the ponderous 2003 "Hulk" in nearly every way — except that the actual Hulk still looks scarcely better than something from a video game, and he still barely talks.

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The good news for Hulk fans: no giant Hulk dogs.

The relaunch of Marvel’s green goliath is an improvement over director Ang Lee’s ponderous 2003 “Hulk” in nearly every way — except that the actual Hulk still looks scarcely better than something from a video game, and he still barely talks.

At least it’s not yet another origin movie that takes forever to get going. This one gets the exposition out of the way with visual shorthand at the beginning and goes straight to Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), living off the grid in Brazil as he works in a bottling plant, studies different methods of keeping his anger in check and secretly corresponds with a “Mr. Blue” about a cure. It’s been 158 days since rage turned him into the Hulk, but that streak’s going to end.

Banner’s archnemesis, Gen. “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt), is on his trail with high-tech weaponry, plenty of Hulk-fodder special-ops commandos and a human weapon named Emile Blonsky (Tim Roth) who hates the Hulk but loves his power so much that he dopes up to transform into the giant Abomination.

Ross is responsible for Banner’s accident and wants to capture what’s inside him for the government to use as a weapon. When you add up the amount of destruction he causes in pursuit of that, it’s reasonable to wonder if his next assignment is to run operations in Iraq.

Although the entire cast is new (including Liv Tyler as girlfriend Betty Ross), Norton is what seals the deal. Whatever your feelings are toward him — and they seem mixed in general — he’s much wimpier than Lee’s more alpha-male Eric Bana, which makes for a much better Bruce Banner: skinny, small in the jaw, even his voice is weak. He looks like someone you’d want to pick on.

As Blonsky, Roth seems an odder choice. He’s older and a bit wimpy-looking himself. But he does hate well, and it’s great fun to watch him all juiced-up on Super-Soldier Serum (pretransformation) and squaring off against the Hulk.

The second feature from Marvel Studios is well thought through and has some nicely done cameos and references. Even the perfunctory Stan Lee cameo is more fun than most.

The filmmakers address Banner’s constant need for new stretchy pants and his need to avoid sex (for obvious reasons) with just the right touch. Even better, this movie is part of a coherent Marvel universe, finally. That Super-Soldier Serum references Captain America. And yes, Robert Downey Jr. makes a cameo as Iron Man’s alter-ego Tony Stark. S.H.I.E.L.D. even plays a role in tracking Banner.

Director Louis Leterrier was behind both of the hyperkinetic “Transporter” movies, and he keeps even the quieter scenes moving right along. Screenwriter Zak Penn was responsible for the third and weakest-by-far “X-Men” movie as well as the “Elektra” flop. Makes you wonder how much to attribute to Norton, who reportedly took a hand in rewriting everything.

But, similar to the 2003 Hulk, this one still barely talks as he does in the comics, which dehumanizes him and makes for too many King Kong moments with Betty.

And the technology somehow still hasn’t advanced enough to make him look or move like anything but a painfully obvious computer animation. When Hulk and The Abomination have their epic battle on the streets and rooftops of Manhattan, it’s just two giant fake miscreants — in other words, it’s exactly like watching WWE.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com