Those attending The Hulk in expectation of a rollicking comic-strip action flick are in for a disappointment. Let's hope that, unlike the hero, they don't get so angry they run amok and start breaking things.
That classy director Ang Lee's clever use of split screens neatly captures the feel of a comic strip. And there are fine action sequences towards the end, when the Hulk is single-handedly beating up helicopters or throwing tanks through the air. It's like watching the revenge of King Kong being visited upon the US military.
But the general tone is slow, thoughtful and sombre. It's more like a Greek tragedy than an action adventure, and it spends an inordinately long time examining such issues as scientific responsibility, fatherhood and genetic inheritance.
Eric Bana, the Australian actor from Chopper, plays Bruce Banner, a biology researcher with no memory of his mad, bad dad, a scientist who used young Bruce as a genetic experiment and was put away for 30 years, probably for overacting.
Poor Bruce, unaware that the sins of his father have been visited upon him, has an accident in the lab that should kill him, but instead adds to his strength and turns him a bilious green when under stress. He also becomes frighteningly muscular, can leap huge distances, is impervious to injury, and gets really angry, inarticulate and violent. Imagine a more anti-social Shrek, or a greener John Prescott.
The one person who cares about Hulky is his scientist ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), easily the most understanding heroine in a monster movie since Jenny Agutter's secular saint in An American Werewolf in London.
Our heroine's military dad (Sam Elliott) is less sympathetic. He wants to kill Bruce. Like so many fathers, he doesn't consider him good enough for his daughter, and unlike them he's prepared to take his hatred to homicidal extremes.
And rival researcher Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) wants to use Bruce's genes commercially, to help US soldiers repair themselves on the battlefield.
As if these guys were not enough of a threat, out of jail after thirty years comes Bruce's dad, played by Nick Nolte in a growling, downbeat way , like the Incredible Sulk. He's bent on destroying his own son as a failed experiment, and inexplicably is able to wander in and out of high-security laboratories at will.
One interesting aspect of The Hulk is that, unlike some Superheroes, he's not a patriot out to defend the American Way, he is just striking out at those who torment him.
Like Spiderman, he did not ask for his powers, nor is he happy to have them, although - as he tells another character "What scares me the most is that when it happens, when it comes over me, when I totally lose control, I like it."
Like Jim Carrey's anti-hero in The Mask, the Hulk is the Id, the unrepressed side of humanity, the savage within us that we like to keep under wraps. And he could be speaking for the whole of America after 9/11 when he utters the movie's catchphrase "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry".
Ang Lee's film has deliberate echoes of classic movies, especially Frankenstein and King Kong, but it's missing three vital ingredients - pace, action and intentional humour.
Lee showed in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that he could shoot thrilling action sequences; but too much of The Hulk looks like the long, boring bits in Crouching Tiger, where we were expected to care deeply about quite simplistic characters.
Lee doesn't seem to have noticed that the whole concept of the Hulk has its ridiculous side. Who could fail to giggle when the Hulk is attacked by, wait for it, a mutant white French poodle? When he turns into a not so jolly green giant, you can't help wondering where his extra-extra-extra large purple boxer shorts come from, and what bio-technology ensures that they miraculously expand when he does.
The special effects are variable in size and quality. The Hulk's dimensions differ alarmingly from shot to shot, and when he's small within the screen, leaping through the desert or from rock to rock in Utah's Monument Valley, he seems jerky and faintly ludicrous.
And you can hardly help but get impatient with a plot that requires the military authorities to wait until he's turned into the Hulk before they try and shoot him. Why didn't they destroy him when he was white, docile and defenceless?
Bana makes a colourless hero, and you can't really see what the luscious, intelligent Jennifer Connelly sees in him, unless it is as she wryly observes "my inexplicable fascination with emotionally distant men."
Josh Lucas's villainy is too one-dimensional for a film that tries to establish a semblance of character depth in everybody else.
Nolte's performance, which should be menacing, seems weirdly disconnected from real life. His final conversation with his son is so poorly acted you wonder what on earth the other takes must have been like.
Overall, The Hulk is a sometimes interesting, sometimes tedious failure. At the end of the day, the Hulk himself is a hard character to cheer on - most of his victims are just people trying to do their job. The movie isn't exciting when he is off screen, and there is no point at which I felt as involved as Mr Lee would like us to be.
The film is as much of a Jekyll and Hyde character as its hero - part serious-minded art-house movie, part bright green money machine. Fatally, it's not that much fun. Like The Matrix Reloaded, it takes itself over-seriously. It's too long, slow and ponderous for action fans, but too superficial for anyone in search of meaningful, mythic drama.