It's quite amusing how fan opinion changes on composers and Danny Elfman seems to suffer more than most in this regard. Ten years ago, most would be clamoring for him to do anything vaguely superhero or comic book related, but now his name connected to such a project seems to elicit a groan of discontent. For my money, Spider-Man was one of the finest comic book movie scores of recent times and certainly not deserving of the endless criticism in received. Had the score for Spider-Man been more like that he has written for Ang Lee's big screen version of The Incredible Hulk then I'd be more inclined to agree with the complaints. This is not to say that Hulk is a bad score, but rather like Red Dragon, it feels much more like Elfman on autopilot, treading well worn ground and the more inventive parts a little incongruous..
The biggest complaint against Spider-Man was that it didn't have a good main theme, an opinion I find a nonsense, but for Hulk, I would have to admit that the theme isn't anything special. It certainly doesn't have the same emotional resonance as Joe Harnell's simple, but affecting theme for the TV series. Given Lee's approach to the material, I would expect a certain duality to the melody; a sense of isolation with an inner fury. Maybe that seems too simplistic and literal, but at least it would somehow represent the character. As it stands, the melody just sounds like Danny Elfman, slightly down beat comic book theme #6. It's not bad or even unmemorable (although it's far from even halfway classic), it's just disappointingly indistinct, both musically and emotionally. John Ottman's X-Men 2 theme had the same problem, but with a composer of Elfman's calibre, expectations are higher.
Of course scores don't absolutely require brilliant thematics to sustain them and fortunately, there are several decent passages which more eloquently describe the emotional core of the film. Dad's Visit and Father Knows Best being cases in point, where Elfman's writing is touching, but laced with detachment and despair. Possibly as a result of Mychael Danna originally being asked to pen the score (my guess is that the studio got cold feet as Lee has worked with Danna previously) and his fondness for more exotic tonalities, there is a slightly unexpected eastern edge to a few of the tracks with Natacha Atlas' vocal warbling that, when during the more exciting moments, slightly recalls the vocals in Horner's The Four Feathers. There is not meant to be any location implied, but the connotations are hard to deny and while they increase the musical palette somewhat, they seem unnecessary and a little gimmicky. One of Hans Zimmer's favourite ethnic instruments, the duduk makes a number of appearances, but again, without any real reason for being there.
Of course comic book anti-heroes need action and Hulk has more than a fair share, some of which are very much in the Planet of the Apes style - a few moments disturbingly so - and several that have an interesting edge because of the vocals, even if it pushes the orchestral mixture toward having too many ingredients. Other moments just feel like Elfman thrashing around with the orchestra and not accomplishing much. The album closes with a song by members of Guns 'N' Roses which seems like a pretty decent rock song to me, with more focussed aggression and energy than much of the score. As mentioned above, Hulk fits alongside Red Dragon as a score that has its moments and plenty of Elfman style, which is almost always of interest and worth hearing, but compared to his other genre efforts, it comes across as a slightly below par effort.