- Written and Directed by Nicholas Corea
- May 22, 1988
David Banner has managed to build himself a life having not changed into his alter ego for two years but an encounter with a former student and dangerous criminals intent on stealing a machine that may cure him brings the creature back once more.
When I was much younger (a lifetime ago) I was a huge fan of the TV show. The Incredible Hulk was appointment television for me. It was the introduction to live-action superheroes for a generation. Well that and maybe the 1978 to 1979 live action The Amazing Spider-Man series. The Incredible Hulk still holds a special place in my heart today. When I first heard about this movie, I was super excited. For me it was a major television event. And quite honestly it exceeded my expectations then and I still enjoy this tele-film today despite any flaws.
To be sure The Incredible Hulk Returns is not great television. It’s a passable TV movie but it’s a fun TV movie that despite the lack of involvement by Kenneth Johnson still manages to re-capture the essence of the TV show. And it does it with a bit of a twist.
That bit of a twist is adding in another superhero. Today comic book shows often feature a regular dose of other characters that are not in the title. The Flash has a set of super villains he faces off against as well as crossing over with other superhero shows on the CW. There are other superpowered characters in shows such as Loki. Off the top of my head, I think there was only one other moment when the Hulk encountered another superpowered individual and that was another gamma radiated individual that transformed into a Hulk. Other than that Banner stumbled across a story of someone that apparently died long ago in mid transformation.
Here we get the addition of Thor (Eric Kramer). Not the God of Thunder Thor from the comics but a Viking warrior named Thor who has some elements similar to his comic counterpart. He is an immortal warrior not allowed no allowed into Valhalla by Odin until he completes an undefined number of good deeds. Rather than having Donald Blake (Steve Levitt) as another identity, here Blake is a separate individual bound to this warrior via an enchanted hammer for reasons unknown.
This Donald Blake is a medical student who while on an expedition in Viking country (I believe that is how the character puts it) was drawn to a magical hammer that summoned him to the tomb of this deceased warrior. Apparently Thor’s hubris and ego caused him to be sentenced to walk the Earth. Donald just wants his life back and to break the bond between he and Thor. How he found Banner in his new life is unknown. Seriously. I am not sure if Blake somehow tracked David down or just got super lucky one day at the supermarket.
The character of Thor is an overzealous yet in the end a good-hearted bro type. He likes to drink and play rough. During the course of the film he and Donald Blake come to an understanding. It is implied in the narrative that one is to help the other become a better person through their partnership.
It is my understanding that The Incredible Hulk Returns was in part a TV movie to capitalize on the Hulk character as well as act as a backdoor pilot for another TV show featuring Thor and Donald Blake that never happened. From what we get here it looks like it would have followed The Incredible Hulk template of the two going from place to place though I am unsure why in this case they would need to do so. Thor is much more controllable/predictable than Hulk. Put a shirt on him and call him your cousin Sven.
Bill Bixby returns to the fan favorite role of David Banner. He fell right back into the part, and it felt as if no time at all had passed between the final episode and this TV movie even though the series had ended six years prior. Lou Ferrigno returned in top physical form as the character that made him famous.
Going by the name David Bannion (David never tried too hard with his fake names), David has managed to build a life for himself and somehow found his way into working for the Joshua Lambert Research Institute and is building a machine that will do something with gamma irradiated material (apparently this is quite the problem to spawn significant research) as well as cure his affliction. David is even in a relationship with Dr. Maggie Shaw (Lee Purcell). In steps Zachary Lambert (Jay Baker), jealous brother of Joshua Lambert (John Gabriel), who hires a criminal gang to steal the device that David is building but is thwarted repeatedly by David’s alter ego as well as Thor.
Tim “Jack Deth” Thomerson plays Jack LeBeau and Charles Napier plays Mike Fouche who are the only two members of the criminal gang named. I am hard pressed to think if the others even have lines. Napier in his part is trying to do a Cajun accent but to me it sounds like an extremely southern guy trying to do an Irish accent and failing miserably. Napier interestingly made two guest appearances in The Incredible Hulk series and took over the Hulk vocals once Ted “Lurch” Cassidy passed.
A real treat for me was the return of Jack Colvin returning as slimeball tabloid reporter Jack McGee. This was his last appearance as the character. McGee was a series original character and whenever he showed up in an episode it was always good. He was just perfect in the role. Colvin was a very good actor who never seemed quite get his do. I have seen him in plenty of stuff and he was just so good to watch perform.
The action here is a step up from the action of the TV show. There’s a little bit more fighting. The Incredible Hulk Returns ends in much the same manner as an episode of the television series did. David has to uproot himself again and move on. They even have the classic theme play over the closing credits.
They are new great themes or deeper meanings in this film. Don’t try to look for anything below the surface because there is nothing. Once again the problems are solved by the Hulk’s acts of random violence because mindless violence solves everything. It’s just a fun and silly television movie that is made for the fans of the show and can also serve as an easy access point for newcomers. You don’t need to have necessarily seen the show to understand much of anything from this movie. Nicholas Corea, a regular director of the series, perfectly recapture the series vibe.
The Incredible Hulk Returns came out a time when superhero movies did not need to take themselves so seriously. They could be fun and just straight up entertainment. You just watched and enjoyed. I wish we could get back to that time.
The Incredible Hulk Returns is a TV movie made for the fans so this is only a must see if you are a fan of the show. For others though I strongly suggest that you take a look because it is very entertaing.