Monday, May 14, 2012

Review: The Incredible Hulk Returns. A 1988 Live-Action "Movie" Where Hulk Fights Thor!

I never really watched the original Hulk TV series as a child. Firstly, because it was a whole lot of boring until the three minutes when Banner finally hulked out, and secondly because Lou Ferrigno’s hideous prosthetic head and cheap wig scared the ever living shit out of me. 

And I certainly didn’t realise that they audaciously continued to make Hulk TV movies throughout the late eighties, and you could have humped me in a bucket when I was gifted this particular movie from 1988 that co-stars the golden-locked Thor! Yes, I'm talking about The Incredible Hulk Returns!

If you are equally delighted at the prospect of an incredibly cheap live-action bout between incredible monster and mighty god, then you’d better join me after the jump!

Bill Bixby is old. He’s totally old. David Banner (the producers ridiculously decided that Bruce sounded to “gay”) wanders around in an old man sweater looking more like Dudley Moore than one of earth’s mightiest heroes. His pants are hiked super high as though the added pressure of a belt beneath his armpits helps constrain his rage.

It appears that, much like myself as a child, David is plagued by nightmares of the old television series which appear to him in a handy, exposition-packed montage. You see, it turns out that David hasn’t hulked out for two years now and he’s desperate not to split another pair of pants.

It’s kind of creepy though because he’s living near the beach and macking on a far younger woman (with the most outrageously eighties hairstyle imaginable) but he won’t commit to living with her incase he has a relapse and freaks the funk out. 

She doesn’t know about his history as the Hulk, but is aware of what she believes is some sort of figurative “monster” that he struggles to control. I guess she assumes that he has rage control issues, possibly fuelled by alcohol or drugs, and that he’s capable of hurting people when it overcomes him. And yet somehow she’s OK with this. He’s all “I haven’t freaked out for 2 years but I’m still not going to live with you because there’s still a slim chance I will murder you in your sleep.” And she’s all, “Giggle. If you say so!”

So, David is working undercover at a lab where he is using a giant penis-shaped machine that will stop him from ever turning into the Hulk. This is serious business and David has to do a lot of tinkering, so I’m amused that the script desperately tries to remind us that the ageing Bruce Bixby is an object of desire. His yearning gal pal Maggie rings to remind him that “unlike that machine” she is “soft in all the right places.” Lady, the only place you’re soft is in your head!

Remember when we read Avengers #1 from 1963 and became aware that Thor’s alter ego was the creepy branch-carrying Doctor Blake? Well it’s a little bit different here. Late one night David is about to zap himself with the machine when Doctor Blake stumbles in and interrupts him. Now, this isn’t the square-jawed, taciturn Blake of the comics. No, this is a wild, curly haired nerd Blake who looks like Anthony Michael Hall made love to a poodle. This is what Banner looks like when he sees Blake:

And this is what Blake looks like:


Apparently Blake knows of David Banner from the past and figures that he’s the perfect patsy with which to share his incredible secret. On an expedition to the “savage north” Blake found Skeletor Thor in a tomb along with his bitching hammer. One thing led to another, lightning struck and a rock god Viking was apparently summoned.

Banner thinks this is some serious bullshit. But Blake insists that he can summon Thor if it’s for a good cause and Thor will do his bidding. So unlike the comics, they are separate entities with Thor kind of acting like an unruly genie who does nerdy Blake’s bidding. I can’t help feeling that if this version of Thor had been further developed into its own series, it would have been like the Norse version of Perfect Strangers.

Blake wants Banner’s help but Banner still isn’t buying it so Blake is forced to activate the hammer. Thor turns out to be a beefy, blonde, porn refugee, clad in a viking helm and furs, who immediately causes a ruckus, bellowing that he wants a drink and ripping apart Banner’s expensive doohickeys and thingamajigs. 

This totally pisses Banner off, so protesting wildly he splits his pants, turns green and puts on the cheap wig of my troubled youth. “Graaarrggeegle!” yells Lou Ferrigno, which actually makes more sense than anything he said on the Celebrity Apprentice.

The fight is about as epic as fights get with a $100 budget. Hulk gets belted with a hammer and Thor gets punched through a wall where the fight continues on a rooftop. 

They’re both pretty evenly matched but when the cops start showing up the Hulk leaps off the roof and books it.

So now David Banner is back on the run and totally naked. They can’t show old Bixby’s tubby body so he steals some clothes off a clothesline and then runs right back into Thor who is now dressed as a civilian. In leather pants. Thor is all, “Totes sorry for last night, bro. You a brawler, G.” and he leads him back to a snivelling, apologetic Donald Blake. I should mention that the guy playing Thor is actually pretty great and has that likeable bold,booming, fish-out-of-water appeal shared by Chris Hemsworth. Those two guys should bump fists.

The nebbish Blake admits that he is a giant moron who unleashed a surly, booze-starved Viking into a laboratory filled with delicate equipment and decides it’s time for him to jet. Old man Banner frowns and sternly tells him that he must stay and “clean up the milk he spilled.” So now both Banner and Blake are working on restoring the penis machine project. Banner assures his bosses that he has no idea about the monster versus god fight that smashed shit up the night before, and they grudgingly believe him but they kind of know it’s dicey.

Then boring subplots happen! A reporter who has been chasing Banner for some time gets back on the case, and a boss at the lab gets caught up in a plan to kidnap and extort Banner or some shit.

Blake bonds with Banner and tries to work out why he has been destined to carry the hammer of Thor. Banner is like, “Why don’t you just ask him you stupid idiot?”.

So Blake talks to Thor who does an epic speech about how it sucks to be alive but not have blood pumping through his veins and he’d be a lot happier with some food, drink and women. Blake then takes him to a seedy biker bar where, via a jaunty montage, Thor drinks nearly all the beer and arm wrestles one of the Village People. Thor is wicked happy and there are high fives all round. And this film really doesn’t feel like it’s about the Hulk anymore.

Let’s face it, it’s really diminishing returns from this point forward because our curiosity has already been sated. We’ve seen Thor and the Hulk clash already so what else is there? And we know it just doesn’t have the budget to surprise us. It’s not like Odin is suddenly going to descend on a rainbow and vomit a raven.

Banner heads back to work but is attacked by a group of kidnappers in the lobby. Oh shit, you guys! You made him angry! He Hulks out and sends them all packing, ripping a door off a truck in the process. This makes him sad Hulk so he walks around a beach and night and pats a dog. That airhead Maggie wanders out looking for him and Hulk hits the deck, worrying she’ll see him. But this is what she sees instead:

OH! so that’s why he won’t spend the whole night with her! He makes love to dogs! Seriously, how could you interpret this scene any other way? He is crouched in the bushes, without any clothes on, with a dog, looking guilty as all hell. Maggie is understandably super shocked/revolted but then we immediately cut to...

The dirty kidnappers. Fearing messing with that monster again they decide to target Maggie instead. That should be the end of the film. Banner should shrug and go, “Oh well. At least those ‘dog-lover’ allegations will stop now”, finish his penis machine, and walk off into the sunset.

The next morning, on the beach Maggie is finally having trouble accepting that Banner is still keeping a list of clearly dirty secrets from her. Is she finally going to wise up and get the hell out? Before she gets the chance a POLICE HELICOPTER arrives and SHOOTS HER with a TRANQUILISER GUN. WTF!?

Banner is shot too and smashes the hapless Maggie through a frigging window as he falls. Blake rushes to the beach and activates the hammer and Thor inexplicably charges into the river like a moron! 

They’re not in a rowboat! They’re in the air you dumb-dumb!

Hulk hulks out even though he’s tranqued and then is tranqued again while Thor laughs like a maniac and hurls dudes into the water. But the bad guys take off with Maggie forcing Hulk and Thor to hang off the bottom of the helicopter, screaming incoherently. They finally fall and I’m like, “Oh shit,” because this means that now they’re going to have to go a whole other round!

This is a great place to nap for fifteen minutes why everyone regroups and comes up with a plan. Banner and Blake are such dumb shits and it takes Thor, posing in only a towel, to come up with the plan to attack.


Thor is crazy in this scene. He hits the fridge and then attacks a six-pack of beer with a knife. I’m not even making this up - he is totally nutty. That reporter, whose scenes I’ve been fast-forwarding, knocks on the door and Thor opens the door in his towel, carrying a huge mug of beer and yelling the sort of insane things that a hobo would say.

So snooze a little longer, and then Banner is going to sabotage his penis machine, thereby cockblocking the badguys but also sacrificing his own cure. The film then just finishes up by turning into an episode of The A-Team where Hulk and Thor throw around anonymous gun-toting stunt men in a warehouse. Why further complicate the plot when you can just walk into the bad guy base and beat the shit out of everyone? The weirdest bit though is that the nerdy Blake picks up a huge machine-gun and actually shoots one of the main bad guys in the nuts. He then shoots and presumably kills this other dude and someone yells out, "You'll be a hero yet, Blake!" Yeah because murdering people is so heroic you guys!

And I don't mean to get all Tim Gunn on you fine folks, but WTF is Maggie wearing?

Hulk saves Maggie - for some reason - and they sort of almost have a tender moment, but the truth is she kind of seems freaked out as shit. The police arrive and Blake decides to take credit for killing all these people while Hulk and Thor high-tail it out of there.

Later, Thor runs down the beach, shirtless, with Banner's golden retriever secret lover running along beside him. Blake tells Banner, "Look, stop being a pussy and move in with Maggie because she knows what's going on and she's still stupid enough to stay with you. And you're old, dude, so just accept that this is about as good as you're going to get." At least that's what I think he's getting at. I zoned out. Blake and Thor leave and Maggie and David declare their undying love by the fire. But next morning...

Bruce wanders off by himself down the beach. The dog barks plaintively. Maggie barks plaintively. "It's no use," she tells the dog. "He's gone." And they're both spurned.

This is a pretty incredible movie about life and dogs and Norse mythology and I guess I would recommend it to anybody who was into any of those. 

Four stars.


  1. There's also another one of these tv movies where Hulk teams up with Daredevil. I saw the two when i was a kid and was pretty impressed at the time.

  2. They made a few of these...the last one had Hulk die! It was planned that he be resurrected but you were right about Bixby being too old...sadly he actually died in real life before that could happen...