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Incredible Hulk Returns, The
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by Marc Kandel

"Hulk No Return. Hulk never left. Hulk bigger than ever, have 3 pic deal."
3 stars

A year before “Batman” rejuvenated Superhero film profitability, “The Incredible Hulk Returns” was silly, nostalgic, childish fun and good enough for government work. To this day I’ll happily check out the occasional broadcast on Sci-Fi Channel or USA network, and I’ll still have the same smile I did back in ‘88.

This TV movie brought ol’ greenskin to primetime after a six year absence. I have always loved the original show, finding its flaws far outstripped by its strengths, and this effort, directed by Nicholas Corea, one of the writers on the ‘78-‘81 run, is no exception. It’s a delightful throwback to the beloved series which put a unique twist on the “Fugitive” storyline by providing a deus ex machina in the form of an immense Lou Ferrigno who could give Linda Blair a run for her money in the “Scary Faces of the 70’s” competition.

David Banner has lived two Hulk-free years, mentally suppressing his alter-ego, enjoying a romance with a fellow colleague at a scientific research firm, and on the cusp of eradicating his troublesome Mr. Hyde through a device built to draw off the gamma radiation infusing his cells. Enter Donald Blake, a former student of Banner’s with a Mr. Hyde problem of his own by the name of Thor who aggravates Banner on the eve of his attempt to cure himself, botching the experiment and, you guessed it, making Banner angry. Add to this a tepid subplot of corporate sabotage which endangers his girlfriend, the return of Jack McGee, the tenacious reporter intent on exposing the identity and presence of the Hulk, and we’ve just got ourselves a big ol’ bag of cheesy, well-meaning fun that does the job.

So it’s made for TV under budget constraints that would make the producers of the original Star Trek pee themselves with laughter- let’s get that out of the way. Does it accomplish its intended goal of giving us a fun Hulk adventure? Absolutely. Just a wee tad on the sluggish side at points that involve neither Hulk nor Thor, the show moves along at a reasonable pace, provides some enjoyable fight scenes (the best of which has Hulk and Thor clinging to a Helicopter, and its hard not to believe the combined weight of the two giants isn’t actually holding the damn thing down), and always allows both Bixby and Ferrigno to walk away with dignity bizarrely intact, thanks to Bixby’s talent for making Banner an astonishingly intelligent, compassionate, tragic human and Ferrigno… well, do you want to walk up to him and start something? I’ll send flowers to your funeral home of choice. Fucker’s big.

Seriously though, Ferrigno, never speaking a single word as Hulk throughout the series run, has always been able to convey surprisingly rich emotional makeup to the character allowing for Banner’s goodness to shine through the beast and always selling the physically imposing, seething rage of the Hulk- a performance I would match against Ang Lee’s CGI creation any day of the week- in fact, Ferrigno bulked up for “Returns” quite impressively, sporting more muscle than to my recollection he did back in the original series. Fucker’s big. Did I mention that?

In an attempt to generate interest in other Marvel properties and freshen up the formula, another hero is also introduced in the movie- The Mighty Thor, God of Thunder- known throughout Marvel geekdom as the Thee/Thou spouting, Wing-Headed, Red Caped, Hammer Throwing powerhouse who is one of the few characters that can actually give the Hulk a run for his money in hand to hand combat.

Sadly, the titanic match up one might expect from such an encounter doesn’t get very far as the fight lasts for mere seconds ending in Thor befriending the Hulk after he is impressed (read: thrown through a plate glass window) by the strength and fighting spirit his opponent exhibits. Subsequently the two find themselves fighting alongside each other to save Banner’s girlfriend from the thugs hired to destroy the company that employs both she and Banner. I think the most depressing part of the fight is watching Thor’s Hammer Mjolnir glance off Hulk and then impotently clatter to the floor (in the comics the Hammer comes back to its master); to see it so bereft of power is just heartbreaking (you know, for a guy who still has a Thor action figure or two laying around--- Nyyyerd Alert!). The movie does make up for this flaccid toss later on though as the climatic shot of the whole story has not Hulk, but Thor deliver the killing blow, Mjolnir laying waste to a Lincoln Town Car- yep, that’s the money shot right there.

This version of Thor is one that veteran Marvel fans will not take to very amicably, differing greatly from his level-headed, noble, godly origins in both behavior and costume (a battered, rusted breastplate with some patches of animal fur and worn leggings that, at the very least, looks reasonably accurate for a long dead Viking warrior despite straying far from the source material). This Thor is loud, brazen, obnoxious, pugilistic, and may not be the actual Thunder God himself, but more of a resurrected Viking warrior with a hammer that can double as a taser with the dial turned up to 11. This Thor is a separate entity from the Donald Blake character (in the comics they were one in the same, Odin teaching Thor humility by forcing him to live as a mortal with a slight handicap), here a nerdy scientist with a Norse Mythology hangup despite looking like he just stepped out of a Yeshiva, who is mystically bonded with the Viking and can summon him out of the ether. The result is the pained duo of jock and nerd running around, having whacky adventures- both coming to terms with their differences through their travails- sounds like a shitty sitcom, right? Well campers that was the idea. Fortunately, thank Odin, that idea lay stillborn after the strained five or so minute montage of Donald and Thor painting the town Eric Red, a quiet Ragnarok for the ill-conceived buddy-adventure pilot.

As Thor, Eric Kramer plays the warrior with a great deal of relish, and while its not the Thor comic fans may be used to, he does make it very hard to deny his enthusiasm and commitment to the character he is asked to play. To this day, being a guy who has no Nordic heritage whatsoever, during moments requiring physical exertion, it’s still hard to resist shouting a hearty OOOOODIIIIN! But of course, I’d be kicked out of the gym/court/stage/bedroom so I keep my mouth shut. As Donald Blake, Steve Levitt adds the right amount of neurosis and exasperation, and even comes up with the dramatic chops when needed. His flashback where we watch him discover the hammer is quite fascinating, and I will admit to getting a chill when Thor is first summoned- I was a pretty cheap date in those days when superhero fare was few and far between.

I cannot say enough about Bill Bixby. I truly love his take on Banner- it’s positively wonderful, and that’s not just lip service to a dead actor. Bixby maintained a strong command of David Banner- a humanitarian that made a terrible mistake in service to alleviate the suffering of mankind, and must deal with this mistake every waking day of his life. Bixby never played Banner maudlin or whiny- a damning mistake for this delicate character. His Banner was kind, hopeful and always ready to set aside his problems to aid a friend or stranger. Yes, David could be terribly sad at times, but it was never overly sentimental- he would move on with greater purpose and renewed determination, even in the most crushing moments. Bixby made the character work, and his talent speaks volumes through his performances.

I also want to make mention of composer Lance Rubin, providing a refreshingly exciting musical score for the proceedings just north of cheesy but effective for the material. His work for the theme of Thor is particularly stirring, echoing the glory and soaring majesty of the Viking warrior.

As a die-hard comic book film, no, it’s hardly a stellar reflection of the depth of the medium. It's a whimsical piece aimed at nostalgia and comic fans, and it has a charm to it that makes it delightful to watch. I can't go four stars, but as we don't have an in-between for purely fun stuff, I'm going a positive Three. Pretend there's a half-star after that until HBS changes its policies.

A throwback to a great series and a fun jaunt in a fantasy world, “The Incredible Hulk Returns” is worth a look, and certainly a better bet than many of its joyless, plodding big budget/big screen contemporaries.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15514&reviewer=358
originally posted: 12/19/06 11:46:10
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User Comments

12/20/06 David Pollastrini Thor was kind of funny 3 stars
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  22-May-1988 (NR)
  DVD: 06-May-2003

  N/A (PG)


Directed by
  Nicholas Corea

Written by
  Nicholas Corea

  Bill Bixby
  Lou Ferrigno
  Jack Colvin
  Lee Purcell
  Charles Napier
  John Gabriel

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