Those of us of a certain age will remember the original Incredible Hulk television series, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, which ran from 1977-1982. Although there were drastic differences between the comic and the show, it was still a tremendous hit, and this writer has many fond memories of watching this show during my mis-spent youth.
Six years after the cancellation of the series, the not so jolly green giant returned in a series of three television films. Bixby and Ferrigno were reunited as Banner and the big guy in the first of the films, The Incredible Hulk Returns.
As the film begins, Banner hasn’t transformed into the Hulk for two years, and he’s working under an assumed name while building a machine he calls the Gamma Transponder, and hopes that this machine will finally be able to cure him.
However, Banner’s plans are thrown off somewhat by the appearance of a young Donald Blake, who has tracked down Banner in the hope that he can help him with a problem of his own. In short, he’s acquired a new, unwanted friend, the Asgardian God of Thunder, Thor.
But when someone tries to steal the gamma transponder, and kidnaps his girlfriend Maggie Shaw, then Banner realises that he must forget about cure and enlist the aid of Blake and Thor, and, needless to say, the big green guy soon makes many appearances. Oh, and a certain Jack McGee makes an appearance when he hears that the Hulk is back.
When I first saw this film years ago, I didn’t think it was too bad, with the best thing about this being Eric Allen Kramer’s performance as Thor. The scene where he sends McGee away with a few choice words was the best thing in the film. However, upon watching it now a few years later, I couldn’t help but feel that this was perhaps nothing more than a pilot film, not to launch a new series of the Hulk, but to launch Thor in his series. The Hulk was clearly playing second fiddle to Thor here, and his appearance and storyline took away what the original series was all about.
So sadly, a few years older, a few pounds heavier, and a darn sight balder, my view on this film changed.
A year later, the Hulk returned in another television film, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, but once again he had to share the limelight with another Marvel super-hero, Daredevil.
In this film, Banner is being framed for a subway mugging, a crime that was actually committed by two thugs who work for Wilson Fisk, otherwise known as the Kingpin. Because of Fisk’s involvement in this case, Matt Murdock, played by Rex Smith, whom some of you may remember from the 1980’s series Street Hawk, takes an interest in his case, because he’s been trying to take Fisk and his criminal empire down for years.
Banner and Murdock soon discover each other’s secrets, and begin working together to clear Banner’s name. It is during this time that Banner gains a minor victory of his transformation, as he is able to keep control long enough to help Murdock/Daredevil bring Fisk down. Well, sort of.
As with the first film, I didn’t think this one was too bad when I first saw it, but on viewing a few years later, most of the plot is a tad week. While the performances from Bixby and Smith as Banner and Murdock are good, John Rhys-Davies, who played the part of Fisk, really should have been allowed to do a little more with the role.
The ending was kind of lame as well. Daredevil confronted Fisk, who, moments later, just took off in a flying car thing that was stationed in a garage on the top of his penthouse. It’s hardly something that could bring down a complete criminal empire.
Also, like it’s previous film, this also had the pilot film feeling to it. Once again the big green guy was pushed to one side as he had to share the limelight with another, and once again it didn’t really work.
In conclusion - fans of the original television series will be terribly disappointed by these two films. While Bill Bixby’s portrayal of Banner was top notch, and Ferrigno did what Ferrigno was good at, adding the two other Marvel super-heroes ruined these films. After all, the first film’s title was The Return of the Incredible Hulk & Thor.