Awfully Good: The Incredible Hulk Returns

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

If you loved what they did with Hulk and Thor in AVENGERS: ENDGAME, you'll be… mildly entertained by those same characters in…


The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988)


Director: Nicholas Corea
Stars: Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Eric Allan Kramer

Incredible Hulk Returns Stan Lee

David Banner's quiet, Hulk-free life is thrown in to chaos when a former student introduces him to the Nordic god Thor and reawakens the enormous green rage monster within.

In case you're too young to remember, THE INCREDIBLE HULK was a television show from the late 70s that starred Bill Bixby as David Banner and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno as his musclely green counterpart. Six years after the series was cancelled by CBS, NBC decided to resurrect it as a trilogy of made-for-TV movies, the first of which was accurately titled THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS.

Should NBC have left the series dusted? Probably. But THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS is still pretty entertaining for what it is.

Incredible Hulk Returns Thor
Look! A future where our source material is taken seriously and makes $1 billion in three days!

Since we last saw David Banner hitchhiking to melancholy music, he's found a steady job and a steady girlfriend. A very steady girlfriend who's constantly throwing herself at him, calling him at work and telling him that she's "softer in all the right places" than his lab equipment. She also doesn't seem to mind that he's constantly acting like a creep, sneaking up behind her to blow, smell or [shudder] "taste" her.

As for his job, Banner has been working in a lab on a gamechanging new device called the Gamma Transponder, which can rid his DNA of The Hulk once and for all. Oh, and apparently it can also act as a source of unlimited energy, which naturally attracts the attention of some super generic bad guy businessmen who will [checks notes] stop at nothing to get his invention for themselves.

Thankfully both the romance and villains don't play a huge role in the movie.

Incredible Hulk Returns Thor Hammer
Apparently they're just letting anyone wield Thor's hammer nowadays…

Also luckily for the audience, it doesn't take long before we're introduced to Donald Blake, a former student of Dr. Banner who found a magical Viking hammer inside a tomb on an expedition to Norway. In addition to making for one hell of a vacation scrapbook, the hammer also lets Blake conjure up the mythical Norse god Thor anytime he wants. All he has to do is hold up said hammer and scream "ODIN!"—which is exactly as goofy as it sounds, especially when he has to do it in public.

Marvel aficionados may notice that in this version Thor and Donald Blake are separate characters as opposed to sharing a body like they do in the comics. That change actually works for the best since this Thor kind of hates Blake and thinks he's a loser, often getting pissy every time Blake calls on him to help out. It makes for a fun dynamic and was also clearly setting the stage as a backdoor pilot for a THOR spinoff series similar to THE INCREDIBLE HULK that never happened.

Incredible Hulk Returns thor
The Hulk wasn't the only one who was incredible.

If you like Chris Hemsworth's boisterous take on the character, this version of Thor will still satisfy. He's kinda strong and okay at fighting, and for some reason they decided to give him the unnecessarily weird ability to smell people and track them down like a dog. However, where this Thor really shines is when it comes to drinking alcohol and laying with women. The best parts of this movie are where Thor gets to be his best self, going to a bar to get drunk, hit on girls and fight random guys, or crying to Donald Blake that he's not allowed to get drunk, hit on girls and fight random guys.  In case it wasn't clear that this is the film's most important theme, the movie actually ends with a scene of Thor chasing and harassing a woman on the beach as Banner and Blake look on and laugh. Eric Allan Kramer (who you might recognize from ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS and TRUE ROMANCE) is great in the role, really selling his god-like personality and also the occasional pathos required.

Incredible Hulk Returns Bill Bixby
Dr. Banner demonstrating how he likes his women.

Sadly, the title character is completely overshadowed by the God of Thunder this time around. Lou Ferrigno hasn't lost a beat and remains ever convincing as The Hulk, but the movie gives all the fun to Thor and doesn't provide Banner's alter ego much to do aside from jumping from tall heights, slowly running at people in an intimidating fashion, and occasionally picking up something heavy. There's also some weird discrepancies when it comes to the green giant's capabilities. His skin is impenetrable to bullets fired at close range, but Hulk gets knocked out by a tranquilizer dart shot from a helicopter. He's also strong enough to bend a giant steel beam, but doesn't have the upper body strength to hang from a helicopter for more than 30 seconds. It also doesn't help that Ferrigno was saddled with a truly unfortunate wig to cover up his hearing aids, which doesn't make the character look any less goofy this time around.

Incredible Hulk Returns dog
At least this movie doesn't have Hulk Do… WAIT A MINUTE

Look, you know exactly what you're getting here. It's a nearly-40 year old TV-movie comic adaptation with minimal budget and maximum cheese. At the very least, it's fun to see a proto- version of Hulk and Thor go at it if you need a palate cleanser in between viewings of AVENGERS: ENDGAME.

Hulk keeps his purple pants on.

Feeling angry? Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • David Banner transforms in to the Hulk
  • Someone yells "ODIN!"
  • Someone says the word "angry"
  • Donald Blake holds the hammer
  • The Hulk is called a troll

Double shot if:

  • The sad Hulk music plays


Thanks to Cody for suggesting this week's movie!


Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email and give him an excuse to drink.


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