The Incredible Hulk is back! Again!
This movie is not to be confused with The Return of the Incredible Hulk, which we've already examined. Yeah, I guess the Hulk had to go away and come back again for the second time. To be fair, the title for this movie is actually more fitting given that it premiered in 1988 — six years after the television series officially ended. Let’s see what David Banner has been doing all this time in The Incredible Hulk Returns.
When we see Dr. David Banner, things are actually going pretty well for him. He’s gainfully employed by a renowned research institution (under an assumed name—I don’t know how he’s getting paid without a Social Security Number), he’s dating a hot geneticist, and he’s hasn’t turned into the Hulk for two years! And thanks to his job, Banner is about to put the final touches on a gamma transponder that should finally rid him of the Hulk for good. Yes, all in all, life is great for David Banner.
We can safely assume that this won’t last long.
When Banner is about to try out the transponder and get rid of the Hulk, he’s interrupted by a former student who recognizes Banner’s real identity. That student’s name? Dr. Donald Blake.
If you’re an avid enough follower of Marvel Comics, that name should sound familiar. If you’re lost, I’ll give you a hint: think magic hammer and Norse mythology. That’s right. We’re going to see us some Thor. This movie actually marks Thor’s very first live-action appearance.
Naturally, we have to delve into Thor’s origin. Donald Blake tells Banner how he went on an expedition to Norway and stumbled upon a cave in the mountains. Here’s where Thor’s origin story gets... weird. Blake discovered Thor’s tomb. That’s right, Thor is dead.
The tomb identifies Thor as an ancient “warrior-king,” never as a Norse god or even Odin’s son. All we know is that he was really arrogant when he was alive, which pissed-off Odin. In response, Odin told Thor he couldn’t enter Valhalla because he’s a royal jerk. Thor has to perform a series of good deeds, and then maybe Odin will bring his application back to the Valhalla Entrance Approval Committee. Are you confused yet?
In the comics, Dr. Donald Blake was simply the civilian identity of Thor. Here, Donald Blake and Thor are two different people played by two different actors. Blake found Thor’s hammer in the cave, which contains Thor’s soul. And now Blake possesses Thor himself — who just lives in his hammer and comes out whenever Blake needs to talk to him. Blake, I guess, is supposed to be Thor’s guide to the modern world — it’s an extremely bizarre premise.
When Blake first tells Banner his Thor story, Banner dismisses it, saying Blake probably hallucinated the whole thing due to high altitude. Dude, you turn into the Jolly Green Giant with ‘roid rage when you get a flat tire — is a ghostly ancient Norseman really where you’re going to draw the line of believability?
So, Blake lets Thor out of his hammer to show Banner the truth.
But Thor is in a pissy mood and ends up destroying some of Banner’s transponder equipment. And after two whole years, that’s all it takes to bring Big Green back out of retirement.
The Hulk beats Thor, but after he changes back, Banner is mad at Blake because not only has Banner’s experiment has been set-back, but now the Hulk is back.
I guess Blake’s dilemma is supposed to mirror Banner’s problem because Blake can’t get rid of Thor or the hammer. Except Banner correctly points out that Blake has complete control over Thor, while he can’t control the Hulk at all. It’s not really a great parallel.
Don't worry, we still get plenty of gratuitous half-naked Thor scenes.
But Banner has even more problems to worry about. An evil criminal gang inside the research facility wants Banner’s gamma transponder to use as a weapon. Yes, you read that correctly.
When the gang first attempts to steal the transponder, Banner turns into the Hulk and pulverizes them easily. The second time, they kidnap Banner’s scientist girlfriend and blackmail him for the transponder.
Thor, Blake, and the Hulk track down the bad guys, beat the crap out of them, and rescue the girlfriend. Unfortunately, Banner also destroys his gamma transponder to prevent it from being weaponized by other bad guys. Which means he’s out of luck for a Hulk cure. He also has to ditch his girlfriend and flee town, putting him right back where he started when the TV series began.
We all knew this was coming. The Hulk is never allowed to be happy for very long.
As for Blake and Thor, well, nothing really changes there except that the two of them are cool with each other. That’s about it.
The Incredible Hulk Returns isn't a terrible movie, but the whole subplot with the evil gang was pretty boring. They’re just there to ruin Banner’s life, so he’ll have to go back to square one by the end. And while the Thor premise is pretty nonsensical, Thor himself is the best part of the movie.
Eric Kramer is having the time of his life playing this role. Every time he’s on-screen, he is just giving it his all. Just look at this guy.
That is a man who truly loves his job.
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