Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby are back as Big Green!
1977's The Incredible Hulk TV movie is arguably the best stand-alone Hulk movie to-date. You're no doubt aware of the series it launched, but what about its made-for-TV movie sequel? The Return of the Incredible Hulk (not to be confused with a completely different Hulk TV movie, The Incredible Hulk Returns) came out the same year and picks up where the first one left off, but it feels more like another pilot than a standard sequel.
Maybe Highlander had it right when it comes to great Hulk movies: "There can be only one."
On the plus side, The Return of the Incredible Hulk (also known as "Death in the Family") sidesteps the origin story entirely. So when we meet David Banner (played by Bill Bixby), he’s also souped-up on gamma radiation (arguably through his own damn fault) and turning into a green Lou Ferrigno anytime he gets a flat tire. Safety note: Never cut off David Banner on the freeway.
David Banner has just been publicly declared dead via lab fire, so he has to go on the lam and avoid a nosy reporter. He hitch-hikes to a small town seeking a new hospital he hopes might cure his gamma mutation. On his way over, he meets a disabled girl named Julie, who faints by her recently deceased father’s gravesite.
Banner rushes to help the girl who reveals that she wasn’t always disabled. Julie tells Banner that she and her father used to travel worldwide and go running together. She even recounts a delightful story of jogging with her father in Morocco and almost getting arrested because the Morrocan police mistook them for thieves fleeing a crime scene. What a hilariously charming misunderstanding — that might have ended in a much more horrifying way!
Banner helps the weakened Julie back to her home, where she’s attended to by her stepmother and a nurse.
He senses something foul is afoot when he sees Julie’s nurse administer a highly suspicious-looking drug. Assuming a new identity, Banner decides to stick around and take a temp job on Julie’s ranch.
Julie later tells Banner that her father built an extraordinarily successful business, making her an heiress. After probing for more details, Banner learns that Julie’s father was killed in a boating explosion. Julie was also on the boat, but she survived and hasn’t been able to walk since. And this terribly unhappy accident happened only one year after Julie’s father married her stepmother. How completely unsuspicious!
Julie’s doctor arrives and shoots her up with more shady, unidentifiable drugs.
Well, hello there, William Daniels (the father in The Graduate and Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World), I didn’t expect to see you in this movie. And in such an uncharacteristically sinister role.
Banner is weirded-out by the casual drug administration going on and unwisely questions Julie’s stepmother without considering that she’s probably suspect number one.
A brilliant scientist he is, an adept detective he is not.
The stepmother is obviously the villain, and Banner has successfully aggravated her and Dr. Evil Daniels, so she gets the ranch hands to rough him up.
The brawl with the ranchers provokes that nasty Banner temper (offscreen and away from prying eyes, of course), and Big Green himself comes smashing in and beats the living hell out of everyone. It is supremely awesome.
In the movie’s most entertaining scene, the Hulk goes stumbling through the forest when he meets a random old man who looks like Nick Nolte’s second cousin cooking in the woods. The man sees this green monster and just assumes he’s been hitting the whiskey bottle a little too hard.
We do get to see the hilarity of the Hulk swallowing a chicken, bones and all. And we learn that Hulk is not a whiskey fan — he spits it out, smashes the bottle, and runs away.
Hulk is probably the only person to do something like this stone sober.
Banner later infiltrates the local hospital and overhears Julie’s stepmother and Dr. Evil Daniels, confirm that they are slowly killing Julie with bad drugs and tampering with her X-rays so stepmom can inherit everything. What's in it for the doctor? Maybe Stepmom is paying him? The movie doesn't specify.
Stealing the X-rays for evidence, Banner goes to Julie and tries to tell her the truth, but Julie’s sick, drugged, and paralyzed, so she doesn’t handle this new information well. This is where Banner’s starts getting... agitated.
Come on, Banner. Forget the poisoning; she’s libel to keel over from a heart attack. I get the situation is dire, but maybe find a less... rough way to convey this? You probably would’ve been better off anonymously dropping off the evidence and a tip at the local police station.
Julie’s naturally a bit terrified and breaks a vase on Banner’s head, and yep, that triggers the Big Green Machine.
Hulk takes Julie from the house and escapes to the woods, where she learns to walk again with the Nick Nolte lookalike guy’s help.
The evil stepmom and doctor get arrested. Then Banner changes back and has to high-tail it out of town.
This TV movie is the real segue into the rest of the show’s premise. Each episode, David Banner goes to a new town under a new identity and helps with some problem as the Hulk.
The Return of the Incredible Hulk's biggest problem is that it's 2-hours long and drags as a result. With a bit of editing, this could have been an excellent 1-hour episode, but maybe it was worth it for all that Hulk smashing — plus the Hulk's hilarious first taste of whiskey.
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