THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS. NBC, made for TV movie, 22 May 1988. Bill Bixby (David Banner), Lou Ferrigno (The Hulk), Jack Colvin, Lee Purcell, Charles Napier, Tim Thomerson, Eric Kramer (Thor). Written & directed by Nicholas Corea, based on the character created by Stan Lee (for Marvel Comics).

   A 1988 made-for-television movie that originally aired on NBC, The Incredible Hulk Returns also found a home on VHS. Released two years later by R&G Video and distributed by Starmaker, the final entry into the “Hulk” TV series found a more permanent home on video store shelves. The cover art work suggests perhaps a more dramatic Hulk story than what the feature actually is; namely, an ultimately non-successful backdoor pilot for a “Thor” spinoff.

   Before we get to that, however, here’s the basic plot. It’s been a few years since scientist Bruce Banner (Bill Bixby) was visited by his Hyde-like friend, the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno). He’s now working as a scientist again under an assumed name and has a lady friend in fellow scientist Dr. Margaret Shaw (Lee Purcell). His main project is a transponder that he hopes can reverse his “curse.” But all doesn’t go according to plan. First, Banner finds an uninvited guest in a former student of his who just happens to be supernaturally connected with Thor (Eric Kramer).

   Then there are the Cajun heavies, Jack LeBeau (Tim Thomerson) and Mike Fouche (Charles Napier) who want the transponder for their own purposes. Finally, there’s intrepid reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) who is determined to out Banner as the Hulk.

   In a way, it’s all fun and nostalgic. Apparently it was a success for NBC. And it’s hard not to see why. Fans got a chance to reunite with their favorite characters and you can tell there’s some real love and dedication in the film. Bixby could have phoned it in, but he obviously did not. Thomerson — who I loved in Trancers (1984) – and Napier make great villains.

   What makes The Incredible Hulk Returns ultimately a lesser superhero television production was the writers and producers’ decision to use this reunion as a way of introducing Thor to viewers. Kramer is surely a physical presence to behold, but his Thor was way too – how should I put this? – goofy for anything sustainable. Not only does he talk like a simpleton; he also has a craving for beer that is funny one time, but grating the next. And the scenes with him dancing with girls at a motorcycle bar were amusing, but they don’t do much to establish a character that viewers will want to return to week after week. Simply put, Thor is no Hulk.

PS. Of course, when The Hulk and Thor first meet, they misunderstand each others’ intentions and fight. See it here!