Even after “Superman: The Movie” and its somewhat successful franchise, the idea of turning comic books in to movies or a TV show was a rare prospect. Studios considered it a gamble as then comic books were considered a kids medium, so it was an anomaly for something like the Incredible Hulk to be adapted in to a successful drama that stayed in syndication for a long time. Six years after the end of the series, Bill Bixby returns to the role of David Banner, a scientist now living in a seaside town with his girlfriend. He’s mostly lived a quiet life and is helping to create a machine that can decay gamma radiation. Though he’s helping the local lab to create it, he’s also hoping to use it as a means of killing the hulk and end his curse.
Things don’t go as planned when he meets Donald Blake, a man who is also cursed with a sacred hammer that can conjure up an ancient Norse god named Thor. Events spiral out of control when a gang lead by Tim Thomerson plans to steal the machine to use it as a weapon, and are intent on kidnapping Banner and his girlfriend in the process. Since “Hulk” was one of the very few comic book shows on television to ever be a success, introducing new Marvel properties wasn’t a bad idea. So “Returns” is basically a back door pilot and pitch for a “Thor” TV show. It’s one I’m glad never developed, as the iteration of Thor for this TV movie is often silly. Thor is now just a genie in a bottle who speaks in condescending monologues, and his master is the frustrated Donald Blake who basically puts up with the Norse God.
He can only shed him when Thor commits to a list of good deeds that can earn him a place in Valhalla with Odin. Which I’m guessing is what would have been the show in its entirety, just a buddy action comedy with Donald Blake helping Thor fight the bad guys. All the while Thor eventually would earn his way back home. Thor is depicted as a buffoon who dresses up like a Norse football player, and grins like an idiot most of the time. Eric Kramer is a very good character actor, and is a very good picture of what Thor would look like in the flesh. It’s just that the writers never take Thor seriously even for a millisecond, so we’re instead given an oafish meat head who drinks a lot, whines about how bored he is in his hammer, and looks like a bad Renaissance Fair cosplayer. Thor is also reduced to spouting cheesy dialogue that sounds like they came out of a Renaissance Fair handbook.
For a movie about the Hulk’s return, the titular character plays supporting player for most of the film, and he’s never given much to do until the second half. “The Incredible Hulk Returns” is still a baffling disappointment years later. It poorly realizes Thor, and hands us a ton of filler for what is a comeback movie with a paper thin premise. If anything, at least Eric Kramer seems to be having a ball as the Thor, God of Dumber.