Remembering That '80s TV Movie Where Thor Fought The Hulk

"Avengers: Endgame" might be the most ambitious crossover of all time, but it did lack one important aspect of Marvel's on-screen history; their low-budget television shows that aired between the '70s and '90s. Perhaps the most famous show from this era was "The Incredible Hulk," which ran on CBS from 1978 to 1982. Starring Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner (his middle name is Bruce, don't worry) and Lou Ferrigno as the titular gamma-radiating monster, the show centered around Banner as he traveled around the United States, helping those in need despite his dangerous secret. Even though Marvel Comics as an entity was not taken particularly seriously at the time of its release, "The Incredible Hulk" drew in large ratings and eventually spun off into several made-for-television movies.

"The Incredible Hulk Returns" was the first of these movies to air on television, this time airing on NBC in 1988. Not only did this film serve as a failed backdoor pilot, but it also marked the first time two Marvel characters shared the screen together! The Hulk and Thor, two classic Marvel heroes, teaming up together for the first time? How exciting!

Unfortunately, it wasn't really all that was cracked up to be. In honor of the upcoming release of "Thor: Love and Thunder," let's take a look back at the Thor team-up that hasn't aged particularly well but still has undeniable charm.

This is the '80s, I don't know what a good cause is anymore

Banner has been living in Los Angeles without the fear of the Hulk's emergence, having gone two whole years without a transformation. During that time period, he's begun work on a Gamma Transponder he hopes will cure him, and has also found a new love in fellow scientist Maggie Shaw (Lee Purcell). If I had a nickel for every time a comic book-related television program had a character named Maggie Shaw, I'd have two nickels, which isn't a lot, but it is weird that it's happened twice.

Anyways, he's not the only person who's been busy over the past few years. Reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) is back on Banner's trail, while Banner's former student Donald Blake (Steve Levitt) has somehow become bound to a hammer that contains the soul of a Norse warrior. By gripping the hammer and yelling out the name of Odin, Blake can summon the physical body of Thor (Eric Kramer), who cannot reach Valhalla unless he wins an unspecified amount of battles. If you aren't familiar with any of the old-school Marvel shows, you might expect this first meeting to be a clash of epic proportions.

Monster mash in Los Angeles

Unfortunately, the major fight between the two Marvel giants is pretty lackluster. When Thor accidentally lets loose the Incredible Hulk, their first fight takes place almost entirely inside the grey walls of Banner's laboratory. It moves at a snail's pace, and not solely because it uses a lot of slow-motion editing. Other than a couple of throws, the fight itself is tame and unexciting, drastically limited by its low television budget. The MCU's fight choreography could easily be nitpicked to oblivion, but at least their fights actually look like they can do damage. Instead, you've got two buff dudes shoving each other around in slow-motion. Not exactly exhilarating stuff.

However, this fight does have its own weird earnestness in it. While it isn't the most technically impressive fight scene in existence, especially compared to the scenes of today, I can easily see a kid in 1988 thinking that this was the coolest thing ever. "The Incredible Hulk" was never known for its cutting-edge effects or fluid fight choreography. Each episode featured Banner getting mad and beating up a bunch of goons in different places around the country. There was no world-saving and no multiverses to worry about — it was just cheesy fun, and that certainly carries over into "The Incredible Hulk Returns."

It has everything to do with everything

Outside of the clash between the titans known as Hulk and Thor, "The Incredible Hulk Returns" plays exactly like an extended episode of the show. This shouldn't be surprising considering it's a television movie, but it also has nearly the exact same opening title sequence as the show, acting like there wasn't a six-year gap between the series finale and this film.

Thor's appearance notwithstanding, the entire movie plays out like a regular episode of the show. Banner tries to find a cure for his gamma poisoning. His plan gets interrupted by someone seeking his help. McGee argues with his editors over the importance of covering the Hulk. A villain or mob group seeks to steal Banner's work for vague evil reasons. Banner has no choice but to turn into the Hulk in order to defeat the bad guys. After that, Banner must flee to another city to continue his work. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Of course, this run-of-the-mill plot does get elevated by the presence of Thor and Blake, whose dynamic is genuinely charming. Trust me, Thor getting down at a bar, throwing dudes around and line-dancing with ladies is better than 75% of the MCU's fish-out-of-water comedy scenes.

Is "The Incredible Hulk Returns" perfect? No. Is the first on-screen confrontation between Thor and Hulk anything major? Not really. However, if you're looking for good, old-fashioned '80s cheese, read between the Viking writing and check it out on Tubi.