The Death of the Incredible Hulk (1990) – Directed by Bill Bixby – Starring Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Elizabeth Gracen, and Andreas Katsulas.
THE DEATH OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK represents the end of an era that had been over for everyone but the Hulk for nearly a decade. Full credit to Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, and all the various cast and crew who extended the 1970s superhero TV boom into the ’90s. Once upon post-United States Bicentennial, network television had room for THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Captain America, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and Wonder Woman, but the brief boom went bust rather quickly for everyone but the Bixby-Ferrigno Hulk.
And here they still are, at the dawn of the 1990s, still kicking for one last ride.
Unfortunately, THE DEATH OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK is a solemn, slow-moving bore, and instead of feeling like the dramatic conclusion that the franchise deserves, DEATH feels tired and in need of a mercy killing.
None of this is the fault of Misters Bixby and Ferrigno, who offer their usual solid work one last time. Well, we can give a little blame to Bixby, who also directed DEATH, but the fault here is really in the script, the pacing, and the overall tone. After the last two movies, which saw the introduction of Thor and Daredevil, DEATH relies solely on David Banner and the Hulk for its superheroics. There’s a foreign secret agent here, but she’s kind of boring, and an old scientist, who’s also kinda boring. The film could have easily used Natasha Romanoff and Henry Pym and added a bit of much-needed pizzazz to the special, but there’s no one here but the Hulk.
Perhaps the producers decided to go with the Hulk alone, just in case this was the final INCREDIBLE HULK production. (There were plans for another TV movie, but they ended with the passing of Bixby in 1993.) If so, that wasn’t necessarily a bad decision – the original pilot movie had only the Hulk and it was an outstanding production.
The fitting conclusion would have seen reporter Jack McGee finally get his story, but Jack Colvin had sadly passed on after the first comeback movie, so there was Bixby and Ferrigno and a bunch of people we’ve never seen before.
The plot here has Banner pretending to be a mentally-challenged janitor who sneaks into the lab of the institute’s senior scientist and fixes his formulas. Banner is still trying to eliminate the Hulk and this is his best bet. Eventually, Banner is found out by the scientist, who agrees to help him. We get a few scenes of Banner living with the scientist and his wife, but like so much of this special, it’s just blah blah blah killing time until the Hulk shows up. This is the first time in any of these Hulk movies where I was bored by the Banner plot.
The part of the narrative that’s been carried by Thor and Daredevil in the past two TV movies is given over to a foreign spy and her handler, the One Armed Man from the Harrison Ford Fugitive movie. Or, as he’s better known around these parts, G’Kar. Maybe if Andreas Katsulas had played his part as a One-Armed G’Kar this movie would have been-
No. It wouldn’t have been better. Not at all.
DEATH moves slooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooly, building no tension as the special agent ends up being betrayed by her handlers. She gets over this by falling in love with Banner the way only people in made-for-TV movies fall in love – immediately and in a log cabin.
This foreign power angle goes nowhere interesting, except at the end when it leads directly to the death of the Hulk. Two bad guys are getting away in a plane, but before they take off, the pilot wants to run down and chop the special agent to death with his front propeller. This allows the Hulk to rip the plane open and jump inside, and then the plane blows up and he falls to the ground and transforms into Banner and dies.
Um … that’s kinda depressing.
I suppose Banner had to die alongside the Hulk so that he paid the ultimate price for his initial hubris to experiment on himself, but it is a bit disappointing that there wasn’t a scientific ending to the Hulk, that Banner wasn’t rewarded for his decade-plus long scientific quest to rid himself of the Hulk.
The real shame is that after all these years, the Hulk couldn’t have been sent off to afterlife with a better story. Watching the film, you can see that we’re at the limit of what a man in green paint can bring to the audience. By the end of the decade, FOX would televise both Generation X and Nick Fury movies, and while the special effects in those films are a long way from the 2003 Ang Lee Hulk, the tried-and-true technique of the Ferrigno Hulk smashing through a brick wall is starting to feel a bit old.
As always, though, if the story is good, I’m able to look past the special effects and the story in THE DEATH OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK is simply not compelling.