The third and final entry into what increasingly feels more and more like a desperate act to keep Bill Bixby in gainful employment (he also directed this last installment), The Death Of The Incredible Hulk concludes the run of painfully low budget TV movies that, while are chiefly entertaining on a strictly goofy basis, ultimately come off as too cheesy to take even remotely seriously.
We pick up the progressively more depressing story of Dr. David Banner who is now going under the name David Bellamy and is parading around in a research lab posing as a mentally challenged janitor (blatantly as awkward as it sounds), hoping to continue the search for his emerald, hued condition. Sneaking into the lab of a man working in the same line of science-y stuff nightly, Banner has been subtlety altering his equations in order to steer him on the right track but is eventually rumbled by the kindly scientist and goes on to befriend him and his wife.
But while the three work on de-hulkifying Banner (I’m assuming that’s the technical term) Eastern European spies are massing against them. Introduced in a ferocious game of racket ball, much like the villians of The Incredible Hulk Returns two years prior (what the Hell is it with Hulk villains and racket ball? Is it an inherently evil sport or something?), we meet Jasmin, a chameleonic, yet conflicted agent desperate to do one last job in order to free her captive sister. Sneaking into the lab to steal floppy discs or some such shit, Jasmin unwittingly stumbles into a last ditch attempt to cure Banner of the Hulk once for all and in the ensuing chaos accidentally sets fire to the place and gets shot. While not exactly exemplary behavior for a master of espionage, she is saved by the Hulk, healed by Banner and eventually – not to mention improbably – fall in love (The Hulk going gooey for a redeemed Russian spy? You care to explain yourself here Joss Whedon?). While they lay low the bad guys decide to say the hell with the floppy discs and just go straight to the source by kidnapping the friendly scientist and his wife so Banner and Jasmine attempt a rescue at a private airfield which could inevitably lead to the jade giant’s final stand.
To be fair the Hulk’s death – in true comics form – was never supposed to be permanent, as a fourth TV movie tentatively titled Revenge Of The Incredible Hulk would’ve seen Banner resurrected and battling other gamma irradiated souls possibly with the aid of Iron Man (on a TV budget remember, so don’t get too excited) so that’s probably why the climax to this movie is so stunningly underwhelming. Having such a notoriously durable super juggernaut like the Hulk die by falling out of a plane in super slo-mo with a comically dumb look on his face while a godawful ballard croons in the background with all the tact and emotional resonance of an orgasming pigeon is nothing less than apocalypticly idiotic. The frustrating nature of the movie stretches into the cast too as while the previous two movies featured roles for Marvel alumni (Thor and Daredevil respectively) it’s somewhat jarring that filmmakers chose not to make the troubled female russian agent that causes all the problems in the first place The Black Widow. She even spends the climax running around in a cool, black spy outfit kicking ass with sloppy martial arts, dodging random gunfire and basically being the most interesting character in the film and for her not to be Natasha Romanov is oddly distracting. Why WOULDN’T you make her Black Widow?!
I mentioned ealier that the love affair between them eerily predicts the events of Age Of Ultron’s ill-received “shipping” of Banner and Natasha (she even states that both of them are essentially monsters with multiple identities), it somehow plays a little better here despite Banner choosing to start wooing her while tending to a gunshot while she’s naked from the waist up and obviously suffering from shock.
As Bill Bixby’s final outing as David Banner he come to life a bit more than he has in his previous couple of portrayals as his extra role as director means he can book himself some juicy emoting scenes like talking a hospitalized friend out of a coma by referencing the guy’s childhood nickname “Stinky” (plays better than it reads) but muscley, spray painted, Hulk avatar Lou Ferrigno is completely wasted. Having virtually nothing to do aside from getting in a clumsy pushing match with some diggers and rough up some very 90’s looking street trash, the Hulk himself is constantly shoved to the sidelines and denied much needed screentime in favour of more dreary pink-skinned plots.
Maybe Bixby didn’t know that the film wasn’t called The Death Of David Banner but his actual death tragically due to cancer effectively closed the door on a legacy that ends as ineffectually as all those failed Hulk cures.