The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989)

A follow-up to the successful 1988 TV Movie ‘The Incredible Hulk Returns,’ ‘The Trial of the Incredible Hulk’ attempted to spawn a spin-off of another celebrated Marvel Comics hero, Daredevil. Utilizing the somewhat celebrity status of heart throb Rex Smith (of Street Hawk fame), there were plans aplenty for a Daredevil TV series that would shortly follow. As a devoted fan of old horn-head, my heart was a-flutter with visions of a DD-themed TV series. Many fans of the comic book felt that it read like a TV program in the first place and would be an easy adaptation from page to screen.

The story opens with a bearded grizzled Banner working as a farm hand. After getting cajoled into a scrap by a fellow worker, he decides to move on, fearful that he may Hulk-out and cause trouble for the nice lady running the place. He makes tracks for the big city which he is told is a bad idea but he is hoping to lose himself in the transient part of town. As it happens, he stumbles into some trouble.

Two hoods flee a well orchestrated crime for the subway (??) and cause mayhem in short order coming on to a lady with big hair and an old guy who looks like Santa Claus (takes all kinds). Banner is pushed around, Hulks out and in the tussle a stray bullet strikes an innocent bystander. Banner is arrested and charged with assault and murder by the very woman (henceforth called ‘the Mendez Woman’) he had tried to help. The reason is that she was threatened by a powerful mob boss who rules the city called Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. His only opposition is a Police Chief who cannot be bought and a stubborn public defender who believes in truth and justice , Matt Murdock.

Murdock is convinced that Banner is innocent though he refuses to offer any information and prefers to accept his fate in prison where he presumes he will be safe (this was before programs like Oz were on TV). Murdock knows that Banner is not a killer because of a gift that he has, heightened senses. He tried to help the Mendez Woman as well but he is blocked by a combination of her fear and the Kingpin’s influence over the entire city, creating a wall of force around her. Donning a pair of  what appears to black danskins with red spangly accents, Murdock goes into action as Daredevil.

As Matt Murdock, he has an ideal chance to catch Fisk and expose him for the criminal spider that he is, but he is prevented by Banner’s reluctance to get involved. As Daredevil he can strike back at Fisk’s several criminal endeavors and keep the streets safe, but it’s an impossible battle that he can never hope to win. The key to turning the tables lies in the mysterious David Banner who can identify that it was Fisk’s men who attacked the Mendez Woman and killed the bystander. Daredevil could also use the raw power that Banner’s alter-ego possesses as the Hulk.

It’s Marvel Team-Up time.

As Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Rex Smith made a lot of sense at the time. Looking back now and he is clearly a teenage heart throb posing as an actor. It’s not a bad performance, but he is a bit too soft and sincere in his devotion to justice. To make this complete John Rhys Davies as the Kingpin is downright hilarious, spouting his dialog in baritone Shakespearean speeches that belong on the stage. He comes off as a fairly flamboyant businessman rather than a dangerous criminal mastermind. He even shows genuine concern for his twitchy assistant, insisting that he get a full 7 hours of sleep. I’m not sure how that’s intended to be a sinister intent… he sounds like a lovely boss!

I mentioned earlier that I was a big fan of Daredevil at the time (still am) and how much I was looking forward to this TV movie.

Introduced to Daredevil by reading my older brother’s collection, I was familiar with the noir-ish Frank Miller run with its labyrinthine cityscapes and grim characters. The TV movie sorta tries to replicate this in a city that is about the size of Raleigh (small) and depicts Daredevil as a hero who clambers about the rooftops of suburban dwellings before no doubt taking the reliable subway system. We are given a crew of background characters such as the staff of Murdock’s legal practice and even the street hood known as Turk, giving the TV movie a strong ‘pilot’ feel to it.

Bixby generously gives large portions of the TV movie to Smith to bring some depth to his character and the two actors work against each other quite well. Again, Bixby seems to be seething with rage and anxiety wjile in contrast Smith is a well of compassion and bravery. It’s a superb blend. Smith definitely takes over as the lead in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, however, which feels odd but by the same token Bixby gets some incredible dramatic scenes.

For all of its flaws, this movie works far better than the 1988 experiment. Taking just the right amount of comic book ideas and just the right portions of TV action/adventure, a Daredevil series based on this pitch could easily have worked at the time. The writing is a bit odd with Murdock’s flashback to the exposure of the corruption of the police force that drove him to become Daredevil one of the hallmarks of hilarity.

As an added bonus, a documentary is included on Lou Ferrigno’s return to competitive weight lifting entitled ‘Stand Tall,’ a kind of updated version of ‘Pumping Iron.’ I have never had any interest in weight lifting but Ferrigno’s personality really pulled me through the short film.

The Trial of the Incredible Hulk is far from a high quality production but honestly I was surprised on a recent viewing to find that it was entertaining in its own right. Set your sights in the right order and this DVD is a fun night in. It’s at least better than the 2003 Daredevil movie!

There was talk of a Spider-Man team-up, a guest-spot from She-Hulk and even a made-for-TV Iron Man that was very exciting but neither came to pass. Even though the movie touted the death of the Hulk, there were numerous plans to keep the TV movies going from a son of Hulk ideas to a Smart Hulk who had Banner’s mind. The final Hulk TV movie featured a ‘new character’ named Jasmin was introduced for what would be Bixby and Ferrigno’s final outing as the Banner/Hulk duo. Bixby’s steady decline in health and eventual passing in 1993 ended any further films but he had made a definite landmark in TV programming, influencing young writers, actors and artists to pursue their craft.

After two modern feature films and an upcoming Hulk in the Avengers and possibly on TV, there will always be the inevitable comparison to the Bixby/Ferrigno version and for good reason. It wasn’t always perfect, but when it worked it was a wonderful marriage of TV and comic book that we’ll never likely see again. I’m not saying that no one should try to top it or do their own version, but the bar is set pretty high.

Buy The Incredible Hulk Returns / The Trial of the Incredible Hulk at


9 thoughts on “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989)

  1. The Hulk movies are shown in the UK every couple of years and always draw interest. It is a shame that Bill Bixby was taken from us when he was. Like Christopher Reeve, he was irreplaceable.


    • King Hulk,speaking of movies and old actors I was watching some old episodes of the Wild Wild West. Ross Martin,who played Artemis Gordon,who have been a good choice for the Beast in a X-men movie. Martin died nearly 30 years ago however.


      • I have seen afew episodes of this series so, I can see where you are coming from.

        Would definitely have been an intersting take on the character.

        Well done that man!


  2. I agree that this was better than the previous Thor one… Daredevil was easier to incorporate into the TV Hulk’s world. Thor is mystic and magic… but Daredevil still has roots in reality and science, so I think that made the fit easier. I also liked the courtroom scene! I won’t say more because of the spoiler for anyone who hasn’t watched.

    I had heard about plans for a possible Spider-Man one… and that they had reached out to the actor who played the part on those Spider-Man TV movies before. I also have heard Ferigno talking about the possible plans for a Hulk movie where he learned to talk.

    I’m also reminded that the TV series itself was ended prematurely. I’ve read that the 5th season was surprise canceled and the showrunners thought they had a whole season that year… and also that they had plans on how to end the show IF they had been given warning and allowed to write/produce those final episodes properly instead of just being canceled and told to stop working.

    I forget all the names of my favorite episodes.. but some are:

    The original Pilot that started it all! Great stuff.. and I was young enough watching it brand new at the time that the Hulk-out scene in the rain AND the Frankenstein-inspired scene were actually scary.

    The Amnesia 2-parter where he is traveling with Jack McGee and neither of them know until the very end.

    The 2nd season premiere “Married” episode was every bit as tragic as the original pilot.

    “The First” 2-parter where he finds out that there was another gamma-induced monster before him.

    “Prometheus” 2-parter where we got the halfway metamorphosis (that was also scary) and the Hulk being captured mistakenly as an Alien!

    The episode where in trying to cure himself he unleashes his dark side… and we get a sleezy Banner + a dangerous Hulk.

    There are other gems in there too… but those pop to mind.

    I also liked the final “Death of” movie… and find that it has as much re-watchability as my favorite episodes of the TV series.


    • Interview with the Hulk and Homecoming, the latter with David’s Father are also two very good episodes.
      Ironic that we meet the tv Banner’s father almost 5 years before the comic book Hulk’s dad.


    • Thanks King Hulk. Which part are you talking about? The homecoming episode with David Banner’s father?The fact it was 5 years before Mantlo’s famous issue? Or both?


  3. The fact that it is 5 yrs difference to when we meet Banner’s father on TV to when he debuts in the comics. Both versions are totally different to one another.


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