Before The MCU: THOR - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Before The MCU: THOR

In which we look at life before the Marvel Cinematic Universe for some of its most popular superheroes.

As you are all very aware, Chris Hemsworth plays Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. First starring in Thor (2011), and subsequently appearing in The Avengers (2012), Thor: The Dark World (2013), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). Hemsworth also cameos in the mid-credits scene of Doctor Strange (2016), and is set to reprise the role in 2022 for Thor: Love And Thunder.

But, before the MCU the character of Thor had already appeared in a live action film, albeit one that was made for television. That film was The Incredible Hulk Returns...

The Incredible Hulk TV series, starring Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as The Hulk, had run for five seasons from 1978 to 1982. It's continuing popularity in syndication lead to a revival via a 1988 made-for-TV movie, The Incredible Hulk Returns.

Unlike the preceding series which was produced by MCA/Universal, this film was produced by New World Television (New World was Marvel's owner at the time) and Bill Bixby's production outfit, which, in association with NBC, took over the Hulk television franchise from former broadcaster CBS. Bill Bixby recruited Nicholas Corea, who wrote and/or directed many episodes of the Incredible Hulk TV series, to write and direct The Incredible Hulk Returns. Stan Lee was a consultant on the film. Interestingly, Kenneth Johnson, the creator/executive producer (and sometimes writer/director) of the TV series, was not invited to contribute to the film.

In The Incredible Hulk Returns, David Banner meets former student Donald Blake (played by Steve Levitt) who has a magical hammer that summons Thor (played by Eric Allan Kramer), a Norse god who is prevented from entering Valhalla. The plan was for this television movie to act as a springboard for further Incredible Hulk made-for-TV movies of the week and a backdoor pilot for a television series featuring Thor.

An over-the-top performance, Eric Allan Kramer played the Norse god with more than a degree of tongue-in-cheek. Much like the television treatment of the Hulk, Thor's backstory was altered from his original comic book appearance: while in the comics Donald Blake and Thor shared the same body and could transform by use of an enchanted cane, Thor is here depicted as being a servant of Blake and they are two separate entities, though he is still depicted as having been banished to Earth by Odin for being an arrogant and irresponsible warrior.

The producers chose to keep Thor more in line with his Viking roots by dressing him up in fur, leather and a metal breastplate instead of the more familiar red and blue outfit. His status here as the "god of thunder" is ambiguous (though he does once claim to be the "son of Odin"), and his powers are heavily limited with Mjolnir, his hammer, not restricted by the "worthiness enchantment".

The Incredible Hulk Returns is notable as being the final appearance by Jack Colvin as Jack McGee ("Mr. Mcgee, don't make me angry...") and the first time another character from the Marvel Universe or any genuinely supernatural or otherworldly elements appeared in the universe of The Incredible Hulk TV series. It also preceded by almost three decades the two characters next team-up film adventure, Thor: Ragnarok (although, of course, Thor and the Hulk did appear on-screen together in 2012's The Avengers and its 2015 sequel).

The Incredible Hulk Returns was a major ratings success, outdoing even the high expectations directed to it as a reunion of the Incredible Hulk TV series. Despite the success, obviously the Thor live-action television series never materialised, but two more made for television movies for The Incredible Hulk did though; 1989's The Trial Of The Incredible Hulk and 1990's The Death Of The Incredible Hulk.

So after the ratings success why wasn't the Thor TV series produced? Or at least a further pilot developed? Well in late 1989 Sam Raimi and Stan Lee pitched the concept of a Thor feature film to 20th Century Fox. With Stan Lee heavily involved with this at the time, this may be why the Thor TV series was never further explored. But in 1990, during the early stages of the proposed feature film's development, Fox lost interest, claiming to not fully understand Raimi's and Lee's idea and the project was abandoned. The character of Thor would not return in a further live-action adventure until 2011.

But it's the 1989 Hulk feature we will turn to next as it includes an early appearance for another MCU character. A character who is heavily rumoured to make the jump from the small to big screen in the upcoming MCU Phase Four Spider-man film. Can you guess who?

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