If you ask Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, Avengers star Mark Ruffalo, or Guardians of the Galaxy writer-director James Gunn about the potential for a Planet Hulk story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe they will say (and have repeatedly said) the same thing; There are no plans for Planet Hulk/World War Hulk adaptations, nor are there plans for a new standalone, solo Hulk movie.

So where is Bruce Banner a.k.a. Hulk going at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron and what’s next for the character? Rumors indicated that the original plan was to see Hulk fly off at the end of the Avengers sequel in the team’s Quinjet into space but that turned out not to be the case so he’s seemingly somewhere on Earth, hiding in isolation. As we learned this week however, when Hulk returns it will be in a story off-Earth.

Mark Ruffalo has four more movies on this contract with Marvel but readily admits it could be extended. It was confirmed last week that he’s currently finalizing his deal to appear in Thor: Ragnarok where – as also reported last week – he’ll have a major role in a cosmic buddy adventure with Chris Hemsworth. And he’ll be on a planet that we understand is neither Asgard nor Earth…

Thor Hulk Asgard Marvel How & Why Does Hulk Leave Earth For Thor: Ragnarok?

Thor and Hulk Team-up for Ragnarok

Does that mean he’s on some sort of Planet Hulk style alien world or simply another one of the Nine Realms from Marvel’s take on Norse Mythology? That’s question one. Question two is how and why Hulk gets there.

We suspect the story of Thor: Ragnarok – which reportedly will have another new writer joining the creative team to lighten its tone because it’s apparently too dark – will be mostly set off-Earth. And given the film title and effect it’ll have on the MCU as described by Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, we should be seeing Muspelheim, home of Surtur and the Fire Demons who are integral to the story of Ragnarok. But how does Hulk get involved in that mess? Here’s what the basic options boil down to:

  1. Thor recruits Hulk to help him save the universe.
  2. Thor rescues Hulk who’s been taken off-Earth by Loki or some other alien antagonist.
  3. A third party on Earth sends Hulk off-world.

For Thor 3 to bring back supporting cast members Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), parts of the film must bring the titular hero back to Earth. Given the all-seeing powers of Asgardian guard Heimdall (Idris Elba), Thor could potentially seek his assistance in locating Banner to bring him up off-world that way, perhaps even offering to help Banner in his quest of distancing himself from areas populated with innocent lives where he could be a danger.

Next Page: Planet Hulk & Doctor Strange Connections

Planet Hulk Korg Thor 2 The Dark World How & Why Does Hulk Leave Earth For Thor: Ragnarok?

Planet Hulk’s Korg in Thor: The Dark World

Given how much of a smackdown Hulk laid upon “puny god” Loki at the end of the first Avengers movie, and knowing Loki is sitting on the throne of Asgard in disguise as Odin, we can also envision a scenario where Loki, continuing to abuse his powers, has taken Hulk and placed him into some dangerous arena (sort of Planet Hulk style) for his amusement and revenge. If you recall, Thor: The Dark World featured a major Hulk Easter Egg by including Planet Hulk’s Korg in its opening battle sequence. And the planet where Planet Hulk takes place in the comics is home to the Sakaraan, the antagonist army featured in Guardians of the Galaxy.

The last, and perhaps most unlikely option, is that someone on Earth helps Banner get off-world. Someone like Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who will be introduced in his own movie next fall has the power to do so. There are ties to a certain artifact in Odin’s vault on Asgard to the mystical powers of Strange so we can see a scenario where Doctor Strange pops up in Thor 3 too. After all, Hulk served with Strange in the original Defenders team in the comics and the two fought against each other in the World War Hulk story.

Doctor Strange vs Hulk How & Why Does Hulk Leave Earth For Thor: Ragnarok?

When we spoke with Kevin Feige around the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron at the beginning of summer we asked him what’s next for the Hulk and he played coy, saying he doesn’t know. When we followed up looking for hints on if he left Earth Feige replied “We will have to see. We will have to see.”

It’s difficult to know at this point how long Hulk’s role in a third Thor movie was part of the Phase 3 plan, especially given that the character was originally set to appear in Captain America: Civil War. But with Hulk now playing a lead in Thor: Ragnarok, we can only hope to see the film take some cues from the comics where Hulk starts to sport weapons and armor as part of the Planet Hulk/World War Hulk stories. Marvel Studios could even draw some inspiration from the more recent “Fear Itself” crossover event in Marvel Comics where Hulk is one of several characters to pick up and wield a Mjolnir-like mystical weapon that drives him mad, but also enhances power and indestructibility.

Anything to keep Hulk interesting… and to keep selling those toys. How and why do you think Hulk shows up in Thor 3?

More: What Are Marvel’s 3 New Mystery Movies Releasing in 2020?

Captain America: Civil War will release on May 6, 2016, followed by Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 28, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans – July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.