The Incredible Hulk may not ever get another movie all to himself but he – or some version of the super-strong hero – will always be present in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After taking over the role of Dr. Bruce Banner from Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo signed a lengthy multi-picture contract with Marvel Studios to bring the genius scientist and his angry alter ego (via motion capture) to life and quickly became a fan-favorite.
Like fellow Avengers Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) however, Banner/Hulk is reserved as a supporting character in other, larger movies. And where Widow and Hawkeye are returning next summer in Captain America: Civil War, the Hulk’s next appearance comes the following year in Thor: Ragnarok.
So far in the MCU we’ve seen Banner and Hulk acting as two personalities of one character, with the Avengers team having found a way to calm the beast down using a “lullaby” and building countermeasures to contain the Hulk should something go wrong. That’s where the Veronica weapons platform Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Banner built before the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron came into play, a unit that assembles and supports the “Hulkbuster” armor for Iron Man to wear.
But if you ask Ruffalo, he wants to keep playing the character until he become two characters. Yes, Hulk and Bruce Banner, as two entirely and physically separate beings. He told HuffPost the following when teasing his role in Thor: Ragnarok:
“I play Dr. Bruce Banner, and occasionally I turn into a big green, mean monster… I am excited to keep coming back to this role. I see a lot of space for it to grow. I feel like there’s a lot of cool stuff to explore still, especially the relationship between Banner and Hulk. Hopefully, we’ll see the two of them in a scene together. That would be cool!”
Before you ask, yes, this is possible and has been done more than once in the comics.
So, is that therefore a hint of something to come during the events of Thor: Ragnarok? Will some god-like being or otherworldly magic help Banner free himself of his Hulk alter ego? Could this establish a baseline for new Hulk stories from the comics, and perhaps, the additions of other Hulk characters like Red Hulk?
We’ve discussed at length on the site how characters like Captain America and Thor can continue even without Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth, respectively, and with the idea that Hulk and Banner one day could be two separate beings, we can see a scenario where a future Avengers roster includes a different Hulk entirely.
“I don’t want to overstay my welcome and I hope I never do. If I do, I’ll be the first one to bow out.”
Next Page: Wait, What Other Hulks?
General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) is returning after first appearing in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk for next summer’s Captain America: Civil War. In the books, Ross becomes the smarter, more military Red Hulk who also leads the modern Thunderbolts team (one of our Marvel Phase 4 ideas). That’s one option Marvel could explore long-term if they want to change things up or see some Hulk vs. Hulk action.
There’s also Grey Hulk, the more intelligent Hulk personality of Bruce Banner who appeared frequently in old school Marvel Comics. The special effects teams working on Avengers: Age of Ultron actually designed a grey “berserker” Hulk for use in that film but opted not to use it as to not confuse fans.
And there’s She-Hulk, Skaar (the son of Hulk) and other Hulk-like characters and versions from the comics. A bunch of them teamed up and are featured in Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. animated series on Disney XD so there’s clearly interest in these characters from Marvel’s creative teams.
At San Diego Comic-Con 2014, we spoke with Ruffalo about his role in Avengers: Age of Ultron while it was in production and he spoke on the internal conflict of his character, whether Banner can cope with what the Hulk has done.
“Uhhh… if you ask Banner I feel like he would tell you ‘no.’ There’s only so far that he could ever go before he feels like there’s no coming back and we might have crossed that threshold this time (laughs).”
This explains the Avengers 2 ending where Hulk blasts away with the team’s Quinjet to hide himself in isolation. As far as Banner knows, he cannot kill himself (he tried) and there is no cure so all he can do is hide. Perhaps it’s this reality that plays into how he leaves Earth and joins up with Thor off-world for Ragnarok. Out there in the Nine Realms or other alien worlds could be his salvation… or at least a place he can unleash without endangering innocents.
Next Page: How Can Bruce Banner and Hulk Separate?
In the Mid-80s, a supporting character in The Incredible Hulk comics by the name of Doc Samson (played by Ty Burrell in The Incredible Hulk movie), a psychiatrist and fellow superhero also affected by gamma radiation, finds a way to help Banner and Hulk become two separate people. He gets funding from S.H.I.E.L.D. to create the “Gamma Base” and the result of his experiment there is an even more uncontrollable and violent Hulk and a human Banner stuck in a coma.
Banner eventually awakens and helps takeover Gamma Base to hunt Hulk down. These comic book issues helped set the stage for an even bigger Marvel Comics event years later in 1990 when the different personalities inside Banner vying for control (something we really started to see in Avengers: Age of Ultron and something Mark Ruffalo wishes to continue exploring) agree to work together as one. There begins “smart Hulk.”
Skip forward a few decades and Hulk and Banner separated once again, this time as a result of something Hulk did without Banner knowing. The two battle each other in their minds and at the end of the “Fear Itself” crossover event in 2011, Hulk is seen walking away from a now-separated Banner who is confused and lost. It was surprising and inexplicable at the time, but it was later revealed that Doctor Doom made this happen for Hulk. Doom cloned a body for Banner and performed brain surgery on the Hulk to somehow create two separate but still fully functional beings. That Banner was partly insane so after a while he had to merge with Hulk once again but during all of this were some unique and interesting stories where each personality – when in control – did things the other didn’t know about.
The idea of taking a deeper look into the psyche of Bruce Banner is an interesting one, along with doing more with his intelligence and gamma radiation experiements. A super smart Banner helped join the latest version of the New Avengers/Illuminati in Marvel Comics who were tasked with saving the universe so there’s a lot to do with Banner in future big events we may eventually see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe even if we don’t see another Hulk solo movie. Banner works well with others and Hulk always needs to fight others, so that’s okay. But Hulk can certainly be more than the muscle on the team or another brain for Stark to bounce ideas off of.
Would you still want to see Planet Hulk and World War Hulk adapted in the movies? Should Marvel introduce She-Hulk or Red Hulk? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!
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.
Banner/Hulk image edited from art by rainbowplays1