Since its introduction in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the relationship between The Hulk and Black Widow has been a source of debate and controversy. It has not been the most popular relationship introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff meeting up again in Infinity War, the developments since the second Avengers movie are adding up.
The relationship between the two began as they worked together on a kind of failsafe to calm The Hulk down. This was a major part of Age of Ultron, for better or worse. By the movie's end, The Hulk had set off in the Quinjet and things were left uncertain.
Since Joss Whedon created their relationship, a lot has changed. We've seen both characters grow since they separated at the end of Age of Ultron. Widow joined in the superpowered Civil War, at first fighting by the side of Tony Stark and ending up on the run with Cap and the rest of the rebel Avengers. Meanwhile, The Hulk had made his way out into distant space, on the planet Sakaar where he joined up with Thor for the events of Ragnarok.
To mark their meeting in Inifinity War, here are The Avengers: 15 Crazy Secrets About Black Widow And The Hulk’s Relationship. Beware there are some minor spoilers!
15 THEY NEVER DATED IN THE COMICS
The MCU's creators have always had to toy with similarities to the comics. Fans expect certain relationships and stories to play out, but the many directors and writers for the movies also have to provide fresh experiences. For many, the unprecedented relationship between Bruce and Natasha was a huge step away from the comics, where the two have very different love interests. In fact, in the comics there is very little interaction between the two. This is especially the case for Widow, who has had relationships with two of the other Avengers in the MCU: Hawkeye and Iron Man. For fans for Hawkeye and Widow's pairing in the comics,
Age of Ultron was a double whammy: not only were viewers introduced to Hulktasha, but they learned that Clint Barton had an entire secret family.
Banner's comics love interests haven't featured much in the recent MCU flicks - though his major love interest Betty Ross featured in both The Hulk solo films. Hulk's more cosmic adventures have given him quite a number of relationships with aliens and other beings. Joe Russo defended Whedon's departure from the comics. He said "we don’t directly translate the comics to the films — why go see the films when you know how it’s going to end? And it isn’t a translation. It’s our interpretation for the MCU."
14 JOHANSSON CALLS THE TROUBLED PAIR "KINDRED SPIRITS"
During the press tour for Age of Ultron, both Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo answered many questions about the new relationship. In a featurette for the movie, Johansson gave some of her views on the subject. "They both have pasts they're not really able to face. It's sort of a kindred spirit," she said.
The movie definitely aimed to show this, as it filled in a lot more of Black Widow's backstory. One of the core parts of Black Widow's story revolves around the red in her ledger. Similarly, Banner loses control when he becomes The Hulk and a big part of his character in the movies and comics is guilt and regret. Both characters have also undergone physical and mental transformations to get to the superhuman heroes they are in The Avengers. Both of these transformations have limited their ability to have children, a fact the movie focuses on.
In an interview with the LA Times for Age of Ultron, Whedon revealed another similarity that drew inspiration from the comics. " [There was] a newer comic about Black Widow, and it made the distinction, “You’re not a superhero, you’re a spy.” Like the combination of hero and monster The Hulk shows, Widow balances between the duplicity and danger of a spy and the icon of a superhero. Whedon suggested both characters are the outsiders of the group, as well as being "ordinary Joes, in a way."
13 THE SUN'S GETTING REAL LOW IS A REFERENCE
One of the strategies The Avengers have for dealing with The Hulk is to try and calm the big guy down. Whether it is purely their relationship, or some kind of post-hypnotic suggestion technique, Black Widow and The Hulk have a ritual that helps return him back to Banner. The phrase "The sun's getting real low" isn't just a calming image. Whedon wanted the calming scene to have as little talking as possible, which suggests that this line must be important.
Keen-eyed fans have spotted that it may be a biblical reference. In Ephesians 4:26, there is a commandment "do not let the sun go down on your anger." As that very emotion is what turns Bruce Banner into The Hulk, the reference does make a lot of sense. Whether this was intentional or not isn't clear.
It isn't the only clever reference in the ways The Avengers manage The Hulk if he gets out of control. When Scarlet Witch sends The Hulk on a rampage, Widow can't calm him down. Instead, Iron Man has to break out "Veronica", or the Hulkbuster armor. Veronica is named after the Archie comics character, a rival love interest to Archie's Betty, who shares a name with Banner's comics love interest.
12 MARK RUFFALO EXPLAINS THEIR CONNECTION
Mark Ruffalo really likes the relationship between Bruce and Natasha. In press interviews for Age of Ultron he said "As far as all the superheroes go, they're kind of in a weird way the most similar and so there's a lot of comfort that they find in each other. They understand each other." This explains why the calming technique Widow uses in Age of Ultron works. "Widow seems to be the only one who can interface with the Hulk," he said.
In Thor: Ragnarok, Thor hilariously tries to use "The sun's getting real low" to stop The Hulk, to the point of repeating it endlessly. Clearly, Thor doesn't have the same connection to The Hulk, though Widow's psychological espionage skills may also be a part of what makes the hypnotic technique work.
Reacting to the backlash against the relationship on Reddit, Ruffalo added some more of his views. "If anything, Black Widow is much stronger than Banner. She protects him. She does her job, and basically they begin to have a relationship as friends," he wrote. According to Ruffalo, Whedon's intention was to highlight this as a character strength for Natasha Romanoff. He certainly feels that their relationship isn't the problem, but rather that it was the lack of female heroes in general that made the romance become problematic.
11 BANNER'S BURNING DESIRE
In the run up to Age of Ultron, Johansson and Ruffalo often gave interviews together about their characters. In one interview, the two discuss the fact that Mark Ruffalo felt from the very first scene of them together that Bruce and Natasha would make an interesting couple.
Johansson joking says "Apparently Mark saw it all along," and she goes on to tease Ruffalo. "You kind of felt like we had this burning desire from Avengers 1." Ruffalo sheepishly tries to deny it, but Johansson doesn't let him get away. "You even wanted to name our backstory 'Burning Desire'." While it makes Ruffalo sound like an Avengers fan fiction writer, he replies "Well that's true, that's definitely true."
He goes on to say that their meeting felt important. "I did know when she showed up and she found Banner in the middle of India that something was happening between those two people."
It might explain why Ruffalo still seems to hold a candle for the couple, as he has been invested in the relationship since his very first Marvel movie. He also chalks up not only his chemistry with Johansson's character, but the tone of the movies in general, to great behind the scenes relationships.
10 MTV GOT A COUPLES COUNSELLOR IN FOR THE PAIR
While the Hulktasha buzz was happening for Age of Ultron, MTV decided to call in Terry Klee, a professional psychotherapist, to give their view on the relationship. She gave a few points about what might make the fictional couple work. Her main point was that "opposites attract" for the stuttering and shy Bruce Banner and the confident Natasha Romanoff.
Another point that echoes much of what both Johansson and Ruffalo said in press discussions was that they "bring out the best in one another".
Klee focused on the hidden sides of both characters, and how those sides can relate to one another. And while she certainly didn't romanticize the anger issues the Hulk displays, she emphasized that they are something that humanizes an otherwise monstrous character. "He's in as much pain as he causes. In a real relationship, everyone is super hurting," she wrote.
Ultimately, the discussion highlighted what both actors saw in the relationship: "they recognize each other's baggage." Their shared experiences and traumatic past help them to understand each other. It probably doesn't hurt that in the time between the first and second Avengers movies the two worked closely with one another. Whether fans agree is a different question, though.
9 STAR-CROSSED LOVERS?
In the buildup to Infinity War, fans speculated a lot about what, if anything, we would see of this relationship. News and rumours abounded about what would happen, given that the movie was so full of plot already. It would be the first time the pair was united after Age of Ultron and both stars weighed in with their views. Like any messy split, the two had quite different takes on the relationship going forward.
Ruffalo holds a positive outlook. In an interview with Screen Rant, he likened the couple to Romeo and Juliet: "they're star crossed lovers, so it'll be something they're dealing with for the rest of their living days I think. Whether it's requited or unrequited, I don't imagine that's gonna go away any time soon in one iteration or another."
On the other hand, Johansson took a more negative view. In her interview with Screen Rant, she seemed to close the door on the relationship, since Romanoff "ins't a sentimental person". Johansson said "I think they both kind of needed to see this sort of heroic decision the last time they saw one another, that they were going to sacrifice their own personal desire for the greater good. And that’s happened and move on."
8 RUSSO ALSO THINKS IT'S OVER
Unfortunately for the Hulktasha shippers, including it seems Mark Ruffalo, Infinity War's director Joe Russo also thinks that the relationship is over for the two of them. At a question and answer session at an Iowa high school before Infinity War's release, Joe Russo was quizzed about the controversial couple. His response was quite telling.
He emphasized that the direction for the relationship came from Joss Whedon. He said "I think Joss was trying to find interesting ways of pairing up the characters and create dynamics between them," before acknowledging the general feeling that the experiment wasn't a success. However, he didn't dismiss the decision, instead explaining how the intervening films and the latest MCU movie covered the relationship's fallout.
He concluded that "There's sort of unspoken truth that there's need to be a spoken resolution." After two years (at least for Black Widow, as Banner lost his sense of time on Sakaar), it makes sense that she has moved on. There have even been suggestions that part of her moving on process may have involved her fellow fugitive hero Captain America, but in her interview with Screen Rant, Johansson emphatically said that relationship was platonic.
Perhaps the next movie will give us more to see between Romanoff and Banner.
7 WHEDON ADDRESSES RIVAL RELATIONSHIP
In the comics, Hawkeye and Widow share a popular and intimate relationship. Given the closeness of their MCU incarnations in the first Avengers movie, fans may have expected the same. That expectation was at the heart of a lot of fan criticism of Hulk and Widow's relationship. When addressing his decision, Whedon explained his decision for the direction he took the characters.
In a discussion with Empire, he said "I know a lot of people are quite angry about it. Mostly because of Clint, I guess, and sometimes Steve. Everybody wants what they want." He then went on to explain his choice to explore other romances for the characters. He wanted to dodge the expectation that the two have to be in a relationship to explain their closeness.
Whedon said it's more "romantic" that there could be two people who "would die for each other" but aren't romantic partners at all.
He dismissed the Hawkeye and Black Widow relationship as both obvious and less interesting as a relationship. He also dismissed the criticisms from fans who saw a romantic link between Cap and Widow from The Winter Soldier, saying that any romance there was never the intent of the team.
6 JOHANSSON'S INFINITY WAR REUNION DEVASTATION
Acting is an emotionally demanding process and for a movie as emotional as Infinity War, it was even more so. For Johansson, the long-awaited meeting between Bruce and Natasha took a heavy toll. After filming their muted reunion in Wakanda, Johansson said "I had such devastation that day, I don't know why." In the interview, she unpacks the situation a little more. She describes the feeling between Bruce and Black Widow as "Something that should feel so solid, and suddenly doesn't." This is yet another blow for the relationship, and the awkwardness in the moment is so palpable even Falcon calls it out in the scene.
Johansson continued to say in the interview that the emotions in the scene reminded her of some events in her own life. She said: "Just being able to bring all of that to work and examine it and play with it" with the help of Mark Ruffalo was a very helpful experience.
The plot of Infinity War was really full to bursting and so there was almost no time to really unpack the relationship more than was given. Fans are already wondering now what will happen for The Hulk and Black Widow in Avengers 4. Especially with the ongoing tension between Bruce Banner's two sides in the movie, Widow might have some role to play.
5 THE AVENGERS CARTOONS FLIP THE SCRIPT MORE
While there is very little between Hulk and Black Widow in the comics, the two Avengers cartoons have taken the pair in two more directions. Neither cartoon explored the romance from the MCU. Instead, viewers got to see how Hulk and Widow might work as trusted friends and as frenemies.
In Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, we see very little of Bruce Banner as The Hulk insists on staying in charge. In this incarnation, the two have a very adversarial relationship, with Widow initially bringing The Hulk down on behalf of SHIELD. As she moves from being a SHIELD agent to side with the Avengers, they become uneasy allies thanks to Hawkeye.
On the other hand, in the newer Avengers Assemble cartoon, the two share a trusting relationship. The two work together when the other Avengers are exposed to Gamma Radiation and Hulk out. Together, Black Widow and Hulk retrieve a device built by Banner that can reverse the effects of the Gamma Radiation. By the episode's end, Hulk entrusts the device to Black Widow. In other episodes they share time together, with Hulk asking about Black Widow's past. While not the romance of the MCU, it is interesting to see another take on the heroes who share troubled histories.
4 THE RELATIONSHIP WAS ONE OF ULTRON'S BIG CONTROVERSIES
From the release of the second Avengers movie, the relationship was at the center of concerns from both fans and critics. The relationship caused a big stir among fans, with Joe Russo recently saying "I know it seems to be a generally unpopular choice. You know, you can't win them all."
The relationship also received some critical questioning, as many reviewers felt it limited Black Widow's role in Age of Ultron. In her previous outings, like Captain America: The Winter Solider, Widow's fighting and espionage skills were front and center. While she did a fair bit of those in Age of Ultron, some writers were concerned about the romanticized role Widow plays in managing The Hulk's anger. Others focused on the somewhat stereotypical backstory of frustrated maternal instincts. Most agreed, though, that the film didn't develop the reasons for their love in enough detail.
The relationship was also seen in a broader context of controversy about female superheroes at the time. Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans made some very off-color comments about Black Widow's romantic connections during the press tour and, at the same time, news broke of a leaked email conversation that was critical of female-led superhero films between Sony's Michael Lynton and Marvel Entertainment Chief Executive Ike Perlmutter.
3 SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE DID A SPOOF OF THE RELATIONSHIP
In the storm of controversy around the movie's treatment of Black Widow, Saturday Night Live poked some fun at Marvel's expense. Scarlett Johansson came on the show to create a trailer for a parody Black Widow movie. This was no average superhero flick, though, as their trailer was for a stereotypical rom-com. It even included a little dig at Widow's short-lived and misguided job in the comics as a fashion designer.
While their typical romcom meet-cute played Romanoff against the robotic villain Ultron, the closing moments of the sketch bring Johansson's Black Widow together with a comically created Hulk.
The sketch is not only funny, but it highlights the importance of solid female-led superhero offerings. The MCU isn't only popular with guys and the huge successes of Wonder Woman and Black Panther have show that diverse movies are doing incredibly well in the superhero genre.
Since that sketch, we've had Wonder Woman and next year Marvel will bring Captain Marvel to screens with Brie Larson. Rumours still fly about a real Black Widow solo movie, which apparently has been interviewing for a female director. With Red Sparrow, a movie about a Russian spy played by Jennifer Lawrence, fans of Black Widow are still hoping we'll see Johansson take her own spy out in a solo adventure.
2 RUFFALO AND WHEDON'S IMPROVISED CRADLE PUSH
The first Avenger Bruce meets is Natasha Romanoff. While the romance wasn't planned in the script of the first Avengers movie, the chemistry in that meeting really struck Joss Whedon. While filming, he said he couldn't help but say "They're really good together". Another surprising feature that lent itself to Whedon's thoughts was the set dressing.
Prominently visible in the hut where Widow approaches Banner is a cradle. Whedon hadn't seen the set dressing yet when he wrote Banner's line "I don’t get what I want every time." He suggested to Ruffalo that they add in a little push on the cradle and the actor agreed. Even then, neither knew that by the next Avengers movie the two characters would be in a relationship.
It is one of those moments that is very intresting in hindsight. Certainly both Whedon and Ruffalo felt a building chemistry between the characters. The cradle push is a great moment viewed in contrast to the revelations in Age of Ultron, where parenthood is an issue that both characters grapple with. After Ultron, Whedon looks back at the improvised cradle push as something like subconscious foreshadowing. He told Empire, "we were really just barreling right towards it all along."
1 HULK'S FAREWELL AND JOHANSSON'S FUNNY RESPONSE
The moments that banished The Hulk from the MCU until Thor: Ragnarok are a touching call from Black Widow as The Hulk pilots the Quinjet out into nowhere. Johansson was called in to do some dubbing for this final sequence, as she asks Hulk to come back. Whedon let her see the whole sequence put together and her response to the poignant moment was touchingly humorous.
Whedon told Empire magazine: "She saw that last shot when he’s sitting [in the Quinjet], and the camera’s drifting away from him, and she just goes, 'Oh! It’s so sad! Fat man in a little car...' And that’s the only thing I call that sequence now." Once you see it, you can't unsee the fat man image.
These parting images of The Hulk were a moment that led many fans to rightly speculate we were going to get some kind of Planet Hulk adaptation, even though at the time there were no concrete plans for it.
Whedon had wanted to show Hulk heading into space, but to play it safe Marvel told him "Just sky, no stars!" Luckily Taika Waititi picked up this thread for Thor: Ragnarok, delivering the humorous teamup that would nod to these closing scenes of Age of Ultron.
What do you think? Do you want to see more Hulktasha? Let us know in the comments!