Hulk may have taken a beating in Avengers: Infinity War, but his absence from the rest of the movie was NOT out of "fear" of Thanos, as many fans assumed. That's according to the film's director, who says Hulk's reasoning means far bigger things for his role in the MCU going forward.
The point of clarification has arrived thanks to the digital release of Infinity War, detailing plenty of deleted scenes and making-of secrets for Avengers fans. The director's commentary may not drop any massive bombshells where Hulk is concerned, but it does help to explain what Infinity War was supposed to communicate about Bruce Banner, Hulk, and their problematic relationship.
Hulk turns his back on Banner and the Avengers all right, but it's not because he's afraid of a rematch with Thanos.
Most viewers will remember the first appearance of the Hulk in Infinity War, arriving at Loki's cue to ambush Thanos, and attempt to get the upper hand. But even without using the Power Stone already in his possession, the lumbering Thanos dispatches Hulk, barely taking a single blow in the process. A perfect demonstration of his supremacy in combat and, as many deduced, a shocking defeat and blow to the Hulk's psyche.
From that point on, the Hulk doesn't just refuse to emerge when Bruce Banner requests it, but can be heard (and eventually seen) struggling to resist, sounding just as desperate to stay out of the fight. According to director Joe Russo, that refusal to take part is a major evolution for the Hulk and Banner. But it's not a sign that the musclebound gladiator has finally learned what it means to be afraid of a stronger opponent:
This was an interesting journey we went on with Banner, trying to decide how we move him forward in the Marvel Universe. What makes him unique as a character is that there is a host body that is being fought over by two distinct personalities who hate each other. And both want control of the host body. So we thought an interesting direction to take him in is what if Banner, who typically uses the Hulk to solve crisis situations, what if the Hulk were no longer interested in solving those problems for Banner? So that the relationship is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. That's what's going on here.
People have speculated whether there was some fear on the Hulk's part about having to face Thanos again. But I think ultimately what it is, is that he's tired of playing hero to Bruce Banner.
Fans who disliked the idea that the Hulk would shrink from a fight will probably appreciate this explanation, since it arguably puts Hulk in a position of power over Banner, not submission. That being said, it will raise some problems when trying to track the larger story of Bruce Banner and the Hulk in the MCU. Especially since it doesn't really follow from his major leap forward in Thor: Ragnarok.
The directors and writers of Infinity War openly mention the fact that they were building their own story before Ragnarok was even set in stone, meaning the opening of the film following Ragnarok's conclusion was a post-production connection, not charted out ahead of time. So it's no real mystery why the Hulk dynamic seen in the Thor sequel - in which Banner sacrifices himself to save the day, allowing Hulk what may be permanent control - is abandoned altogether (and possibly directly contradicted). Instead, the Hulk of Infinity War is assumed to be the subdued monster being used as a weapon when called upon. A role he now opposes in the opposite sense, refusing to be used only to let Banner regain control.
It's possible that the Russos are leading the split-personality hero towards a synthesis into Professor Hulk for The Avengers 4, and Russo's description of Hulk's resentment could support it. But until then, fans can rest easy knowing that Hulk's decision to miss the final fight in Wakanda was a choice fueled by frustration, and not fear.
How do you Avengers fans feel about the explanation? Is a resentful Hulk willing to let Banner be killed better than one now familiar with fear?
The Avengers: Infinity War is available now for digital and streaming, coming to Blu-ray on August 14th.