WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Thor: Ragnarok
The time has come for Marvel's god of thunder to cross the universe in Thor: Ragnarok - so how is it possible that the Incredible Hulk already beat him to it? It seems like just yesterday that fans didn't know the first thing about Chris Hemsworth's next Thor adventure, aside from some similarities to the Planet Hulk comic series, and the certainty that director Taika Waititi would make something special. Then came the reveal of the first Thor: Ragnarok trailer, showing Hemsworth's new look, his imprisonment as a gladiator on an alien world, and his very first opponent: Bruce Banner, better known to Marvel fans as the Hulk.
Fans everywhere were just as thrilled as Thor to see his "friend from work" emerge as his surprise opponent, but even before Hulk grimaced and attacked him anyway, a question became obvious: how did Hulk get onto an alien world? It's a question that some speculated on ever since Age of Ultron, once again hoping that a Planet Hulk story would be coming for the big green Avengers mascot. While it's not a solo movie, Hulk certainly has a solo story. And after visiting the set of Thor: Ragnarok and discussing the plot with the filmmakers and stars, we have the answer.
Needless to say, there will be some minor SPOILERS for both Age of Ultron and Ragnarok ahead.
When We Last Saw Hulk
For the Marvel fans out there who may have forgotten the closing minutes of The Avengers: Age of Ultron - or are only now realizing that Hulk has been completely missing since before the Civil War - we'll offer a quick refresher. In the massive showdown in Sokovia, where the Avengers united to eliminate Ultron's entire army of drones, Hulk prevented an entire squadron of the robotic extensions of the villain from escaping by leaping aboard their hijacked Quinjet. The drones went flying comically, and all was well until the heroes saved the day... and Natasha Romanoff contacted Hulk aboard the Quinjet to tell him to come on home. Hulk answered the call, but instead of accepting Nat's calming words as the signal to return to his Bruce Banner form, he cut their line.
The altitude of the Quinjet led many fans to wonder if it was even possible for the aircraft to make the jump to a potential 'Hulk planet,' but the last shot left the plot thread dangling. Hulk, sitting quietly aboard the Quinjet, staring out the cockpit windows into the outer atmosphere. Eventually a transponder showed debris from the Quinjet splashed back down onto the planet, with the Avengers forced to assume that Banner would come back when he was good and ready. After the Scarlet Witch warped his mind and forced him to put thousands of lives in danger - his greatest fear realized - he clearly needed some time away from crimefighting.
And he got it, but not in the way that he expected.
Hulk (Accidentally) Traveled To Sakaar
The above image of Thor post-haircut and gladiator makeover should be enough to get imagination firing enough for even casual fans to put the pieces together. But to understand how the Quinjet could get so far from home, a bit more must be learned about its destination: the planet Sakaar, affectionately referred to on set as the 'landfill of the universe.' Eagle-eyed fans were instantly able to spot the many blue-green portals opening throughout Sakaar's overcast skied, dumping trash and space junk onto the planet's surface (including Thor, who would soon be captured, groomed, and thrust into the gladiator arena). Understanding how Hulk made it from Earth to Sakaar is really no more complicated than recognizing that the same sequence of events happened to him (although with a bit more resistance upon his arrest, we have to assume).
As was explained to us by production designer Dan Hennah (Lord of the Rings), wormholes aren't that uncommon in the MCU's version of outer space. Simply take a wrong turn, get tossed from a faster-than-light trip, and you're likely to wind up washing out of a cosmic sewer pipe smack into Sakaar. Apparently, wormholes exist either close enough to Earth's atmosphere to snag the Quinjet, Hulk and all, or the smashing superhero really did decide to head into the stars and leave his Earthly troubles behind.
We won't spoil how it is that Thor ends up retracing Bruce Banner's footsteps, and can't say for certain just how Hulk's true intentions will be revealed. What we do know is that the ruler of Sakaar knows an entertaining warrior when he sees one. And if Hulk landed in search of a new beginning, or a new mission, it didn't take him long to find it.
Hulk Became Grandmaster's Champion... And Bid Banner Goodbye
An unbeatable, indestructible, rage-fueled warrior with no desire to do anything but start over lands in the lap of The Grandmaster, he doesn't allow it to leave. The Ragnarok trailers have shown Hulk's popularity and prowess as the champion of Sakaar's gladiator games, but everything changes when a friend from Earth he never expected to see comes calling. Hulk is able to recognize Thor even in his more 'primitive' form, and the subsequent trailers have shown Hulk carrying on a conversation with the Asgardian. The trailers also reveal that Bruce Banner will be emerging once again - for the first time in two years. We can't predict the effect it will have on the mind or psyche of either Banner or Hulk, but we know one thing: after spending time and money to keep his champion entertained and satisfied, The Grandmaster isn't likely to appreciate losing him... or the demigod looking to steal him, either.
The events and conflicts that follow are best left unspoiled and enjoyed in the theater when Ragnarok arrives. But at least one major mystery of the MCU can be solved. Of course, Bruce Banner has attempted to take his own life once before. Is it possible his arrival on Sakaar was the result of another such attempt? And if it was, will he actually admit it to Thor? To Nat? That is, assuming he even wants to return to Earth at all. We certainly know how Hulk got to Sakaar - but where he goes from there is anyone's guess.
Thor: Ragnarok advance tickets are now on sale wherever tickets are sold.
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