Eric Bana failed to make the Hulk interesting for a whole movie. Edward Norton failed to make the Hulk interesting for a whole movie. But Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk has had a major role in five whole movies in the MCU now and he still hasn’t ceased to be an interesting character.
So, what is it? What’s Ruffalo’s secret? It’s quite simple, really. His Hulk is constantly evolving. His characterization in each movie is not the same as the last, and he always develops in some way throughout the movie. So, here are 10 Times Hulk’s Characterization Completely Changed In The MCU.
10 When he was suddenly played by Mark Ruffalo
The Hulk was technically the second Avenger to be introduced into the MCU. He was played by Edward Norton in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, which was reasonably successful at the box office and satisfied regular moviegoers if not avid Hulk fans.
Norton proved difficult to work with and Marvel decided to replace him with Mark Ruffalo, who has played the Hulk in the MCU starting with 2012’s The Avengers. Ruffalo still doesn’t have his own solo movie, which fans have been clamoring for ever since he burst onto the screen as the third-time-lucky big-screen Hulk who finally got it right.
9 When he got his anger under control
In The Avengers, despite a short blip where he was under Loki’s spell and went on a rampage after Black Widow aboard the Helicarrier, Bruce Banner had surprisingly managed to get his anger under control.
The other Avengers didn’t know how he’d managed to do it, as he was swapping seamlessly in and out of the Hulk persona during the Battle of New York. His secret? “I’m always angry.” This control led to some classic moments, like when he punches Thor across the room or when he calls Loki a “puny god.” In the end, he’s the one who rescues Iron Man.
8 When he became Tony Stark’s personal psychiatrist
This was just in the post-credits scene tagged on the end of Iron Man 3, but it still implied that Tony had been using up a lot of Banner’s time by making him his personal psychiatrist. This was supposedly to get him through the PTSD he incurred when he went through a wormhole and blew up an alien fleet in outer space, fully expecting not to make it out alive.
Banner deals with plenty of trauma and guilt and mixed feelings over his double life as the Hulk where he uncontrollably destroys cities and terrorizes people, so he really didn’t need Tony piling on top of that.
7 When he was the Avengers’ backup who needed to be soothed with a lullaby
Since the Hulk is the most dangerous and unpredictable Avenger, by Avengers: Age of Ultron, Earth’s mightiest heroes had decided to only use him when it was absolutely necessary, and so he became the team’s reluctant Plan B.
He would wait on the Quinjet until his buddies said the situation was “Code Green,” and then he’d let the beast out of the cage to come in and save them. They worked out a protocol where he could be brought back down to Banner level by a lullaby spoken by Black Widow or, failing that, get suppressed by Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armor.
6 When he started dating Black Widow
Whenever a franchise becomes popular and its characters and their dynamics become generally known, the fans of that franchise start to pair up those characters, imagining which of them would get together. But of all the MCU ‘ships, Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff was not one of them.
Banner’s love interest is traditionally Betty Ross in the comics – and she was even introduced in the MCU, played by Liv Tyler – but Joss Whedon decided to give him a new love interest. It’s fair to say that the romance was interesting for plot development, since they then became the MCU’s star-crossed lovers.
5 When he became independent
At the end of Age of Ultron, after ejecting Ultron from his ship, the Hulk strapped himself in and took off to an uncertain fate, leaving behind Nat and everyone else Banner cared about. We didn’t know where he was going or what he was doing or where he’d end up. It was a surprising plot twist, since it interrupted the movie’s happy ending.
Nat herself had pushed Banner off of a ledge to get him to turn into the Hulk and save Sokovia, and now, he wasn’t coming back. This was the beginning of the Hulk becoming his own character, completely independent of Banner. Two years later, in Thor: Ragnarok, we’d find out eventually where he went.
4 When he found work as a gladiator on Sakaar
Thanks to rights issues tied up with Universal, Marvel Studios couldn’t make their own Hulk solo film with Mark Ruffalo, and fans were desperate to see the “Planet Hulk” storyline from the comics adapted for the big screen. Marvel managed to reconcile these two facts with Thor: Ragnarok, which was technically a Thor solo movie that doubled up as a Hulk movie.
The plot saw Thor spat out of a wormhole on the distant planet of Sakaar and forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena by the Grandmaster – only to discover that the Hulk had become the Grandmaster’s star gladiator.
3 When he was killed by Thanos and then resurrected and sent to Earth by Heimdall
In the opening scene of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos boarded the Asgardians’ ship and wiped out most of them. Then the Hulk tried to take him on and was killed within seconds. Heimdall was there to resurrect him and send him to Doctor Strange’s house on Earth, but it was still a hugely important moment in his character development.
The Hulk could always be depended on. Tony Stark made his passcode in the Quinjet “strongest Avenger,” because that’s what he is. And he was arrogant about that, thinking he could take on anyone. When Thanos killed him, it changed him forever.
2 When he refused to come out and play for the whole of Infinity War
After being killed by Thanos, the Hulk spent the whole runtime of Infinity War refusing to come out of Banner. Banner had to actually reason with him and ask him to come out and join the battle in Wakanda, but the Hulk refused.
In the end, Banner had to learn how to use the Hulkbuster armor – the armor that was designed to suppress his own supposedly out-of-control alter ego – just so that he had something to contribute in the fight against Thanos and his armies. This was perhaps the most interesting Hulk development yet, as it gave him the kind of Jekyll/Hyde duality he has in the comics.
1 When he compromised with Banner and became “Professor Hulk”
The latest re-characterization of the Hulk in the MCU came as quite a surprise in Avengers: Endgame. In the five-year time jump between “the Decimation” and Scott Lang’s escape from the Quantum Realm, he’d come to terms with the Hulk and they’d compromised to share their body as “Professor Hulk.”
The new version of the Hulk has the monstrous size, immeasurable strength, and green skin of the Hulk, and the brains, communication skills, and mild-mannered nature of Banner. It looks as though he’ll also be permanently damaged from his use of Tony Stark’s homemade Infinity Gauntlet, but he’s still Professor Hulk operating a time machine at the end of Endgame.