Though there's still half a year left before Captain America: Civil War kicks off Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, attention is already being shifted to another big event in the MCU. In 2017, Thor: Ragnarok will see Thor Odinson leaving Midgard as danger looms in the other realms.
While seeing Thor and his brother Loki back in action is exciting, the most interesting aspect of the film is that Mark Ruffalo's Hulk will play an important role in Ragnarok. Thus far, Ruffalo's Hulk has been kept in a supporting role, only appearing in the two Avengers films. The character was an instant fan-favorite, but complications with distribution and (more importantly) the difficulty of adapting the Hulk as a standalone character have prevented any plans for a future solo film.
Unfortunately, despite his expanded role in Thor 3, another Hulk solo film remains unlikely. Ruffalo's contract is for six films, and though Marvel cut the character from Civil War to "save him," it doesn't appear the studio is saving him for his own adventure or the often rumored Planet Hulk movie.
Speaking with USA Today, Ruffalo confirmed his character isn't any closer to a standalone film today than he was three years ago.
"Actually, it feels even further away. It's not Marvel's property, it's Universal's property. I don't know. It seems really problematic. I've been around long enough to be OK with it. There's only so much that's in my power and I'm not going to agonize over what is not in my power... I'd love to do it, it'd be really fun. There's a lot still to do with the character. I always try to think about different places we could go with him."
Universal doesn't own the character rights to the Hulk, but the studio still holds the distribution rights if Marvel were make another standalone film. Paramount distributed around half of the MCU films and Sony will be distributing the upcoming Spider-Man film, so the distribution deal is likely not the biggest factor against a solo Hulk film.
Ruffalo recently stated that he hopes to see Dr. Bruce Banner and the Hulk separated at some point in the MCU. The actor is pushing for the storyline and elaborated on his reasoning during the interview.
"I'm angling for it. I don't know if it'll happen now, but at some point I'd like to see it happen. When I was doing 'Age of Ultron' - doing the Scarlet Witch acid trip scenes - it really took me a long time to figure out what the Hulk would be afraid of. And then I realized, it was Banner. That relationship is what we're all so into, but we've never seen them in the same scene together... I always imagined that that could be pretty exciting if we could pull it off."
Finally, the actor expanded a little on his comments that Thor: Ragnorok will be akin to a "buddy picture" for Thor and the Hulk, while also seemingly confirming that Loki will be coming along for the ride.
"I don't know what the story is yet, but it'll be [Loki] and Thor, and then I'll be in there here and there. But I don't know any of the particulars yet... Chris [Hemsworth] and I have a really good time together, we goof off and play around when Tom Hiddleston is around. So it'll be a lot of funny back-and-forth... It'll have that kind of antagonistic 'Odd Couple'-thing going on."
Though many hope to eventually see the Planet Hulk story adapted for the MCU, it may be too early for that particular story. That storyline is antagonistic, with members of the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. involved in jettisoning the Hulk away from Earth. While Civil War will see the first extensive conflict between the heroes of the MCU, it's too soon to have them betraying their ally so completely. Putting the character into Ragnarok is a better move, allowing the expansion of the character while growing his relationship with the Avengers' other heavy hitter.
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.