Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth return to theaters next year in Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, respectively. The following spring, Chris Evans suits up for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and after that, we boldly go where no moviegoer has gone before with Guardians of the Galaxy. All of this leads to the summer of 2015 where the heroes team-up once again in The Avengers 2, leaving Mark Ruffalo and his take on The Hulk with no headlining appearance of his own.
While Bruce Banner is the only character from The Avengers with a live-action TV show in development, he's also the only super-powered member of the team not getting another solo movie. At least not anytime soon, according to Marvel President of Production, Kevin Feige.
Since the first Iron Man launched Marvel Studios into what it is today, all of the talent signing up to join the franchise must do so with lengthy, multi-picture deals. Mark Ruffalo, taking over the role of Banner from Edward Norton, has a six-picture contract with the studio and will be back in a big way over and over again. When and in what stories then, can Hulk be implemented if The Incredible Hulk 2 isn't in the cards, at least for Phase Two of the Marvel cinematic universe?
In chatting with MTV, Feige pondered the possibilities of seeing Hulk return with his own movie, even in an adaptation some of his more recent and outlandish story arcs from the books.
"I don't think there's a lot that we couldn't do someday, as the cinematic universe continues to grow and expand and get as big as the comic book universe. 'Planet Hulk' is a cool story. 'World War Hulk' is a cool story... I think there are pitfalls of continuity-overload, and mythology getting so dense that it almost collapses in on itself. It happens every few decades or so in the comics. Apart from that, I'd say everything is on the table."
"Do I think Hulk can carry a movie and be as entertaining as he was in 'Avengers'? I do believe that. I do believe he absolutely could. We certainly are not even going to attempt that until 'Avengers 2. So there's a lot of time to think about it."
The Phase Two lineup for the next three years has already been set and the only film without a release date is Edgar Wright's Ant-Man which has been teased as a possible third release for 2014, should Wright have time to shoot it after finishing The World's End. That possibility is becoming less and less likely as Marvel Studios continues to demonstrate a hesitation towards the Ant-Man property. In chatting with Louis D'Esposito, Co-President of Marvel Studios, he made it it clear to me that the studio doesn't want to put too much on their plate and stretch their resources thin. Translation: it's possible that Ant-Man could be a second release alongside The Avengers 2 in 2015, the same year Marvel’s President of Consumer Products, Paul Glitter, previously said The Incredible Hulk 2 was planned for.
It comes down to risk vs. reward and The Incredible Hulk was the lowest grossing film of all of the Marvel Studios self-financed productions to date. It made nearly the same money at the box office as Ang Lee's Hulk did years before and for Marvel execs, it makes better business sense to continue expanding the franchise, using the characters that do sell to help launch others. It's the same reason Black Widow and Hawkeye will never get solo spinoffs of their own.
Ruffalo absolutely nailed his performance in The Avengers, becoming a easy fan-favorite. That had a lot to do with the character's supporting role, working off of the other heroes. Feige shares this same sentiment:
"Part of what's fun about the way we played him in 'Avengers' is the ensemble quality of it. I think the pathos and humor, most importantly, that Mark and Joss brought to it showcased a different element of Hulk that's there in the comics, and was always inherent in his character. But when he was so brooding in his other two films, he didn't get to have that wry sense of humor that Mark did such an amazing job performing."
So the question is, where will The Hulk show up next? Fans will be quick to point out that The Avengers ended with the heroes parting ways and Banner taking a spin in Tony Stark's Acura, leading to the belief that they could show up together in Iron Man 3. Feige says a Hulk cameo in IM3 is not happening however, so take that for what you will.
Is Banner off seeking isolation from the world during the events of Phase Two or could be be enlisted as a member or consultant of S.H.I.E.L.D. who could show up in Captain America 2? He has to make an appearance somehere in the next two years before The Avengers 2, right?
Iron Man 3 releases May 3, 2013, Thor: The Dark World on November 8, 2013, Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014 and The Avengers 2 on May 1, 2015.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.
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