[WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for The Avengers: Age of Ultron.]
After having two solo movies (one of which was an MCU reboot) with, at best, a lukewarm reception, the Incredible Hulk rose exponentially in popularity following Mark Ruffalo's scene-stealing turn as Bruce Banner in The Avengers. Many agreed that the actor perfectly captured the essence of the character in his performance, and it didn't hurt that he was also responsible for some standout moments ("I'm always angry," "Puny God").
Despite "the other guy" being more of a fan-favorite than ever, Marvel Studios still has no plans to release a new solo vehicle for the green giant. Discussions about a possible Planet Hulk adaptation pop up ever now and then, but the fact that Universal still owns the rights to standalone Hulk films has served as the primary roadblock for getting such a project off the ground. Still, that doesn't mean the character is not a part of the studio's long-term plans.
Earlier today, we learned that Ruffalo is under contract for at least four more Marvel movies following this summer's The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but where he'll factor in is difficult to place. As fans speculate about Banner's future appearances, new reports have come out detailing what Marvel's plans were. We have no way of knowing if this is still what they have in mind, but readers should be advised that anything below this point can be considered SPOILERS for the MCU.
According to Badass Digest, Hulk ends Age of Ultron in a Quinjet, extremely high above the Earth. However, he has not exited the planet's atmosphere. This is a slight deviation from the earlier rumors that suggested Hulk would end up in space following The Avengers 2, as now his ultimate fate has been left more ambiguous. This opens up plenty of avenues for the filmmakers to go down when it comes to integrating Dr. Banner back into the universe.
The reason why Hulk was initially left floating around outer space was simple: Marvel allegedly intended to use the character in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 as a means of boosting its box office appeal (particularly if last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy did not become a hit). And since Disney/Marvel can't do solo Hulk movies (without making some deal with Universal), this would be a way for them to incorporate elements of the oft-rumored Planet Hulk storyline, since the character would technically be in a different franchise's movie.
It's since become apparent that Guardians is a brand that can sell very well on its own. The film broke August box office records last year, quickly becoming the studio's highest-grossing film to not feature Tony Stark. For a while, it was even the most commercially successful film of 2014, finishing the year behind only The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 and American Sniper on the domestic charts. Audiences are very interested in hanging out with Star-Lord and friends, whether Hulk's invited to the party or not.
That unprecedented run (not to mention, Guardians' critical success) probably gave writer/director James Gunn more leeway in regards to its sequel, which could be a reason the Age of Ultron screenplay was altered to leave Hulk's status up in the air. Plot details for Guardians 2 are largely being kept under wraps for now, but Gunn has stated that Marvel bosses loved his story treatment, and he is getting to work on penning the screenplay. That means Hulk could theoretically still be in play, but Guardians narrative hints we've heard make it hard to see how Banner would fit in.
In fact, the evidence points to Hulk showing up someplace else. If Marvel still wanted to showcase him in Guardians 2, they would have stuck to their guns and left the space ending intact (as opposed to just having him high above Earth). So where might the enormous green rage monster pop up in Phase 3?
Outside of likely appearances in the Infinity War event, it's somewhat tricky to find a spot that best suits Hulk. Based on the upcoming lineup of projects, the most obvious film would be next year's Captain America: Civil War, but Ruffalo is one of the few MCU regulars who hasn't been signed on to take part in that film (which starts production this month). The actor has said the situation with Marvel is always fluid, so something could come together at the last minute, but his inclusion would have been made public by now if he had a sizable role to play in Captain America 3.
But Kevin Feige has said Hulk will appear in Phase 3 productions, teasing that he'll be helping his friends in the other movies as opposed to carrying his own feature. Perhaps it's a supporting role in a new character's film like Doctor Strange or Black Panther. Maybe Hulk floats up to the cosmos and meets up with Captain Marvel. Everything pertaining to Hulk's future has been extremely vague so far, but those hoping for a Sony-esque partnership with Marvel and Universal shouldn't hold their breath.
Where do you want to see Hulk show up in Phase 3? Let us know in the comments below.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron will be in theaters May 1, 2015; Ant-Man on July 17, 2015; Captain America: Civil War - May 6, 2016; Doctor Strange - November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 - May 5, 2017; Spider-Man reboot - July 28, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok - November 3, 2017; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 - May 4, 2018; Black Panther - July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel - November 2, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 - May 3, 2019; Inhumans - July 12, 2019.
Source: Badass Digest
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