By now everybody knows that Thor: Ragnarok features a team-up between Thor and Hulk, but beyond that not much is known about what Bruce Banner is doing on the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- or how he even got there in the first place. Some are predicting that his story-arc in the film will be partially inspired by Planet Hulk, a year-long 2006 comics storyline where the Hulk was banished to another planet and became champion of an alien civilization - though its unclear how that would mesh with the exploits of Thor, who's expected seek the missing Odin and/or exploring Hel itself.
But we may have a new clue, as Ragnarok director Taika Waititi has revealed that discussions are ongoing about a change in Hulk's personality, verbiage, and possibly even intelligence for the film.
"It's interesting, because at the moment, there's a big conversation that's happening about how far to push that. Whether or not The Hulk should be [verbal/conscious].
"So I think a lot of those decisions are larger group decisions, rather than anything to do with just me or the writer. They have a lot of stuff that they have to consider. But I do think that's the best way to track it. I think we all want that. I think we all want to see that development and the evolution of that character. I also think you can do it in a fun way."
The question of Hulk's intelligence and capacity to express himself being a major consideration for the film raises a number of intriguing story possibilities, including some key elements of Hulk lore than fans have wanted to see onscreen for years.
In the comics, Bruce Banner's psychological state contributes to what form the Hulk ultimately takes in his transformations. The version of Hulk most familiar to popular culture is the simple-minded rage-driven green monster who considers himself a separate entity from "puny Banner" (colloquially referred to as "Savage Hulk"). But at other points, Banner has been able to transform while retaining the full measure of his intelligence and a sense of self-awareness, a form known to fans as "Merged Hulk" or "The Professor" - one sometimes drawn to more recognizably resemble Banner. However, there's another version of a "smart Hulk" that fans have been clamoring to see ever since the Ang Lee version: The Grey Hulk.
In Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's original 1962 Incredible Hulk story, Hulk was grey-skinned in addition to being reasonably intelligent and more prone to violence, but because of difficulties with printing the color grey Hulk soon became green in-tandem with becoming more brutish but also more incidentally heroic. In the 1980s, as part of his famously offbeat run with the character, writer Peter David revived the Grey Hulk as a separate Hulk persona entirely; a scheming, amoral "bad Hulk" triggered to life under unique stress situations. In David's storyline, Grey Hulk renamed himself "Joe Fixit" and set himself up as a highly-paid Mafia enforcer in Las Vegas for months before Bruce Banner regained control of his psyche. Grey Hulk has reappeared multiple times since then.
If Hulk is indeed going to become smarter, could Joe Fixit be the logical endpoint? According to ILM, the seeds of his arrival were nearly already sewn: When Hulk is driven into a psychotic rage by Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron, he was originally supposed to change from green to grey, but the scene was nixed out of worry about confusing audiences unfamiliar with the reference. But with all the talk of Thor: Ragnarok as a "buddy movie," the emergence of a smarter but also decidedly unfriendly Hulk would make an impressive plot-twist -- especially if it's meant to set up further events in the near future. After all, Infinity War is coming up soon enough, and a devious "evil" version of Hulk could potentially make a formidable warm-up villain to precede the expected arrival of Thanos.
There's even some precedent: Planet Hulk eventually led into 2008's World War Hulk, with the Green Goliath powered-up to a fearsome new form called "WorldBreaker" and returning to Earth from space leading a massive alien army. If anything sounds like an Avengers-level threat, that does -- especially considering that the team is expected to have been reduced to different, potentially less-powerful state by the end of Captain America: Civil War.
Captain America: Civil War opens in theaters May 6, 2016; Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man– 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.