Movie Reviews

The MCU Failed Hulk Long Before Infinity War (But Phase 4 Can Fix It)

The MCU’s Hulk problems go back to way before Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, and Phase 4 could be the last chance to fix them. Although the Hulk starred in the second ever MCU movie, the character has never had another solo adventure due to legal arrangements with Universal. The solution found by Marvel Studios was to have the Hulk’s story develop through the Avengers movies and in other appearances, but that strategy did not fully work.

Currently, the Hulk’s future in the MCU is still up in the air. Endgame had shown that the Bruce Banner and Hulk personas had finally gotten along and found a balance, but Shang-chi and the Legend of Ten Rings featured the character in his human form again. Between the mystery surrounding Avengers 5 and rumors of a World War Hulk movie, the Hulk’s next confirmed appearance will be in the Disney+ series She-Hulk.

Related: The MCU’s Hulk Problems Are Way Bigger Than Just Movie Rights

The Hulk’s role in Infinity War and Endgame was a letdown, but the MCU had been failing the character since The Avengers. That crossover movie involved the Hulk as an important part of the script but left a lot to be desired as far as Hulk’s supporting characters and mythology were concerned. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, despite his now being a proper superhero going out on missions with the Avengers, the Hulk and his story felt like an afterthought – not to mention the power scale problems the movie created. Thor: Ragnarok changed the Hulk for the better, but Infinity War and Endgame failed to pay off that significant adjustment. While the Hulk is far from being at the center of Phase 4, She-Hulk has the opportunity to dive deep into the Emerald Giant’s lore as it develops Jennifer Walters’s story – and that could help improve the Hulk’s role in the MCU.

Having the Hulk in The Avengers proved to be a complex challenge from the start. Following Edward Norton’s clash with the studio during the making of The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Studios knew that a recast for crossover movie would be necessary. Mark Ruffalo was then chosen to play Bruce Banner and the Hulk, and that meant a significant change to how the character had initially been portrayed. This is not to say Edward Norton’s Hulk would have worked better in The Avengers, only that such a major recast has consequences. While Bruce mentions the “last time” he was in New York, none of the events of The Incredible Hulk are directly discussed.

More than that, neither General Ross nor Betty Ross – two pivotal characters in the Hulk mythology – were brought into The Avengers. The general could have been mentioned as the person from whom SHIELD kept the Hulk hidden, and Betty Ross could have been a member of SHIELD herself. By ignoring thwse two characters as well as the actual events of The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers made the Hulk feel like a disconnected character who only came into existence for the crossover movie. This was a huge contrast when compared to the other Avengers, whose stories were all continuations of their previous appearances.

That said, The Avengers at least managed to portray the Hulk as a powerful force to be reckoned with. Much of Loki’s plan in the movie was based on the Emerald Giant’s unpredictability, Bruce Banner’s presence had everyone on constant alert, and the Hulk’s arrival on the battlefield was the turning point of the Battle of New York. However, the strengths of the Hulk’s interactions with the team were not carried over to Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Related: Avengers: Endgame Theory – Who Hulk Saw In The Soulworld

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Hulk’s element of unpredictability was put aside. He was now flying on missions with the Avengers, and there was even standard procedure for getting him to return to Banner mode. The only way the second Avengers movie found to make the Hulk menacing was to put him under Wanda’s mind control, but that eventually led to one of the character’s most embarrassing and controversial moments in the MCU: Hulk being defeated by Iron Man midway through Age of Ultron. While Tony Stark was wearing armor created specifically to take on the Hulk, having the Emerald Giant’s big moment in the movie end with him being defeated by Iron Man was anticlimactic and started a power level issue. The Hulk is supposed to be one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel universe, and having him lose to a human already in the second Avengers movie did not do the character justice.

Thor: Ragnarok took Thor in a whole new direction, and it did the same with the Hulk. The Emerald Giant was now lost on a distant planet, being cheered on in a fighting arena, and Bruce Banner had been out of the picture for years. Heavily inspired by the comics’ Planet Hulk storyline, the Hulk’s story in Thor: Ragnarok was a proper change to how the character was portrayed. Some power scale problems were still there, but the Hulk’s narrative seemed like it was going somewhere. After two movies of sharing screen time with all the other Avengers, the Hulk was now a co-lead. That helped draw interest back to the character, similar to what happened to Thor.

Yet after all the Ragnarok setup, Avengers: Infinity War chose to completely ignore the Hulk. Apart from the opening sequence fight between the Hulk and Thanos, all of the Hulk’s other scenes in the movie were in his Bruce Banner form. While Infinity War‘s directors and writers have come up with explanations as to why the Hulk did not want to come out, not having one of Marvel’s most powerful characters take part in the action in the MCU’s biggest crossover event was a mistake – one that was carried into Avengers: Endgame with Smart Hulk.

While She-Hulk should not have to be worried about fixing the Hulk, the upcoming Disney+ show has the chance to at least bring the Hulk corner of Marvel back to the spotlight with the return of Abomination and rumored names like The Leader and Betty Ross. Jennifer Walters’s story, especially her origins, is heavily tied to the Hulk, which makes for a great opportunity. She-Hulk will be the first true Hulk-related MCU project since The Incredible Hulk, and it is the perfect place to pay off or at least acknowledge some of the things set up in the 2008 movie. Establishing the Hulk side of Marvel in the MCU with villains like Abomination, other characters like Betty Ross and Samuel Sterns, and She-Hulk herself would be a major step in solving the MCU’s Hulk problem.

Next: How Powerful Is The MCU’s She-Hulk Compared To Smart Hulk?

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