The Endgame of the Hulk: From the Foreground to the Background
We're still waiting for that rematch to come. We can feel it!
Now that the Avengers: Endgame spoiler embargo has been lifted for awhile, it’s time for us to take a look at the “endgame” of each of the original six Avengers and see how they got to this point in their respective journeys. Bruce Banner aka the Hulk started off as one of the first main characters we were introduced to in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but became somewhat of an afterthought by the time Endgame rolled around. So, what happened between then and now?
The Incredible Hulk is the only Hulk-centric movie in the MCU, but, as a lot of Marvel fans already know, that seems to be more of a rights issue than anything else. (The film was made back when Universal was still the main company above Marvel Studios, but after the Disney switch Universal retained the rights to make any movie with Hulk as the main star unlike most of the other major MCU heroes.) However, he was given a good amount of focus in the first two Avengers movies, particularly Age of Ultron, which put emphasis on the Banner vs. Hulk struggle and explored the budding relationship between both of them and Natasha Romanoff, even though the latter arc pretty much came out of nowhere.
But it was Thor: Ragnarok that proved to be the best showcase for the character since his solo film nearly 10 years prior. It kicked off what was announced to be a three-movie Hulk arc by highlighting the lingering power struggle between Bruce and Hulk that flared back up again when the former regained control and had to catch up with the years he missed out on while the latter was completely in charge. The character had a significantly smaller role in Avengers: Infinity War, but got an appropriate amount of screentime for the storyline of Hulk refusing to come out to help fight Thanos on Earth after being made to do so in space to play out, and we figured the arc’s conclusion in Avengers: Endgame would get much more focus.
Oh, how wrong we were.
At the beginning of Endgame Hulk still refused to come out, so Banner sat out the mission to kill Thanos most of the other remaining Avengers embarked upon. We didn’t see him again until after the five-year time jump at a restaurant hanging out with his friends, jovially taking selfies with kids, and casually explaining how he combined his own consciousness and body with those of the Hulk in order to turn them into a single being.
Endgame was supposed to serve as the culmination of each of the six main Avengers’s stories. They were supposed to be in the spotlight, with each having special moments to shine. And movies are a visual medium and generally follow the rule of “show, don’t tell” when it comes to major plot points. A moment as big as the merging of Bruce Banner and the Hulk absolutely should have been one of those special moments we got to see in the film. While it didn’t take place during any of the time periods the movie was set, but the big moment still could have easily been shown in a flashback as part of the story at the restaurant while keeping “Smart Hulk” offscreen, followed by the big reveal of the new form in the present day.
What was also disappointing was the fact that we didn’t really get to see Smart Hulk in action. Yes, he’d become less powerful than he was before, but it still would have been cool to see how he operated in battle. Even though he participated in the climactic everyone vs. Thanos fight, his only central moment in the victory happened before the fight started. Reversing the snap served to show how much wielding an Infinity Gauntlet takes even out of an advanced being, but it was a serious letdown that he didn’t really get a “moment” in the final fight like most of the others did. We all knew the big “rematch he saw coming” line was just a meme based on a fake trailer description (he could feel it!) but it actually would have served Hulk’s arc well to face his fears of Thanos and get another go at him.
One more thing a lot of people are overlooking is that Hulk arguably got the worst deal of the surviving original Avengers at the end of Endgame. Tony and Natasha, the two he was closest to, died, Steve went back to the past and became a sort of stranger upon his return, Hawkeye presumably retired for the umpteenth time to return to his family, and Thor went on an space road trip for an indefinite period of time. While Smart Hulk seemed to be coping with all of this reasonably well, it would have been nice to know where exactly his place in the newly-restored universe was as of the end of the movie.
Smart Hulk – known as “Professor Hulk” in the comics – hasn’t been explored to his full potential in the MCU. We know he won’t get his own movie anytime in the forseeable future, it would be great to see him show up in another. After all, Mark Ruffalo is contracted for one more Marvel movie if they want him, and hasn’t said anything about officially retiring for the role so he could very well be willing to sign on for more. While we won’t get to see that highly-anticipated rematch with Thanos, we’re definitely game to see Smart Hulk play a role in another MCU tale.