With the upcoming release of She-Hulk, it seemed like there was no better time than to make public my utter dislike for the current state that The Hulk finds himself in, a point I’m fully aware plenty don’t agree with, my editor included. I will say I’m focusing purely on The Hulk’s MCU characterization, and nothing to do with the comics currently releasing, that is entirely another story.
Whilst the story of The Hulk’s MCU characterization is a troubled one, in part thanks to Universal effectively stopping any future solo films, and partly due to them seemingly not having any idea of where to take the character anymore, it’s definitely one worth discussing.
Cast your mind back to pre-Endgame, all the way back to Age of Ultron in fact. We saw Hulk leaving in a Quinjet to at that point, places unknown, after having a crisis of conscience in his part in the destruction of a major city in South Africa, and the implication being many innocents were hurt. Both Hulk and Banner (individual personalities at this point), seemingly agreed in their reluctance to help The Avengers, for fear of what would happen, and once Scarlet Witch coerced The Hulk with some magic to fully let go, their fears were realized.
At the time, many expected or hoped we’d be leading to a Planet Hulk-style storyline, where in the comics Hulk was sent into space by The Avengers so as to avoid any unnecessary death and destruction at the hands of The Hulk. Similar themes, different execution. Ragnarok kind of brought us this, with a now toddler-esque Hulk providing entertainment to the adoring masses, loved by all and in no rush to go back to Earth or even to let Banner take back control. Thanks to a conveniently placed video of Natasha doing her ‘the sun is getting real low’ routine, Banner does regain control, and in helping Thor, ends up on a spaceship headed towards Earth.
That same ship is attacked by Thanos at the start of Infinity War, and we get the now famous smack down of The Hulk by Thanos, before Heimdall sends him back to Earth to warn of the impending attack by Thanos and in form the rest of The Avengers of his plans. We get to see a scared Hulk that refuses to help, and one that is sick of being the muscle only called when needed, rather than being his own entity in the eyes of The Avengers.
When Endgame hit theaters, no one really expected to see a fully-fledged Professor Hulk; the body of the Hulk, the intelligence and lexicon of Bruce Banner. In some expository heavy dialogue, Bruce explains he and The Hulk came to an understanding and combined, meaning he’s in control but gets the benefits of being The Hulk too.
This is where my problem with The Hulk’s MCU characterization comes in. It’s not to say I didn’t like Professor Hulk, because it’s comic-accurate and fun, to a degree. However, what didn’t make sense to me is how they seemingly threw out the character arc they’d been building for the last few movies. Where was the troubled, almost broken Hulk that wanted to be seen as his own individual person, as desperate for validation from those around him as he was to accept himself? Or the tortured soul of Bruce Banner now seems fine with The Hulk as long as he can control the damage and destruction? Isn’t that exactly what The Hulk didn’t want in Ragnarok?
Maybe She-Hulk will solve a lot of the problems I have with The Hulk’s MCU characterization, but unless they’ve got some big plans for him in the future, how do they explain the required shift back to the monstrous, angry giant of a man, rather than the cardigan-wearing, well-spoken Professor Hulk? I just don’t see it, and I don’t see a massive amount more character progression with his current form, but I’m sorely hoping I’m wrong.