Bruce Banner’s portrayal in the MCU has been hard to describe. Some would say it’s great considering there’s a lot of personality and character development covered despite the lack of solo movies while others would argue the character is “being wasted” due to his snags with rights distribution. With only one solo movie (that is loosely considered canon) in the MCU, Hulk’s shining moments have mainly come from ensemble movies and glorified cameos in the MCU. While Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of both the Hulk, Bruce Banner, and Professor Hulk have been met with high praise, I can’t help but see the potential there is for more.
Making his MCU debut in The Incredible Hulk, audiences were quickly introduced to Banner’s origin story in a brief sequence which saw Edward Norton infect himself with gamma radiation. The experiment stems from a military-funded breakthrough in the super-soldier serum first invented by Dr. Erskine during World War II, a serum that gave the world its first superhero in Captain America. Thaddeus Ross, more commonly known as ‘Red Hulk’ in the comics, headed this confidential experiment and when it backfired and resulted in the near-death of his daughter (and Bruce’s lover) Betty Ross, he placed the blame on Bruce and conducted a global manhunt for the man responsible. After the events of the movie, Edward Norton left the role due to creative and rumored financial differences with Marvel Studios who swiftly brought in Mark Ruffalo to replace him. Due to a complicated contract standoff between Marvel and Universal Studios, a solo movie wasn’t in the cards for Ruffalo’s Hulk. That contract standoff still exists today.
Ruffalo made his debut in The Avengers, portraying a brainy Bruce Banner who tip-toed his way around risky situations in order to avoid releasing “the other guy”. As it happens, the Hulk actually saved Banner after attempting to take his own life when he was at his lowest point. Ruffalo went on to appear in other movies such as Iron Man 3 and Avengers: Age of Ultron but his real chance to shine came through in Thor: Ragnarok, where the Planet Hulk storyline was incorporated into the movie’s plot. After a stellar performance in the movie, Hulk seemingly disappeared in Avengers: Infinity War after being too scared to face Thanos following an early confrontation between the two. The Hulk may have been outsmarted several times but never had he faced a foe who matched him in strength. Despite Bruce’s several attempts to bring out the Hulk to help his allies face off against Thanos and the Black Order, the green rage machine was nowhere to be found. Flash forward five years into the future, and Bruce Banner has permanently fused with the Hulk after settling their differences togethering during an isolation period. Professor Hulk was infused with the brilliant mind of Bruce Banner and the body of the Hulk minus a portion of the strength. The result of this lead to Hulk being the only other being powerful enough to wield the Infinity Gauntlet long enough to undo “The Decimation” and live to tell the tale. In exchange, Hulk’s arm was permanently damaged and seemingly unuseful from that point on. With a physical disability in play, the chances of him being on the front lines are slim but that doesn’t mean he’s out of the count.
Hulk’s intellect is as much of a superpower as his physical strength is and this could easily be utilized by being the next leading figure for the coming generation of Avengers. Being there to experience several global level threats and a universe level threat, Hulk’s experience on the battlefield would be crucial to the heroes we’ve been recently introduced to onscreen and ones that haven’t been introduced yet. Bruce could keep the Avengers Academy running in upstate New York continuing Steve Roger’s good work. Being out of the fighting aspect also brings in an interesting prospect: Thaddeus Ross. Thaddeus Ross was re-introduced in the MCU during Civil War with a promotion to Secretary of State and an agenda for bringing down the Avengers who didn’t abide by the Sokovia Accords. While Bruce was conveniently missing throughout Civil War due to his self-exile to Sakaar, I’m positive fans haven’t forgotten about the unfinished business between these two characters. A clever way to bring Hulk back into play would be Thaddeus Ross turning into his infamous alter ego, the Red Hulk, and calling Bruce out.
Another way of continuing the Hulk storyline might not even involve the Bruce Banner at all: introducing She-Hulk. Famously known as Jennifer Walters, a lawyer by day and Bruce’s cousin, she gains her powers by getting caught up in a gunfight in which she needed a blood transfusion. Ironically, no matches were found except for Bruce’s, who was in town visiting that day. After receiving the gamma-infested blood, Jennifer gains similar powers to the Hulk and begins her own string of crime-fighting in the name of justice. Jennifer being mentored by the Hulk while she comes into her own might be an ideal situation to see both characters onscreen.