Bruce Banner’s turn as Professor Hulk wasn’t just a publicity stunt meant to attract casual viewers to Avengers: Endgame. It represented Bruce Banner’s character growth from a joyless young scientist struggling with rage he can’t control to a more experienced, wisened figure learning to harness the best of both worlds. It effectively closed his arc, making way for new blood to eventually take over. And so it has. A She-Hulk Disney+ miniseries starring Tatiana Maslany as Banner’s cousin Jennifer Walters is in active development over at Marvel Studios. Executives are already gearing up for the arrival of Amadeus Cho, a Korean-American Hulk around the same age as Peter Parker. Projects this comprehensive make it sound like Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk will be retiring for good, but not according to Geekosity’s sources, Edwin Francisco reports. Instead, his character will be changing in a major way.
Mark Ruffalo will still feature as Hulk in some capacity, but as a much angrier, less put-together version of the Big Green Rage Monster. That’s right. For better or for worse, Marvel is doing away with the much improved Professor Hulk persona in favor of the character’s usual rage-induced self. Whether this is to milk more money out of Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk or extend his screentime for future appearances in films involving the X-Men and Fantastic Four, it’s not presently clear.
A shame, considering the very act of reverting to the old Hulk means erasing almost 13 years of character development. Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is supposed to have transcended the Hulk’s primitive sense of right and wrong after so many years of grappling with a gamma-imbued body. It would take a story of near-mythic proportions to justify a return to form, even if that Hulk is the infinitely more popular incarnation. Seeing the World-Breaker speaking fluently and wearing a white coat and glasses doesn’t quite have the same effect as the old Hulk. And yet its existence is necessary to storytelling.
Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner can’t possibly be the only Avenger who didn’t grow out of his more uncivilized urges. Self-centered playboy Tony Stark died fighting for others. Former assassin Natasha Romanoff made the sacrifice play so others would live. Rule-abiding boy scout Steve Rogers broke protocol to save his friends. Once a vain, reckless young prince, Thor is finally worthy of his title with or without his trusty hammer to validate him. And lone wolf Clint Barton took one for the team to get his family back.
Mark Ruffalo’s character arc involved the same kind of redemption — repurposing his greatest weakness as a force for good. And he did that becoming Professor Hulk, by far the franchise’s most impressive evolution. What could be more empowering than finally winning the mental war between yourself and your infinitely more powerful alter-ego? It is kind of ridiculous to hear Marvel may be throwing all that away for increased screentime (and the occasional cash grab). Part of the journey is the end. Every hero’s journey has to wrap up eventually.
Besides, the Hulk already injured his arm during the Blip; Banner’s inability to evolve the Hulk out of his system proves one cannot reverse gamma radiation, which means his shriveled right arm is here to stay. And angry Hulk in a permanently crippled state doesn’t sound particularly comics-accurate or appealing. Mark Ruffalo’s Professor Hulk may be the weakest incarnation of the big green Avenger in both the movies and comic books, but at least his current disability works for him. Knowing Marvel, the studio would probably divine a way to write the Hulk’s Blip-related deformity out of the franchise while also paving the path for something like a Wolverine vs Hulk movie to justify the retcon. And it would work perfectly, as always.
Mark Ruffalo is scheduled to make his next appearance in She-Hulk, to assist his cousin Jennifer Walters, an attorney, in her adventures. He might also cameo or play a major supporting role in a standalone Amadeus Cho flick or miniseries. He last graced theaters in Avengers: Endgame as Professor Hulk, a creature with the top-shelf IQ of Bruce Banner and the might of the Hulk bundled into one. He helped manufacture a prototype version of Hank Pym’s time-travel machine, brought a depressed Thor back from New Asgard, visited an alternate Earth with Stark, Rogers, and Scott Lang to retrieve the Time Stone from the Ancient One, volunteered to snap back half the universe to existence at the cost of his right arm, and survived the team’s last stand against Thanos and his army. You’d think he’d be permitted to retire happily after all that, but with the X-Men and the Fantastic Four on the way, it simply wasn’t feasible. Arguably, more could be done with character after Endgame; concluding his story so soon may also be interpreted as somewhat premature. Mark Ruffalo’s still got a lot of Hulk left in him.