The Hulk is possibly Marvel’s best-kept secret, despite being central to the successes of both Avengers films. And yet, as has been widely reported, a dispute over the Hulk‘s film rights has relegated him to backup or support status. Consequently, we shouldn’t expect to see another stand-alone Hulk film anytime soon; however, given the middling quality of the two Hulk films to-date, maybe that’s for the best. Hulk is one of Marvel’s most-popular characters, so it’s surprising that Marvel hasn’t been able to cut a deal, similar to the Sony-Marvel-Disney relationship forged for Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Part of the reason that Hulk’s solo films haven’t worked is that filmmakers have struggled to nail down his personality, traits, and nuances beyond rage and smash — not that there’s anything wrong with that… it’s what Hulk does. But there’s a reason the character has endured for decades, there’s a lot more going on inside that gamma-irradiated skin.
The Hulk debuted in Marvel Comics’ The Incredible Hulk #1 (1962); he was also a founding member of the Avengers the following year. From the beginning Hulk could speak and think — although he was often depicted as a monster — yet he always acted heroically. Oddly, his film appearances have relegated him to a series of mindless grunts, roars, and occasional one-liners. This isn’t the Hulk that comic book fans have come to love.
When Mark Ruffalo took over the role of Bruce Banner from Eric Bana and Edward Norton, not much was expected from the part. In both stand-alone Hulk films Banner was an entirely separate character from Hulk; Bana and Norton’s performances were limited to live-action, while Hulk was created entirely via CG. In The Avengers, Ruffalo inhabited the character via motion-capture (similar to Andy Serkis’ Gollum); Hulk was still CG, but his face and features were directly adapted from Ruffalo himself. Consequently, Hulk looked and felt like an extension of the actor. Ruffalo also brought an incredible amount of warmth and soul to both sides of the part — it was a revelation, but still only touched the surface of what was possible with the character.
Fortunately for Hulk fans everywhere, it’s all about to change. We’re now learning that Marvel has a major Hulk-arc planned, which will occur across three of Marvel’s upcoming films. Hulk will next appear in Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok film, and judging by early media and fan reactions, Hulk is the star of the show. A big reason for this is his newfound ability to speak, which allows his relationships with Thor and Loki to dramatically expand. Apparently, Hulk is also very, very funny!
Ruffalo is on-the-record with his desire to expand Hulk’s role and secure another stand-alone film, but he recognizes the many legal hurdles preventing the latter. Prior to the start of Thor: Ragnarok‘s production, Ruffalo met with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige to discuss what could be done and where it might lead:
So basically, Kevin [Feige] pulled me aside before this, and said, ‘If you were gonna do a… if we were going to do a standalone Hulk movie, what would it be?’ And I said, ‘I think it should be this, this, this, and this and this, and ends up like this.’ And he’s like, ‘I love that. Why don’t we do that in the next three movies, starting with Thor 3 and then we go into Avengers 3 and 4.’ And I was like, ‘That sounds great!’ And so we are at the beginning of this arc.”
Wow, right? Suddenly, we have a talking Hulk with a more definitive personality and a multi-film arc that (reading between the lines) reaches some kind of satisfying conclusion — at least, one that satisfies both Ruffalo and Feige. Ruffalo continues with some thoughts regarding the trajectory of this new Hulk arc:
Hulk speaking is the start to separating of these two individuals, these identities in this split-identity person, and where that’s going to end up going. So it was really interesting to me. He’s like a baby! He’s like a five year old or six year old. So he has the same syntax, he has the same world view, and so it was fun. It’s like Chris [Hemsworth] – we all got to reinvent our characters in this.”
Hulk fans must be rejoicing. This could be the beginning of something special for the character, a rebirth or a new beginning that promises growth and narrative resolution for a legendary hero.
Thor: Ragnarok hits theaters on November 3, 2017.
Thor: Ragnarok is directed by Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows), based on a screenplay by Craig Kyle, Eric Pearson, and Christopher Yost. Thor: Ragnarok is produced by Kevin Feige, Brian Chapek, and Lous D’Esposito. The executive producers are Victoria Alonso, Thomas Hammel, Stan Lee and Brad Winderbaum, with music by Mark Mothersbaugh.