Comics on Film: Why Isn't the Hulk More Important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Comics on Film: Why Isn't the Hulk More Important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Oct 21, 2016

 
Late last year, actor Mark Ruffalo shed some new light on the mysterious absence of a new Hulk film at Marvel Studios by saying that the rights to the character were somehow complicated by the relationship between Marvel and Universal Pictures, which may or may not be the case. Regardless, it gave an entirely new perspective on the big-screen issues surrounding Marvel's iconic green behemoth, especially considering that the character was almost universally lauded as a standout element of the 2012 mega-hit The Avengers, where Ruffalo made his debut as Bruce Banner.
 
While this is certainly unfortunate news to anyone who counts themselves as a standalone fan of the Avengers' chartreuse powerhouse, it also brings up another issue entirely: even if they can't necessarily make a new standalone film (which they likely can if they really wanted to), why isn't the Hulk a more important part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe overall? When you read a given issue of a Marvel comic book (at least before the release of Civil War II #3), the name "Bruce Banner" always carries with it an importance and stature that's hard to dispute.
 
While we'll be seeing more of the Hulk over the next couple of years, his importance to the universe is not nearly as highly felt as his direct Avengers colleagues, like Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, or Thor. Here's a couple of illustrative instances of that.
 
 
TV and Netflix Series
 
While it's unlikely to expect any of the fully-fledged heroes of the MCU films to show up on shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or the various Netflix offerings, even compared with other Avengers the mentions of Banner and the Hulk are extraordinarily limited. On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., for instance, Banner has only been mentioned once, on a late season one episode, where several other Avengers (like Captain America and Black Widow) have garnered much more verbal attention from the characters of that show.
 
On Netflix, shows like DaredevilJessica Jones, and Luke Cage don't mention the film characters that much, with most references usually localized to the "Battle of New York" depicted in the climax of The Avengers. The references are usually indirect as well, with characters in the shows often not calling the heroes by their names, instead saying things like "a god with a hammer," a "man in a metal suit," or a "green monster," etc. That's fine in and of itself, but it raised more than a few Marvel fans' attention when Luke Cage - which primarily takes place in New York's Harlem neighborhood - made no mention whatsoever concerning the final battle featured in 2008's The Incredible HulkDaredevil mentioned it in a very subtle way with the newspapers hanging on Ben Urich's office wall, but it was a blink-and-you-miss it moment.
 
That knock-down, drag-out fight between Hulk and the transformed Emil Blonsky, aka the Abomination, took place in Harlem. There was pretty significant collateral damage, and Banner was less than enthused talking about it when he mentioned it in The Avengers. No, there didn't have to be some acknowledgment that would stick out like a sore thumb, but it would've been nice if they'd managed to include something about it specifically in Luke Cage, just because it kind of seems like The Incredible Hulk, for whatever reason, is the black sheep of the MCU films.
 
Plus, considering the theme in Civil War revolving around the immense collateral damage in most of the Avengers' major battles, it would've been nice to see the more human side of the cost in Harlem as a reaction to the Hulk/Abomination fight in some form or fashion.
 
 
Phases Two and Three
 
While it was nice to check in with Banner in the post-credits scene of Iron Man 3, we didn't get a substantive, green-tinted look at him again until May of 2015 in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Once again, the Hulk stole at least part of the show, with the battle between Hulk and Iron Man in his "Hulkbuster" armor being a standout and memorable scene from that film. Plus, who doesn't like seeing the Hulk smash an untold number of Ultron's satellite robots?
 
But of course, at the end of that film, Banner was off the radar, taking an Avengers Quinjet and masking his location so that not even his budding romance with Black Widow could be saved. While the Avengers films on their own are memorable as the giant crossover episodes of the MCU, one of the reasons that Whedon's efforts worked well was because he gave an energy and relatable emotional disposition to Bruce Banner, with Mark Ruffalo turning in great performances to match Whedon's writing.
 
Although he was absent from the events in Captain America: Civil War, thankfully the Russo brothers wanted to make a concerted effort to bring The Incredible Hulk back into the fold, as signified by that film's hiring of William Hurt to reprise his role as General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross. And, as we've been aware for a while now, the Hulk himself will be accompanying the God of Thunder in next November's Thor: Ragnarok, right alongside the return of the likes of Loki and Odin as played by Tom Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkins, respectively.
 
 
"We Have a Hulk"
 
Still, as cool as it will likely be to see the Hulk return in Thor's upcoming third film, it still feels like the MCU as a whole won't be truly complete until we can see a new solo effort with the enormous green rage-monster that allows Mark Ruffalo to have the stage on his own.
 
Fans would also likely welcome seeing Liv Tyler's Betty Ross and Ty Burrell's Doc Samson (hopefully getting his green hair), and it seems like The Incredible Hulk left the possibility of an appearance by Hulk villain the Leader - as played by Tim Blake Nelson - wide open. They should really check in on the good Dr. Sterns because, as you likely remember, he didn't look so good (or maybe he did?) the last time we saw him, and since these movies take place in real time, there hasn't been any follow-up on that whatsoever for nearly a decade.
 
Bottom line is that the Hulk is one of Marvel's absolute best characters for a lot of great reasons, and if he can make the team-up films all the more engaging, it's high time that the character earned a new solo adventure once more. Phase Four, anyone?
 
Hulk will next appear in Thor: Ragnarok, which hits theaters on November 3rd, 2017.

Chris Clow is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, as well as a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and Batman-On-Film.com, as well as host of the Comics on Consoles podcast. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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