The best Avenger has always been a combination of two different people: Bruce Banner and Hulk.
[Warning: The following contains very light spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok.]
Hulk isn’t just the strongest Avenger or, as some nincompoops call him, the dumbest Avenger. He’s a monster with a soul, a beast whose trying to find acceptance wherever he can. Hulk understands that people are most often frightened by him and his stature, but like the rest of us, Hulk needs to know that someone in this far reaching universe cares about how he’s doing.
Banner is the flesh prison that Hulk is trapped in. He gets to come out every once in a while when Banner loses control of his anger or when the world needs Hulk to save them, but he’s always seen as a negative force. He’s the champions’ brute, the cheered spectacle night after night on the planet of Sakaar.
Thor: Ragnarok and director Taika Waititi introduce a different side of Hulk. This Hulk does more than speak, he communicates. He knows how to express himself, his wants and needs, his dislikes and frustrations. We get to see a side of Hulk that we never have before and, unlike the green monster we know him as, we become aware of his humanity.
We’ve associated Hulk with Banner for the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe up until now. Since Hulk lives inside Banner and is such an integral part of his character in the world of superheroes, it makes sense. What Ragnarok does it introduce the concept that Hulk and Banner aren’t the same person, but rather two people battling for control over one body. Ragnarok doesn’t just ask you to care about the future of one character, but two, understanding why Banner doesn’t ever want to transform back into the Hulk and vice versa.
Mark Ruffalo, who plays both Banner and Hulk in the movie, told Cinema Blend that this ideology is the foundation of Hulk’s three-movie arc. Since rights issues won’t allow Marvel and Ruffalo to make a stand-alone Hulk movie (the character’s movie rights belong to Universal), the only way to tell a complete Hulk story is by cutting it up into parts and adding them into different movies.
“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,” Ruffalo said. “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.”
Prior to Ragnarok, I cared about Bruce Banner a whole lot. The sweet, misunderstood nerd who couldn’t allow himself to care for anyone was stereotypical, to be sure, but Ruffalo played him remarkably and he endeared himself to me. I never cared about Hulk, though. I found him to be distracting and thought he took away from Banner’s storyline; even though one couldn’t exist without the other, I never felt any inclination of admiration toward the green brute.
After watching Ragnarok, however, Hulk has become one of the characters I’m most invested in. Giving the Hulk a personality that extends beyond mad and wanting to inflict violence on anyone or anything turned him into a character I could see progressing. Like Ruffalo said, he’s like a five-year-old who’s learning how to act with others and be selfless from time to time. Hulk makes some of the greatest sacrifices in the movie. When paired with the sad realization of the low self-esteem and self-hatred he has for himself, it allowed me to see Hulk in a whole new light.
We’re probably never going to get a Hulk movie with Rufflo and that’s a downright shame. But if the formula for Hulk’s three-movie arc is to have him continue this path of growth, self-realization and taming of the beast, then I’m excited for what’s to come. Thor: Ragnarok is a good start, but it’s proof we’ve only just begun to see the type of well-rounded character Hulk can be.
Thor: Ragnarok will be in theaters on Nov. 3