Ever since Mark Ruffalo took up his first role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s been a lot of emphasis on the tense psychodrama between Bruce Banner and Hulk, as Banner constantly sweats it out in his head to keep the upper hand in the struggle for control.
SPOILER ALERT: This article reveals key plot points of Avengers: Infinity War. Turn back now if you still haven't seen the film!
Avengers: Infinity War took that ongoing tension and broke it open, shifting to Hulk the lion’s share of the say in whether, and when, he’d emerge to lend his massive green arm to the fight.
After getting his butt good and kicked by Thanos early in the movie, a traumatized Hulk retreats to the deepest background depths of Banner’s mind, with Banner — in a rare and intriguing twist — struggling to actually summon forth his inner beast.
Infinity War co-director Joe Russo recently elaborated on how the movie evolves the Banner-Hulk power struggle, in the process confirming that it’s a delicate relationship; one that’s always susceptible to changing emotional forces on both sides. Over time, and particularly after the events of Thor: Ragnarok, the control Banner thought he had in earlier films has given ground as Hulk has grown increasingly weary of bailing Banner and the rest of his friends out of one jam after another.
“I think people have interpreted it as Hulk's scared,” Russo said on the Happy Sad Confused podcast. “I mean, certainly, that's not... I don't know that the Hulk is ever [scared]. He's had his ass kicked before, and he loves a good fight. But I think that it's really reflective of the journey from Ragnarok... These two characters are constantly in conflict with each other over control. And I think that if the Hulk were to say why, it'd be [because] Banner only wants Hulk for fighting. I think he's had enough of saving Banner's ass.”
With Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi allowed fans to see far more of Hulk’s personality, his need for communication, and his inner conflict than the MCU had previously afforded him. Russo appears to suggest that sort of growth is now manifesting in Infinity War in a way that completely turns the tables on his mild-mannered human counterpart.
Hulk’s physical power has always been somewhat balanced by Banner’s emotional discipline and rational choices, but if “the other guy” has truly gained the upper hand in both mind and body, it’s anyone’s guess what it might take to bring him out again.
Then again, we’ve seen time and again that, the longer it takes for the Hulk to emerge, the more violent the crap storm he eventually unleashes. With Hulk essentially sitting out the bulk of Infinity War (and we can’t say we entirely blame him), it’s probably a safe bet that, if he decides to show up in force for Avengers 4 (slated for a May 3, 2019 release), the fireworks — both physical and emotional — will end up being truly epic.