After three years away (excluding Bruce Banner’s Iron Man 3 cameo), Hulk is finally returning to the MCU in two months for Avengers: Age of Ultron, with an even bigger role than before. Even better is that despite Marvel not wanting to give Hulk another solo film, because Mark Ruffalo has four movies left on his contract after the May blockbuster, we’ll be seeing plenty more of the Green Goliath in the future. Obviously, there are many paths they could take the Hulk down for future movies, but one especially interesting twist is if the MCU shifted Hulk from hero to villain. If you’re wondering what that would look like, just glance at the Maestro, an alternate timeline version of the Hulk much meaner than this present-day counterpart.
In the comics, the Maestro lives 100 years in the future where Earth has been devastated by a nuclear war. As a result, on this timeline, Hulk has absorbed so much radiation that not only were his power levels boosted, he was also driven insane. If that wasn’t bad enough, this Hulk also has Bruce Banner’s intellect, and with these enhanced attributes, he’s been able to take control of the planet.
Due to various time travel shenanigans, the Maestro has frequently interacted with the present-day Marvel heroes, and according to THR, he’ll be returning to the comics this summer for the Secret Wars tie-in series Future Imperfect, as well as the Marvel Contest of Champions mobile game. Obviously, since most of the stories in the MCU take place in the present-day, it’s extremely doubtful we’ll be traveling to the future to see a bearded Hulk ruling over an apocalyptic wasteland. However, that doesn’t mean that movie Hulk can’t take inspiration from this version of the character and go to the dark side.
In the MCU, Banner seems to have made peace with Hulk always being with him, and has focused his time on controlling the beast within. While there are times when he gets more out of control than usual (like on the Helicarrier in The Avengers, and hinted at for the Hulkbuster battle in Avengers: Age of Ultron), for the most part, he’s worked out a balance between scientist and rage monster.
An interesting next step forward in Banner’s character development is if he somehow found a way to retain his full intellect while Hulked out, but consequently his sanity is bent or broken. The tricky thing with this is that because Marvel still wants Ruffalo’s face to be seen in the films, Banner wouldn’t be able to be the Hulk permanently, like the Maestro, but with the right changes, the overall idea could still work.
There will be enormous fallout from the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, leading to the ideological conflict between Captain America and Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War and possibly the team splitting up. For Banner, this could lead to more experimentation on himself, eventually undergoing a Maestro-like transformation. Not long after, he would come to the conclusion that he should be the one ruling Earth, since he is arguably its most powerful being. If the MCU wanted to consolidate storylines, this intelligent, villainous Hulk could also lead an adaptation of the World War Hulk arc. Picture it: a fully-intelligent Hulk unleashing devastation in an attempt to take control of the planet, and the Avengers or another group of Marvel heroes are forced to stop him. Talk about an amazing big screen spectacle!
Realistically, we might not be able to see this kind of payoff until Marvel's Phase 4 or later, but since Marvel doesn’t seem to be interested in pitting Hulk against any more of his rogues gallery, this is one of the best ways to put the spotlight on him in a unique way. A heroic Hulk is always fun to watch, but a villainous Hulk could steer the MCU on an interesting and mayhem-filled path.