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This article contains massive spoilers for The Avengers: Age of Ultron! You have been warned.
It’s hard being green, and Hulk has it particularly rough. Throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he has only one solo film (so far) and Mark Ruffalo didn’t even get to star in it. With Joss Whedon’s highly anticipated superhero team-up event hitting U.S. theaters with late-night Thursday screenings, though, Hulk has a large part to play in the Age of Ultron, from his relationship with one uniquely skilled Avenger through his tumble with Hulkbuster till the very end.
But what did happen at the very end, exactly? Depending on what rumor you choose to believe, you were probably expecting Hulk to be shot off into space to fulfill his Planet Hulk destiny or join up with Guardians of the Galaxy, or he is the character everyone’s been teasing dies in Age of Ultron. For those who haven’t seen the new Avengers movie, be warned, because we’re about to answer this long-pondered question with some massive spoilers.
Ultron (James Spader), with his Bond-villain-worthy plot to destroy the world, fails to wipe out humanity. He’s about to get away in one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s quinjets, if it weren’t for that meddling Hulk. After dropping Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) off, Hulk leaps straight off the ground and into the craft, ripping Ultron out and back down to Earth. After the psychotic A.I. is quelled by Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), we see Hulk (not Banner) sitting Indian-style in the autopiloted quinjet, as Black Widow speaks to him over video conference.
Natasha Romanoff and Banner have a intimate relationship in Age of Ultron, to the point where the assassin-turned-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is the only one able to subdue Hulk and coax him back into Banner form. As she asks him to place the quinjet out of stealth stasis so that S.H.I.E.L.D. can track him and pick him up, Hulk shuts off communication. Again, Hulk -- and NOT Banner. That says a lot. A little while later, Nick Fury informs Romanoff that the quinjet landed near Fiji, and suggested that Banner would send a postcard.
In the first Avengers, Banner seemed to have a firm grasp of the Hulk, but when we meet him in Age of Ultron, his struggle is more psychological. Will he ever be able to get close to someone? With an unstoppable force that can be unleashed at any moment, is he a threat to everyone around him? These stresses are exacerbated with the developing relationship between him and Black Widow, as well as the incident with Scarlet Witch. Wanda is able to get inside his head and force him to lay waste to a South African city. When he finally comes to and realizes the harm he's caused, he realizes that there might be no power on Earth that could stop him -- and that's not a good thing. There's even a line in the film where Banner asks, "Where in this world am I not a threat?" seemingly a nod to going off world. While his fate is still uncertain, it seemed like a logical step that he would choose to opt out in the only way he knew how: going off the grid.
This is, obviously, quite different than what spewed from the rumor mill. Since it was revealed that someone would bite the dust in Age of Ultron, Banner seemed like a likely candidate. Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow and Hawkeye were all confirmed for Captain America: Civil War, while Thor would, obviously, return for Thor: Ragnorak. Hulk was one of the few characters left who could plausibly meet this fate. The trailers saw him completely turn on his fellow teammates, thanks to some magical influence from Scarlet Witch, causing Iron Man to suit up in Hulkbuster armor to subdue him. This tease gave more weight to a recent rumor that suggested Hulk would be shot off into space as a last resort by his fellow Avengers, to do away with the uncontrollable threat once and for all.
That didn't happen. Hulk's fate was vague, at best. This was Marvel putting the character no the back burner for now. But for how long? It’s not known when we’ll see Ruffalo return as Hulk, especially since Fiji holds no real significance in the Marvel comics, but we do know that Marvel has big plans for him. The actor and Joss Whedon teased that the future of this character in the MCU is "too amazing," though they wouldn’t give specifics at the time. Elsewhere, we know that Ruffalo is contracted to appear in six films, not including his Iron Man 3 post-credits cameo. With The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron out of the way, he’s expected to appear in four more films, including the two-part Infinity War.