Because of certain rights issues, Mark Ruffalo's Hulk doesn't really show up all that often in the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- which makes his role in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok quite special. Teamed up with the God of Thunder, the green monster gets a chance to not only go on a wild adventure, but also develop a lot as a character. But how exactly did he end up in the movie, let playing out parts of one of his most famous storylines, Planet Hulk? It really all started with a jokey question from Chris Hemsworth on the set of The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige recently told me,
There were a lot of discussions about, 'How can we elevate the Thor franchise in the same way that we had successfully elevated the Captain America franchise?' Part of that was doing something tonally different... The other thing that Cap got was a lot of other Marvel players coming in: Black Widow, Nick Fury, the Falcon - not to mention Civil War where we got everybody. So I would see Hemsworth over the years and on the set of Ultron he was like, 'Hey, where are my players? Who else am I getting?' And he was half joking, half serious. And I would always go away and I remember, and we'd always think, 'Who can we bring in to this?'...
And quickly we started to think about the Hulk. We started to think about, 'Well, we last saw Hulk in a quinjet going up into the atmosphere. Maybe it kept going! And maybe that would do us an opportunity to do something that we always loved the idea of, but never seriously ever thought about doing it -- which was gladiator Hulk. 'How can we do that?' And that's when it began to coalesce.
With Thor: Ragnarok hosting its domestic press day in Los Angeles last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down for a quick chat with Kevin Feige, and one of the many topics we had the opportunity to talk about was the influence of Planet Hulk on Thor: Ragnarok. After opening our conversation with a quick word about the timeline weirdness introduced in Spider-Man: Homecoming, I asked about the evolution of Thor 3 as a project, and it was within his answer that he explained how both Hulk and the gladiator concept became ingrained.
In line with the tonal shift goals that he wanted the project to execute, Kevin Feige told me that in the early stages they knew that the plot was going to be more cosmic than Earthbound (with the notable exception being the inclusion of Thor's encounter with Doctor Strange). As part of this, they started selecting key characters they wanted to use, including Hela and Valkyrie -- but it also led them to what they felt was a great path for Hulk:
The Hulk seemed to make a lot of sense. It seemed like it could be something that we could do, both take your two most powerful characters and pit them against each other in a Jeff Goldblum arena - and it doesn't get better than that - and then also having the fish out of water comedy of having Bruce Banner on another fricken planet. And that really all started to cook, and Eric Pearson, who is one of our credited writers, really brought it to life.
All of this says something interesting about the way that Marvel Studios develops its stories for the big screen, particularly in relationship to the comic book source material. While we've been hearing false rumors about Planet Hulk for years, motivated by the arc's popularity, it never seriously seemed like something that was in the cards because there didn't appear to be a natural way to approach it. Rather than try to jam it in somewhere it didn't belong, or construct an entire project to make it work, they let the idea lay dormant... until they found it a proper home. As you can probably tell by the buzz that has already emerged about the movie, this was ultimately the right method to utilize.
Fans will be able to find this out for themselves when Thor and Hulk go toe-to-toe in Thor: Ragnarok in a few weeks. The film will be out in theaters on November 3rd -- and be sure to stay tuned here on the site between now and then for more from my interviews with the film's cast and filmmakers!
Pre-order your Thor: Ragnarok tickets here.