SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War. If you have not yet seen the film, please bookmark this page, and save the read until after your screening!
Last year's Thor: Ragnarok was the first Marvel film to feature more Hulk than Bruce Banner -- but Avengers: Infinity War very much flips that ratio back. The green monster makes a very exciting appearance in the first scene of the movie, immediately jumping into a fist fight with Thanos, but after getting his ass whupped he totally disappears. More than that, the angry giant repeatedly refuses to "come out" when his presence is requested which naturally makes us ask the question: what the hell is wrong with him?
We only saw the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Hulk in four movies prior to Avengers: Infinity War (The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Thor: Ragnarok), and while that's not as much exposure as a lot of other heroes we have learned a bit about him. Specifically, we know that he is definitely not one to shy away from a fight. Let's not forget that he tried to take on a fully-powered Surtur the last time we saw him. He typically comes out swinging at every opportunity he gets -- partially because he feels caged by Bruce Banner -- but mostly because he loves showing off his strength. Of course, that being said, it's extremely easy to be brave when you believe yourself to be the strongest entity in the universe.
The problem seems to be that Hulk encounters some serious self-esteem and confidence issues at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War. He was undefeated before going toe-to-toe with Thanos, and that streak ended in a bad way. Now the previously un-thinking monster is second guessing himself, and isn't even willing to show his face. The good news is that Bruce can still operate the Hulkbuster armor and be useful in the Battle for Wakanda, but clearly they have some interpersonal issues to work out.
What makes this development particularly interesting is when you look at it in the context of something Mark Ruffalo told me last year during the Thor: Ragnarok press day. At the time, he explained that he had had a meeting with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige to discuss the future of the Hulk. The result of that conversation was establishing a specific three-part arc that would play out across Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers 4 -- and knowing what we now know, we should be in for some fantastic developments next summer.
Let's look at things from a macro perspective. Thor: Ragnarok was the film that let Hulk be in charge, and because of the strength he grew it nearly destroyed Bruce Banner. In Avengers: Infinity War, Bruce finds himself back at the stick -- but more importantly after a lifetime of wishing the rage monster would go away, he needs the green guy to show up, and he doesn't. Keeping that in mind, it feels like the natural arc to play out for the dual personality character in Avengers 4 would be a version of cooperation. For the first time ever, we may get to see the strength of Hulk operate with the brilliant intelligence of Bruce Banner.
This is all speculation for now, but the fact that Bruce Banner survives the devastating finale of Avengers: Infinity War keeps the door open to this idea. We'll have to wait and see if it turns out to be true, but for now hit the comments section below to tell us what you think is wrong with Hulk throughout the new Marvel blockbuster.