Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings are ahead!
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings certainly didn’t waste any time establishing ties between Simu Liu’s eponymous character and the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I’m not just talking about him crossing paths with Wong and Abomination at his sister’s underground fight club in Macau. The movie’s mid-credits scene sees Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner speaking with Shang-Chi, Katy and Wong via hologram about the origins of the Ten Rings Shang-Chi now wears following the death of his father, but here’s the strange part: rather than appearing as Smart Hulk, Bruce is now back to looking human.
MCU fans will recall how in Avengers: Endgame’s five-year time jump between the death of original Thanos and the Time Heist, Bruce Banner found a way to merge his intelligence with Hulk’s brawn into one being, and he stayed in his Smart Hulk form for the remainder of the movie (not counting than when The Ancient One knocked Bruce’s astral self out of his body). It was believed that this physical change was permanent, but now Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has reunited us with a “normal”-looking Bruce. What’s the deal? Well, here are some theories regarding Bruce’s changed appearance.
Bruce Found A Scientific Way To Revert To Human Form
Sometimes the best explanations are the simplest ones, so if Bruce Banner used science to turn into Smart Hulk, there’s a strong chance he used science to revert back to his original human form. Then the question becomes why did he decide to do this, and two answers come to mind. First, Bruce was tired of always being in Smart Hulk form, so he decided to mess around with gamma radiation again to accomplish this.
Second, Bruce’s arm was in a sling during Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, indicating the movie doesn’t take place too long after Avengers: Endgame, where his arm was scorched after he used the Infinity Stones to bring those who were dusted back to life. We’d been told this injury is permanent, but perhaps Bruce discovered that his arm would heal if he reverted back to human form, hence why he returned to the gamma lab to tinker around with his biology.
Doctor Strange And/Or Wong Have Magically Transformed Bruce
The rationale for why Bruce Banner looks human again is the same in this section as it was in the last one, but instead of science, what if magic is responsible? Bruce Banner met Doctor Strange and Wong at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War, and while the former was wiped out by Thanos’ snap, the latter survived. So perhaps Bruce and Wong became friendly with one another in the following five years, and then Bruce got to know Doctor Strange more once Benedict Cumberbatch’s character was brought back to life.
As such, it’s easy enough to envision Strange and/or Wong turning Bruce back into a normal human upon his request. As an added bonus, maybe whatever spell they cast allows Bruce to switch between normal and Smart Hulk form at will.
Bruce Was Using A Holographic Disguise
As previously noted, Carol Danvers nor Bruce Banner were not with Shang-Chi, Katy and Wong at the New York Sanctum Sanctorum when they were discussing the Ten Rings; instead they conferenced in from unknown locations. So because Bruce was appearing as a hologram, what if his human appearance was simply a projection? If that’s the case, then another question emerges: why?
Smart Hulk has become a beloved superhero among the general public, to the point that children approached him for a selfie at a diner in Avengers: Endgame. If the people love Smart Hulk, then why would Bruce feel the need to don a holographic facade in front of Shang-Chi and Katy. They may just be entering the world of superheroes, but it’s not like they weren’t already aware of that Bruce Banner had turned himself into Smart Hulk.
Bruce And Hulk Are Fighting Again
With the way Bruce Banner was behaving as Smart Hulk in Avengers: Endgame, it seemed like his personality had either completely overwritten the original Hulk personality, or the two personalities had merged, with Bruce’s characteristics simply being more prominent. But what if the original Hulk is actually still around? Maybe the only reason Smart Hulk exists is because of a continued understanding between OG Hulk and Bruce, with the former agreeing to take the proverbial back seat.
However, Avengers: Infinity War saw Hulk refusing to come out after getting a brutal beatdown from Thanos, so what if some similar happened before Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings? Maybe Hulk became tired of Bruce using his strength and somehow forced his other half back into human form. With the way Bruce was talking about his transformation in Endgame, this seems unlikely, but still worth mentioning.
Bruce Has Always Been Able To Shift Between Smart Hulk And Human Form
Finally, maybe the answer to this Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings mystery is that nothing strange has happened at all, and that Bruce Banner was always capable of turning back into a human. Of all the options on this list, this seems the least plausible simply because you’d wonder why Bruce would choose to look like Smart Hulk most of the time.
Yes, it makes sense to be in that form during missions or Avengers press events, but why would he willingly be green and massive while eating at a diner or fiddling around with time travel technology? When out in public, wouldn’t he prefer to keep a low profile? Is Bruce just desperate for attention? I just don’t understand the logic in this scenario.
Mark Ruffalo is next expected to reprise Bruce Banner in Disney+’s She-Hulk series, which will star Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters, Bruce’s cousin. So it’s likely the mystery behind Bruce’s human form will be solved there, although don’t discount the possibility that he could cameo again in something like Eternals or Thor: Love and Thunder beforehand. Until then, you can keep track of what else the MCU has coming up with our Marvel movies guide and Marvel TV shows guide.
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