Despite only having one solo film while some of his fellow Avengers have had as many as four (looking at you, Thor Odinson), Bruce Banner has had quite the history since first becoming the Hulk in Marvel Cinematic Universe all those years ago. Since appearing in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, the character has been a major focal point of all four Avengers movies, a couple of his fellow superheroes’ movies, and now the Disney+ streaming series, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, resulting in quite a few pivotal moments along the way.
And, because a lot has happened over the years since Bruce Banner (played by Edward Norton originally, instead of Mark Ruffalo) made his debut, there’s a good chance some of you are trying to piece it all together in hopes of making sense of how the Hulk fits into the MCU timeline. If that’s the case for you, then don’t worry, because we’re about to run you through a crash-course on Banner’s chaotic history…
Bruce Banner Is Transformed Into The Incredible Hulk (The Incredible Hulk)
Every hero’s journey has to start somewhere, and for the MCU’s Bruce Banner that starting place is in the opening credits of The Incredible Hulk. Unlike like Ang Lee’s 2003 superhero movie, Louis Leterrier’s 2008 affair takes care of the failed gamma radiation experiment in under 90 seconds, while not losing any of its effectiveness. The title sequence also sets up the “Banner on the run” scenario that was a major aspect of the movie and the first MCU crossover film four years later, the box office smash that was The Avengers.
The Hulk Fights Abomination (The Incredible Hulk)
Though Bruce Banner has already been the Hulk for five years before the movie began, he faces his first true test in The Incredible Hulk when he fights Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a.k.a. Abomination, after the Royal Marines commando is transformed by Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) into a massive monster. The fight, unlike the one between Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Iron Monger (Jeff Bridges) doesn't end with the Hulk killing Abomination, but instead with Blonsky being captured, allowing for a return somewhere down the line.
Natasha Romanoff Recruits Bruce Banner For The Avengers (The Avengers)
Bruce Banner (now played by Mark Ruffalo) had several great moments throughout The Avengers, with one of the most effective being his recruitment by Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in the early goings of the 2012 movie. Though not as epic as watching the “other guy” jump from building to building or throw Loki (Tom Hiddleston) like a rag-doll during the Battle of New York, this incredible scene does a tremendous job of establishing a few of the movie’s biggest relationships, including the close bond between Bruce and Natasha, the formation of the “Science Bros,” and other friendships that would become parts of subsequent films a decade later.
The Hulk Leaves Earth (Avengers: Age Of Ultron)
In the final part of Avengers: Age of Ultron, after the titular villain (James Spader) is stopped from bringing the city of Sokovia crashing down to Earth to destroy the planet, the Hulk does something remarkable and remarkably sad: he leaves Earth to save others, including Natasha Romanoff, from getting caught in the crossfire whenever he loses control.
This decision leads to some of the biggest moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including the Hulk becoming the Grandmaster’s (Jeff Goldblum) champion on Sakaar for two years before reverting back to Bruce Banner and later saving Asgardians from certain death in Thor: Ragnarok, and then encountering Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Avengers: Infinity War.
The Hulk Refuses To Come Out After His Fight With Thanos (Avengers Infinity War)
Even though he was featured prominently in the various trailers ahead of the release of Avengers: Infinity War, the Hulk is only in the 2018 crossover event for a few minutes in the early goings of the affair when he got decimated by the Mad Titan himself. Humiliated by the fight and possibly scared of the purple baddie, Hulk goes MIA.
The rest of the movie is Bruce Banner trying to get his “Other Side” to come out of hiding but not no avail. This would ultimately lead to soul-searching for Bruce Banner and the Hulk as his human side attempted to form a symbiotic relationship where both parties could benefit, but not before Thanos put his diabolical plan into motion during the Avengers: Infinity War ending.
Bruce Banner Merges With The Hulk Sometime After The Snap (Avengers: Endgame)
At some point during the five years following Thanos’ snap, Bruce Banner finds a way to merge with the Hulk to create a character commonly called “Smart Hulk.” With Banner’s intellect and Hulk’s strength and size working together for the first time in the more than decade after the failed gamma experiment, Banner is able to control the beast within.
Though the audience hasn't gotten to see the transformation or all the work that went into it (at least yet, anyway), the procedure was briefly discussed in the She-Hulk: Attorney at Law pilot. Regardless, the merging of the two characters led to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes turning the tide in Avengers: Endgame.
Smart Hulk Reverses The Snap (Avengers: Endgame)
Perhaps the biggest moment in Bruce Banner’s history came in Avengers: Endgame when Smart Hulk reversed Thanos’ snap with one of his own that brought back everyone and everything the Mad Titan turned to dust five years earlier. Despite nearly killing himself in the process and being left with a severely injured arm, Hulk was able to fight through the pain and hold off the alternate timeline version of Thanos and his invading army during the epic final showdown.
Smart Hulk Leaves Earth On A Sakaaran Ship (She-Hulk: Attorney At Law)
During the She-Hulk: Attorney at Law pilot, Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) is transformed into a six-foot-7-inch Hulk after she saves her cousin, Bruce Banner, which accidentally mixes her blood with his following a car crash. And, what was the cause of the accident? Oh, just a Sakaaran ship coming to Earth for some undisclosed reason.
During the tail-end of the show’s second episode, “Superhuman Law,” Jennifer calls her cousin to talk about representing his old enemy, Emil Blonsky, and ends the call by asking if he’s going to come back and visit anytime soon. After Banner, as Smart Hulk, says he won’t be back for a “minute”, the camera pans out to show him on the very ship that caused the accident, this time in deep space.
With the way the second episode of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law left things, there’s a good chance we haven’t seen the last of Bruce Banner just yet. However, will we be seeing Banner, Smart Hulk, or the Incredible Hulk when we see the character in any of the upcoming Marvel movies? Time will tell…
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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